Guest Post- Russell Evans- Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc UTMB 2105

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The Loop UTMB 2015

 

Rather than start from the beginning, I want to start from a place where it almost ended.

I was in a public rest room just outside the check point of Courmayeur, throwing my own pity party. My legs felt like they were shot, my chaffing was cringe worthy and it was 28 degrees and climbing; not the ideal state when one still has 93km to go.

It didn’t start off that badly. I had arrived in Chamonix on Wednesday afternoon with the start being on Friday night. My strategy was to make the jet lag work in my favour; I was going to be awake at night and sleepy during the day. For those that don’t know, Chamonix is in the foothills on the French side of Mount Blanc. Everywhere you look there are great vistas of the Alps, and every view is a postcard. The tough thing about being in a new place is that you want to explore, but walking around endlessly would ruin my 6 months of training, so I basically stayed at the hotel only going out for food and registration. One observation when I got to registration was that everyone nibbling on a baguette, perfect carb option I think I went through 3!

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The race starts at 6pm, forcing the elites to go through one night section. I had strategically taken Stilnox to knock me out till about noon on race day. I left the hotel about 5:30pm and started to walk to the start. The town was buzzing! People notice your bib and yell “Allez! Allez!” with passion, for today I was a rockstar.

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Getting near the start line I found a patch of grass and sat down in the shade and only got up when I heard the countdown. It’s hard to describe the start, but the streets are lined with 6+ people deep. The announcer gives words of encouragement, some along the lines of “Once the body gives up, the mind takes over. When the mind gives up the heart gets you to the end”, (which I quite liked)…… You hear the theme music in the back ground (Vangeelis Conquest of Paradise), which still gives me goose bumps, then the gun goes off and you basically walk the first kilometer till you are able to get a slow gait happening. Even after 3k’s there are still people lining the path cheering you on.

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Basically the whole course can be described as: go up a hill, go down a hill, go up a hill, go down a hill, then run some flat area………..just kidding…..there are no flat areas, you go up another hill and repeat!

La Houches is where things start to get pretty messy. You start climbing up a ski hill, basically 800m of elevation in 4km, (this was a baby compared to those that followed). I pulled out my sissy sticks, put my head down and started the climb. The thing that really surprised me is that the hill was lined with supporters all ringing cowbells; reminding me of the scenes of the Tour de France. I understand the race is a big deal for these small towns, as the UTMB gets more popular so do these small towns.

The encouragement was appreciated and before long I had made the pass of Le Delevret. One down, seven to go! (Croix Bonhomme, Col De Seigne, Col Des Pyramides Calcaires (new this year), Arete Du Mont-Favre, Grand col Ferret, La Glete, Catonge and the monster Tete ux vents).

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So far the trail was a mixture of single track and fire trail with nothing too technical. Being not the most coordinated of runners this was a good thing. The trail up to Croix Bonhomme was more or less a test of strength: one foot in front of the other repeat until you reach the top. Soon enough I had made the second summit and began the decent, this time the decent was very technical and steep. Many runners that I had passed coming up the hill were overtaking me on the way down. A general observation about European runners is that they are great at descending tough technical trail even when they have ran 120km.  The tough single trail decent gave way to an easy fire trail and I was able to make up the places I lost. As I came into Champax-Lac, spirits were high as I was running well and had an overall feeling of well-being.

A little note about the checkpoints: They are filled with water, coke and a drink similar to tailwind (called Overstrim). The food is a mixture of salami, cheese, and crusty breads. I found them extremely easy to navigate and the volunteers were extremely helpful provided you were polite.

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I stayed away from salami and cheese but in hindsight I possibly should of given them a go. There was also a clear distinction of which country you were in, based on the types of cheese, salami, and bread. For what it’s worth, I had the best time in Switzerland’s checkpoints. They were so pumped to see you and nothing was too much trouble for them.

The climb to Col Seigne was epic. A fair amount steeper than the previous climbs and for the first time I noticed the altitude. I was becoming short of breath when above 2000 meters. The chit chat among runners was fairly scarce, however I did come across an American runner who I exchanged a little banter with and who had some great advice for running at altitude: sharp short breaths in. This seemed to help a little, as I was able to maintain a good pace up the climb. Once reaching the top, the next point is only about 500 meters away; you can almost reach out and touch it. However you have to descend about 400 meters, and then climb about 450 meters to reach Col Des Pyramides Calcaires, which is a new section of the course. This section was not friendly and the most technical of the course. It was to take about 2 hours for around four km, it didn’t really feel slow but that is about a kilometer every 30 minutes!

 

 

This peak was the second highest (about 2550m), and the toll of the race was starting to show. It was about 5:30 in the morning and I saw numerous people asleep on rocks at the top. When I asked if they were ok, they said they were just going to take a nap for 20 minutes and continue to run. But I guess the truth was, their race was done. The next decent was where things started to come unstuck. On unstable and rocky trail, basically I had to navigate this terrain on all fours. What’s worst was that my calves were starting to cramp and I decided not to take gels – WTF? (I knew this was bad but for some reason my brain said don’t take any more gels – I still question why my brain said “No”).

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The only blessing on the decent was that the sun was rising and I had survived my first night! The trail into Courmayeur was pretty much the same one epic accent and some brutal down hill segments. My condition continued to deteriorate; I had stopped taking gels, I was cramping and I had developed some nasty chafing in my nether regions. To make matters worst the temperature was climbing. Being a ginger, I tend to think of the sun as the devil, and anything over 25 degrees means I basically stop, find some shade, some beer and pass out. But I still had 93 km to go and for the first time I thought that I wasn’t going to finish. I still went into the checkpoint with the best intentions: go through my drop bag, get what I needed, and get rid of what I don’t and get out of that checkpoint. Courmayeur had everything though: beer, pasta, soup an array of snacks and just 2 male toilets for 2000 male runners. The queues were massive and although it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, except that I had to make some adjustments……….. But I will say a little nudity is ok in ultras.

Out of the Courmayeur checkpoint and into the frying pan, it had risen to 28 degrees and it was still climbing. I took refuge in a public toilet barely 500m out of the checkpoint.  It was time to make the call to tell my wife that my race was over. When she answered, she was full of praise and letting me know how well I was doing. But I was broken, and I was only 90 minutes above cut off and I was falling apart.

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Everyone should have Leah as a ‘phone a friend option’ in an Ultra. She is specialized in the craft of having an answer to every excuse known and also (a little unnerving) she said I was “skirt” if I didn’t continue. Ouch! With that I gathered what was left of my soul and started the climb to Refuge Bertone. Before you get to the nasty part of the climb you get to walk through the public square of Courmayeur, where I kid-you-not some guy announces your name and what seems to be the whole town gives you cheer. I remember the announcer said “It’s Russell and he’s all the way from Australia, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” He expected a retort with “Oi Oi Oi”, but I just kept my head down and thought that he could go screw himself, (gives you an idea about how low I was at this point of the race).

On the way to the base of the climb I saw people turning back, hopes and dreams were being killed off with the 30 degree heat and a relentless gradient of the climb. When things were at their toughest, a little sign of encouragement came in the form of a gentle cold breeze, which gave me hope of making it to the next checkpoint. I thought to myself, I would just go on until I didn’t make a cut off. (I could live with that excuse.) The cramping had gone as soon as I got onto stable ground and the only thing that was slowing me down was the pain from the chaffing, which I was maintaining through applying ultra glide every hour (advice from Leah on the other side of the world). Randomly the night before the start I had spoken to a guy that had been timed out at the last check point, he told me it was devastating for him but I kind of liked the way he was back to give it another shot this year.

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The next 75km were purely about putting one foot in front of the other. I still hiked the hills and shuffled along the down hills and flats, (coach Andy would be proud). Highlights included the climb to highest peak at Grant Col Ferret where I had a really pure feeling of just existing.

The massage I had at Champex-Lac……. I popped my head in the medical tent and asked for some deep-heat, next thing you know I’m horizontal on a massage table with 3 physio’s working on my legs, two on my quads and one on my calves. I really did enjoy the Swiss side of the race.

By about 9:30am I had survived my second night and made it to Vallorcine, the checkpoint before the last climb to summit Tete aux vents. When you get to the tent, it kind of looked like a treatment facility for Zombies. The run had made our skin flake, various cuts and bruises having had a chance to weep and swell, and the sleep deprivation had completed the look. The cure was easy either finish or pull out.  Strangely though, this checkpoint is where a lot of people pull outWith only 21km to go, you are so close – why would you pull out?!

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For the first time in 24 hours I thought I could finish. I got out of the checkpoint and started the walk to the foothill of the climb to Tete Aux Vents. It soon dawned on me the reason why people pull out at Vallorcine: they know what is to come. I remember reading a race report from Anton Krupicka and even he said that the climb was pretty messed up. On this climb you don’t count stairs, you count switchbacks. It’s also completely exposed so one is forced to do battle with the elements. Climbing these monsters one learns there is a certain etiquette to the climb. You try to tag on to a group and hope that they are going slightly slower than your pace. Groups form and disappear throughout the climb; you do your best to drag along people who are suffering. At this part of the race there is a kinship between the runners where not a word is exchanged but only a passing glance or a slight hand movement to let people know to overtake you.

 

Up till this point I had been pretty good on the climbs. I would find and maintain a good rhythm, but for this climb however I decided to make myself hurt. I flew up the first 10 switchbacks only to realize that I had made an epic schoolboy error and blown up. The climb should of taken me 1 hour, instead it took me 3. I would try to cling on to groups but I would always fall behind and before I knew it I had 10 runners behind me wanting to pass. Throughout the run I was constantly trying to repress thoughts of finishing and try to stay in the moment. You have never finished this race until you’ve crossed the line in Chamonix. The last check point La Flegere you can see Chamonix below, only 7km to go with 800 meters of decent on technical terrain – oh so close!

I shuffled my way down and lost a couple of places on this section as once again my downhill technical skills were being shown up. I did see a girl roll her ankle badly on this section; she got up instantly and didn’t cry, didn’t yell out in pain but just continued to throw her body down the mountain. Acts of courage were the norm on this section and I really hoped she finished.

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With about 3km to go the path begins to line with people and the great thing is, these people worship you! Yelling praise, offering you food and water; one girl even offered to carry my bag! She was hot and French and sadly, I had to politely decline. The sacrifices we make!

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1km to go and all I could do was call Leah to let her know that we had made it. I really mean that, had it not been for that ruthless pep talk on the phone from Australia 28 hours ago, I would not be on the streets of Chamonix approaching the end. My mind turned to how I would celebrate crossing the line. I looked at my poles and remembered the song that was tormenting me for the whole run: Y M C A. Pretty sure I could turn these poles into larger than usual letters? Awesome, I would become a Youtube sensation! However, I got to about 10 meters till the end where it is six deep and people are cheering you on. All I could think about was what a privilege it was to be able to participate in such an event and how lucky I was to be there. All I ended up doing was bowing and I’m happy I finished it that way. I crossed the finish line met the announcer; for those who know him from the net cast, yes he really does look like he is on speed! I shook the hand of the runner who finished behind me, grabbed a beer (free for finishers) and sat on the same patch of grass I had sat on 45 hours ago and just enjoyed the moment.

For those of you even remotely interested in this run, it is a must. Get the points and go into the lottery. Just make it happen! One of the hardest and most satisfying things I have ever done.

 

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What I learnt and what worked for me:

Napping
I had 3 naps: 10, 20 and 15 minutes at Arnuva, Champex-Lac and Trient. Without these naps I wouldn’t have finished. When you start talking to living wooden sculptures, you knew it was time to take a nap.

Maintenance of the body
I think I could of run a 40 hour-ish time had I not got chaffing. My cramping was unfortunate but was overcome with a change in terrain.  Once you are running for 12 plus hours its time to lube up again. Just do it, even if you don’t think you need it, this mistake almost cost me my race. Also, look after your feet and legs as much as you can. Be careful with compression, I wore compression Injinji socks, it almost been a month and I still don’t’ have all my feeling in my big toes.

Caffeine
I used it sparingly and only when I was broken. It was like having an escape route every time I got in a bad situation.

Panadol
For the first time I had used painkillers in a race but it really helped manage the pain from the chaffing. I’m not a big fan of taking painkillers as part of me thinks it is cheating, but under the circumstances I did what I had to do and I don’t regret the decision.

Food
Although I never did this during the race, get used to eating bread, salami and cheese, which was at every check point. This would help break the monotony of taking gels ever hour. Make sure you indulge in the soups and pasta, custom made for the run. I remember have a Bolognese at La Fouly and feeling like superman afterwards.

Training
Coach Andy at Mile 27. The training gives you every chance to finish the run. I would also recommend paying a little extra and getting the strength exercises as well to help run more efficiently.

Gear

Kicks: INOV-255 rocklites

Socks: Injinji Compression

Shorts : Speedo Board shorts over skins

T Shirt: Nike Dry knit

Sun Glasses: Julbo Powel

Hat: The Northface Sun-visor from finishing the 2013 100km

See you on the trails!

Guest Post- Tanya Carroll- GNW100 2015

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GNW Race Report

I thought it might be therapeutic to write down my learnings from the GNW miler on the weekend. Perhaps it will stop me from rocking in a corner in a foetal position for the next 12 months. Which surprises me, because yesterday I was REALLY REALLY HAPPY with my first ever choice to DNF a race, at the 132km checkpoint. I secretly congratulated myself for making the best bloody decision I have ever made in my entire life.

What a difference a day makes

Indulge me as I summarise the 25hrs leading up to my decision to pull out.

Nervous, started cautiously, enjoying running with friends, getting hot, bit hotter, really hot, SO DAMN HOT, I HATE THE HEAT! WHY DID I ENTER THIS HOT RACE!! HOW DID PEOPLE EVER DO THIS RACE WHEN IT WAS IN NOVEMBER AND IT WAS EVEN HOTTER!!!! Head spins, nausea, vomiting (on constant rotation), got a bit disorientated and tried to go back down what I thought were the Basin stairs, met Kirrily who turned me round again. Got mobile reception – woo hoo! Rang my pacer Leah to tell her she would have a much better time staying in Sydney and watching TV, rather than drive all this way – oh and I could also stop at the 100km mark like those other more sensible people. Devastated that she didn’t seem to be listening – she said my story would have to be a lot better than that to convince her. So work on my story I did. I worked on it for the next friggin 12 hours.

I will say the lows were interrupted by amazing support at Checkpoints where heavenly creatures put ice packs on your neck, poured you Coke, salted your potatoes, asked you questions to check that you weren’t as delirious as you appeared, and gave hugs – I didn’t want to ever leave.

Somehow I made it to Yarramalong (also the 100k finish line) where with Leah and Russell’s help I carried on. After turning onto the track at Cherry Lane I had really had enough. I tried everything to persuade Leah to go back to the road. But no-one in Yarramalong has phone reception so who would pick us up? What sort of place is this!! Dumb ass town. Who came up with this GNW course anyway? I thought about setting off my personal locator beacon without telling Leah but decided it would be a bit (OK a lot) frivolous. Leah worked her magic and got me over the hump and with the cooler night air I was feeling much better. Our spirits were boosted by seeing Marty, Jen, Ross and Justine and we loped along together.

Got to Somersby not long after the sun had come up. I said in a very calm and sensible voice that I was keen to pull out, but that I would follow advice I had given to others and first lay down to nap and decide if that was the right thing to do. Ha-ha I fooled them – I’m never going to carry on, I just need a final few minutes to work on my story. 30 mins of snoozing and scheming. So up I got, confirmed that I was going to pull out, everyone argued, I ignored them, THE END.

Tanya GNW100 2015

Key learnings from this simultaneously sublime and torturous experience:

  • If you are going to do a race, have an absolute water tight reason for doing it – one that is going to pass the test when you are at your lowest possible point. My reason for doing GNW was to get points towards UTMB. The trouble was I knew once I had passed through Yarramalong that I already had secured 3 points, so I could no longer see the value of getting one extra point for another 9 hours of pain. I should have had a much more robust goal – to finish THIS epic race, not only to qualify for another.
  • A whole lot of little excuses cannot be added together to justify why you should quit.
    If each one isn’t reason enough to stop, then discard it, don’t combine it with all of your other floppy, sucky, limpy, saggy, flaccid, feeble and risible excuses. At the time I quit at 132kms I wasn’t injured and my nausea had subsided significantly. My excuses, and why they were crap are as follows :

 

Snivelling excuse # 1 to 6 Why they are crap What I should have been thinking
I can’t cope with hot temps I don’t get to choose the conditions. Don’t enter the race if I’m not prepared for whatever is thrown at me. Yes it’s hot. If I take my time at checkpoints I still have enough buffer to fast hike the whole way home if needed
I have been sick all week Probably the closest to a valid excuse. Yes I’ve been unwell but another 9 hours won’t kill me
I don’t want to feel like I did yesterday How I felt yesterday is irrelevant to how the rest of my race will pan out Stay in the moment. I feel good* right now – lets keep soldiering on.

*good is a relative term

I won’t get home until about 10pm by the time I finish the race, have a sleep in the car and drive home If I was worried about late nights/ lack of sleep I shouldn’t enter any ultra’s. Think this gets top prize for most wretched excuse Won’t my kids be chuffed when I wake them in the morning and tell them I finished.
I’d rather be with my kids right now. The few extra hours I will be away from them will be nothing compared to the hours of training Í will need to do if I decide to enter this race again to get even See left and above
My legs are sore Of course they are!!!! What do you think they are meant to feel like after 132kms you moron. This is tough but I am tougher
Rotated between :

–        I already have 3 UTMB points by getting to Yarramalong

–        I don’t even need points for the next draw

–        I don’t want to do any ultras ever again so you can stick your stupid points

My goal of gaining points was too easy to dismiss when the going got tough Have a goal that still works no matter how low you feel. With the wonderful and absurd benefit of hindsight, one motivator could have been “Do you want to be the only NRG runner not to finish?” I’m pretty sure this would have had me kissing that finishing post!

 

So with all that said and done I still took a lot of enjoyment and learnings out of the race. And so many amazing people helped make my experience what it was. And before you ask – no I really don’t need to go back to even the score!

 

Photo credit : Pip Candrick

You Yangs Hard Core 100 Miles 2015

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Picture recognition- Thanks to George, Sarah Connor, Olivia, and in particular Steve from fstop5 Photography. See more of his pics here

I had a great North Face 100, but training and enthusiasm has been sorely lacking since then. I dislike cold weather almost as much as I like food. End result- feeling very under done and a bit heavy to successfully tackle any race, much less 162km. However I also knew that I needed something to get me out of my slump. I had, however, forgotten how bloody hard a 100 mile race is. Yeah.

So- one massive system shock to go, please waiter…..

Sarah and I met Jane Trumper, Wayne Gregory and Dave Graham at the airport, which was awesome, but things went downhill from there. Our plane was delayed by 3 hours, which meant I had to fill three hours with a bunch of experienced ultra runners. You know what that means- drinking! And the smallest beer size they know is pints……sometime during this carb-fest (well, you can’t have beer without chips…..) Jane had tried to convince me to run with her- for a sub 24 hour time. Um, I realise that sub 24 gets a silver buckle, but trying too hard makes me very uncomfortable. Tired, cold, hungry and spewy. I had been thinking 26-30 hours would be comfortable, but I think I may have agreed to try. Maybe. Allegedly.

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Getting in to Avalon after 8pm meant that I could not get to the shops for supplies before closing time, but luckily I had more than enough stuff scrounged from my ‘discarded shit from other races’ bag to do the first few hours.

We slept at a friends house (thanks Aunty Panda and Alistair!) and rose at 6:15am for a 9am start. That’s remarkably civilised for one of these races. I figured a hangover probably wouldn’t hurt too much if I went slowly enough. And when combined with all of the other pain, I was kind of right.

So let’s have a look at the course. It’s a 20km run with sort of figure 8 shape and 2 aid stations, one at the start/ finish and one at apx 12km. You start by going up a big hill called Flinders Peak, then back down to the start again. From there it’s a couple of km of pleasant single track, opening up to about 4km of wide, flat fire trail. Then you duck on to a mountain bike track for a bit over 2km to the edge of the park and checkpoint 2. Then it’s a 5km loop on fire trail and back to CP2, and about 4.5km of slow meandering uphill mountain bike track to the start/ finish. Each lap is just a smidgen over 20km and 8 loops gives you 161-163km for a genuine 100 miles.

 

Reasons to do this race- much of it is flat open fire trail, it’s fast and there’s no branches to rattle my skull on. Yes, I do run into trees quite a lot, so this is a big plus for me. It’s very pretty in an Aussie plantation bush kind of way. The trial is well marked, the vollies are awesome and it’s quite small. I love small races. Oh, and did I mention it’s flat?

Reasons not to do this race- it’s 100 miles.

The Starters! Thanks to fstop5

The Starters! Thanks to fstop5

Things I forgot to take- race pack, bottle belt, race shirt, I think my subconscious was trying to defeat me before I even got there. I was pretty well prepared, but I hate carrying a hand held and forgot to bring anything to holster a bottle in. I also only had a long sleeved shirt where I had planned to pack a singlet as an under layer and various t shirts and long sleeved tops to layer up for the day/ night etc.

In the end, both of these things worked in my favour- I figured out that I could have a few swigs of perpetuem and heed as I went through an aid station and not carry fluid at all. The longest section without support is 8km from the start/ finish and the cool weather meant I could pre load with 250-500ml of fluid and be fine. This doesn’t work for a lot of people because that much fluid at once will make them sick or cramp, but I’m ok with it. I ended up wearing my brand new race shirt under my long sleeved Glow Worm marathon top- and didn’t need to change at all during the race. It did get pretty cold at times and I either wore a polar fleece over the top or draped it around my shoulders and this kept me mostly comfortable.

Jane leading grumpy

Speaking of cold, I suspect this was the cause of most of the DNF’s as the course is non technical. Stats- 45 entrants, 20x DNF, 25 finishers.

Lap 1- 2 hours 28 minutes
I agreed to at least start out with Jane but I knew that her recent 1200km across Japan and my um, less than stellar preparation would likely see me in the hurt box sooner rather than later. George Mihalakellis is a local and agreed to show us around and it was lovely to have some company and a bit of a chat as we saw the course for the first time. A 24 hour finish means an average of 3 hours for each of 8 laps, so the plan was to do the first lap in not under 2:30. Nailed it, but I was already feeling tight in the solar plexus due to my complete lack of core exercise recently.

Lap 2- 2 hours 40 minutes
By the time I got back after my first lap, my CP bag was full of all the goodies I had asked for- Super Crew Sarah had been to the shops! This is an interesting aspect of the race- if you do a sub 24 hour time, only 3.5 of your 8 laps will be in daylight- the first 3 laps and the last half a lap. We headed out again with me holding up the rear (ooh, er missus) and trying to ignore the increasing pains in my bits below the waist. It was way too early for this crap but I figured the sufferfest was coming ready or not. George began to complain that his back was hurting and he was going to order some pain relief for the next loop. So my eyes bored into the back of his head ‘FFS George don’t tell Princess you’re getting NSAIDS- I don’t want to hear that lecture AGAIN’ and luckily he only wanted paracetamol…..

Dave Graham

I wish I could run like Dave Graham!

Lap 3- 3 hours 0 minutes
George had bounded off in search of a Mexican Yeti and Jane and I settled into a companionable silence. It’s been a while since we’ve run together but I always appreciate a bit of a chat without feeling the need to talk if I’m doing it tough. ‘You’re not hurting too badly yet are you Adam?’ To which I truthfully replied ‘got a bit of plantar fasciitis in the left foot, a spot of ITB tightness in the left knee- the right leg my calf muscle has gone solid making it difficult to extend my leg and my core is very weak. But I can sort of run if I pay attention to my form’

That earned me a look that said it all- ‘I’m sorry I asked!’ At this point we knew there was no alternative but to keep pushing the pace in an attempt to give us more breathing space later, and I was taking my mind off my pain by doing some mental calculations. The results were not encouraging- we really needed to push hard to allow for any drop in pace over the last few laps- although we’d given ourselves 30 minutes breathing space in the first lap, those gains could disappear very quickly if something went wrong. And at the end of the lap Jane said cheerfully ‘only 100km to go!’
Fucking marvellous.

Lap 4- 3 hours 0 minutes
I’d worked out a strategy- the 3km up and down the hill was basically rest because I didn’t have to run, but the hardest bits of the lap were the 5km fire trail, 2km mountain bike path then the 5km loop after CP2. After that it was a gentle 4.5km to the start, but the running was starting to suck. Then I realised that we had a chance of making sub 14 hours for 100km if we kept pushing. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen? I could tell Jane and she could agree…… and of course she did. I now found that I could run ok if I just kept a steady pace, and when Jane got too far in front I yelled ‘walk!’ and she’d slow down until I caught up. Then we would walk for a minute or two and run again. This gave me plenty of rests and still meant I could meet the required 4:1 running to walking ratio we needed to make our time.

Ice on the hire car windscreen

Ice on the hire car windscreen

Lap 5- 3 hours 3 minutes (100km time 13:56)
I know you’re going to get sick of hearing this, but it was time to dig deep- again. We had 3:07 in hand to go sub 14 for the 100km. Under 14 hours doesn’t mean much to some, but it’s a number I’ve tried (and failed) to beat at the North Face 100. Five years in a row. This year was my closest ever at 14:45. It’s a very different race being 5500m of vert over 100km vs ~3000m over 160km, but it was symbolic for me. And we made it with minutes to spare. We now had a 1 hour buffer for a sub 24 hour time, which was awesome- now we had to deal with the cold and the sleep monsters. Jane needed a caffeine tablet from her bag and I graciously told her to take all the time she wanted after making our sub 14 hour time. I’d started taking on more and more Coca Cola at the aid stations and wishing I could strap on an iPod- but it was against the rules with a threat of instant disqualification. 10 hours to do 60km? Sounds easy……..

Lap 6- 3 hours 14 minutes
‘One more lap like the last one, that’s all we need’ but the strategy of yelling ‘walk!’ and catching up to Jane wasn’t working so well anymore. The problem was my running had slowed down so much that I could no longer rely on a ‘run 4, walk 1’ plan to keep me in the game. And Jane is so strong that she just kept punching out the kms hour after hour. Several times I looked down at my Garmin and she was walking at 7:24 min/km. Yes walking. I was having to run to keep up with a walking midget. Jane was very quiet and I assumed she was enjoying the rush from a No Doz, but it turned out she hadn’t been able to find them and was suffering on her own.

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Lap 7- 3 hours 17 minutes
We’d squandered 14 minutes of our 1 hour buffer in the last lap. Maths said we were ok if we didn’t slow down too much more and I started asking Jane to take off and I would see her at the end. She wouldn’t, but I could see she was still able to make good progress and I felt I was slowing her down. By this stage I was scoffing 4 cups of coke per lap (sorry Brett, it truly is the nectar of the Gods) and trying to hold my running form to stop the pain from hitting too hard. Unfortunately photos show that I’m slumped over like the old man I am. We had (OK I had) slowed down by 10 minutes in the previous lap and needed to stop the bleeding. I felt like I was running well, but as each km clocked over I was seeing more 9’s than 8’s in front of my mobile scorecard. I wasn’t sure what would happen when the sun came up- it could zap the strength out of us or give us a boost. We couldn’t afford to rest on what we’d already done. Last pit stop of the day was planned 10 minutes out, executed quickly and we pushed out for the last lap……..

Lap 8- 3 hours 24 minutes (100 Mile time 23:48)
Our Flinders Peak time was exactly the same as the previous lap, a good sign. We were pretty comfortable with the route now, and going over it for the last time generated the tiniest bit of nostalgia, but not quite enough to cancel the dark thoughts swarming in my head. We could see a deep red slowly expanding on the horizon, and soon I heard the first calls of the early rising magpies. That’s when I heard the first bit of negativity from Jane ‘oh that’s just bloody great’. But I couldn’t figure out what was wrong- I was dealing with my own demons. We got on to the mountain bike path, both of us looking at our watches, but  my brain started telling me to speed up. It was unusual for me to be in front of Jane and she didn’t yell walk!’, and within a few minutes I was almost out of sight.

What to do?Jane had battled on with me for over 22 hours at this stage, dragged my sorry arse into a position I had no reasonable expectation of achieving- but was I outperforming or was she falling off the back? I couldn’t go back and get her, that would take too long. I knew at that point my only real option was to hope she would feel the clock ticking and get a move on. I felt terrible and started mentally composing my abject apologies for the end. Past the aid station and into the 5km loop for the last time. I thought I had plenty of time but I ran, trying to get that buffer up. I saw a 5:48km flash up on the watch- that can’t be right? ……Aaaand all of a sudden I was broken, and Jane was back beside me. I don’t know how she did it, but she had slashed away a pretty significant gap. I made some bumbling apologies and we made another agreement to finish together.

Adam at end of lap 2

There’s not enough truffle oil in the oriecchiette. Or something.

Off in the distance we could see a figure, and without any speech, we both started the slow process of picking another one off. Over the period of nearly a full day we’d gone from almost dead last to a pretty decent position, outlasting the battered bodies we were leaving by the sidelines. It turns out this last person we’d pass was Michelle Shannon who’d started really well, but we had now lapped. Jane pointed out large ice crystals growing in a puddle of dirty water.

Back out of the aid station with only 4.5km to go and I had a sudden urge to hit the toilet. It was not one of those urges that could be ignored for 30-40 minutes, it was an imminent poonami warning- the thunder down under was coming and you’d better make plans or the coming shit storm would engulf your universe. Luckily our path took us right past the best toilets on course, but by then I was looking at the trees somewhat longingly. Jane promised to walk and I should catch up, but by the time my apoocalypse had passed I could not run. Young sky runner had turned into old skywalker, and my race was about counting down the metres until the end.

And about 300m from the end my peace was interrupted by Bernd Meyer going past. I briefly debated going after him but decided that we had probably lapped him too and he was no danger to my position. Yeah, I was wrong. I may have said to Sarah later ‘if that red headed bastard has cost me a top 10 place I’ll be really pissed’ but he hadn’t, he’d pushed me from 15th to 16th and that’s good enough for me. It was a bit disappointing to be separated in the rankings from Jane after such a long day/night/day together but I’m not even sure I could have mustered a little trot to challenge him. If the poonami had held off a few more minutes though…… ah well, shit happens.

Adam finishing v2

It was beautiful and warm in the sun, must have hit nearly 6 degrees! I pulled up a chair and gratefully lowered my bucket of bones into it. At that point I’d have been pretty happy to have the whole bottom half cut off but unfortunately that section also includes my favourite toy. It isn’t much use these days but I like to keep it around because it made all my important decisions for me when I was younger.

My precioooouuuus. This one is going in 'worst race photos of all time. But the medal goes straight to the pool room....

My precioooouuuus. This one is going in ‘worst race photos of all time. But the medal goes straight to the pool room….

I hadn’t hallucinated out on the course much, just the usual human figures that turn into trees when you get close, and things on the ground that speed off at the edge of your eyesight. But I now had  bit of a problem. A group of well, large ladies wearing black tights were standing right near me. I was wearing my clear lens glasses and did not have access to my darker lenses. The sun was VERY bright, and the only place I could safely look was straight into these dark orbiting moons. Now I’m a firm believer that you should be able to wear whatever you like (except males wearing compression shorts with nothing on top, that’s a crime against fashion). I was terrified that one of these women would turn around and say indignantly ‘were you staring at my arse?’

And I’d say something like ‘Sorry, it’s the only thing stopping me from going blind’
Which may not have been well received, and I would have deserved a slap.

So you can see it was imperative to get out immediately. Unfortunately Sarah kept coming back and saying ‘we’ll go soon’ then disappearing to chat to people, like I always do…….

And it was over. I feel pretty confident that if I’d been in good condition the suffer needle wouldn’t have stabbed me so hard, but the fact remains that 100 miles is a very, very long way. I’ve picked up some new, not very interesting injuries so we’ll see how the Great North Walk 100 miler goes in about 7 weeks. Gulp.

Post race breakfast of champions. Or perhaps hungry mid packer

Post race breakfast of champions. Or perhaps hungry mid packer

Massive thanks to Sarah for sticking around virtually the whole time and supporting me, Jane, Blue Dog and Dave Graham- Wifey you are a gem! Thanks to Jane for helping me to achieve something I thought impossible- that’s only about the 100th time you’ve done that! Congratulations to Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory for making his way back to the long runs- it’s a slow process coming back from injury but I don’t know anyone tougher. Congratulations to Dave Graham who was still smiling at the end despite having a difficult race- and coming THIRD! And big congrats to Jane who worked her way up the field (remember we were just about last on our first lap?) to come FIRST female!

Here is the interim results

And I think these are the final results with 20km splits

The North Face 100 2015 TNF100

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The night before the big race.....

The night before the big race…..

 

Well, I’m not sure what makes me turn up year after year. I know it’s the people, but there’s always the small matter of the trail demons from this race using their sharp teeth to gnaw at my soul. And laughing at me.

If you’ve read the other posts, you’ll know that I was gunning for a sub 14 hour time this year. I won’t keep you in suspense- it didn’t happen, but I got closer than ever. Yes Brian, I now have 5 bronze buckles……

I was unusually well prepared and very zen like at the start, until some bloke walked past and snagged his bladder tube on my gear as he walked past. This pulled off the tube and water went everywhere about 60 seconds before the start. Oh well, it couldn’t get worse…..? Yep, Lise Lafferty walked up and said ‘my bladder is leaking, do you know anyone with a spare?’ Um, they’re starting the 10 second countdown……. ‘Lise you have to run across the start line or you’ll be DQ’d, but come right back and see if anyone can lend you something. My friend Gillian brought all her gear hoping for a run, she should have a spare’

‘What does she look like?’

I survey the thousands of people at the start line and confidently say ‘She’s Scottish’

Apparently Gillian needs a T-Shirt with this on.

….And we’re off! The first few km are on road, and unlike last year everyone is very quiet (maybe because I stated in Wave 4 last year- less serious, more fun!). They’re also a bit faster and show no signs of walking the hills. I hope this does not come back to bite me later, but I know I have a little bit of extra speed so I’m not super concerned. We settled down into a bit of light banter- it didn’t last long as we saw a runner down after the landslide. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was ultra legend Kevin Heaton. He’d torn something important and was obviously in a lot of pain. One thing you must do in an ultra is to offer assistance needed to ensure the safety of those around you. The other thing you should do is get the hell out of the way if others have the situation under control. As the medical director of the UTMB was right there I figured it was time to stop clogging up the trail. He was later taken out by chopper and had scans, an operation and trip home all within a couple of days. He’s a really interesting bloke and won’t be running for a long time but perhaps that will give me a better chance to talk to him if he can’t run. Yes, look for the upside.

At the Golden Stairs I could still hear Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges chatting, but as expected they were getting away from me. I didn’t lose too many places up there, and trotted comfortably into CP1. Race plan said 1:15- 1:24, I got there in 1:22 and grabbed a couple of mandarins, filled my water bottle and got out. Note- when I write target time of 1:15-1:24 I mean that the average time for a sub 14 hour finish was 1:15, and the LAST person to go through that checkpoint and still make sub 14 hours was 1:24.

The next section down Narrowneck is the most pretty part of the course and possibly the best running. I tried to assume a comfortable pace without talking to randoms too much. In every previous year I’ve spent time meeting new people or talking to friends, but this year I had my game face on and probably didn’t speak to more than 5 or 6 randoms. Good job Adam.

The shoes felt great (Hoka Challenger ATRs) and I got to Tarro’s Ladders in pretty good time. There was quite a lot of people here, and lots chose to do the 400m long way around. I chose to have a rest and eat the 2 mandarins I took from CP1, knowing that this was one of the only places I would get rest today. That was my slowest KM of the whole day 17:52 min/km so I was probably stationary for about 5-8 minutes. To put that in perspective- taking Duncans Pass to go around would have taken nearly that long and I got a feed and a rest. Time worth spending. Being in Wave 2 probably would have cut down the time waiting but I think this is the only part of the course that being in a slower wave really impedes your progress- we had a nice, flowing pace across the landslide this year which is the only other place where you can get held up.

Robyn Bruins at Gordon Falls

Robyn Bruins at Gordon Falls

We had a little push across Mt Debert and then down on to the fire trail leading to CP2. I knew that I needed to run as much and as fast as I could along here to eat up some deficit. I wasn’t feeling great but no time to feel sorry for myself, we’d only covered <30km!

In to Dunphys Camp Ground for our second checkpoint at 3:43 race time. My goal was 3:24-3:37 so still no reason to panic, I know I can finish stronger than most people so a quick transition is needed, and don’t get mentally crushed by Iron Pot Ridge!

I filled my bottle, grabbed some watermelon and a couple of snakes then mentally girded my loins for the big climb. It’s actually a series of climbs that seem to get steeper until you hit the big wall of dirt and rock. It’s a delicate balance for me- I’m not good at going up these steep hills, but I am getting better slowly. Just before the race I asked Andy DuBois if I should stay out of heart rate zone 5 and he replied with a very big yes…. so I looked at my watch and saw I was up to 5.4. Bugger, didn’t feel too bad and pushed on. Unfortunately by the time I got to the flattish bit at the top I needed to rest before I could run again….. in retrospect I suspect this was the point at which my race turned.

The out and back along Iron Pot is a great way to see how you’re going against your mates- there will always be a surprise or two in front AND behind. This year I was surprised by Adam Darwin (he should have been further in front) and Tanya Carroll (she has been beating me a lot lately and should not have been behind), but I was able to see that I was doing pretty well, and possibly still in with a chance of sub 14 if nothing went wrong! The descent off Iron Pot is always tricky but I figured it would be easier this year because it had rained recently. Well, the talcum powder dust was a little thicker, and in the last 5 years the trail has become more defined, but I can’t say I flew down there! Crossed a few creeks, handed out a few salt tablets and caught up with Mal, Paul Garske and Bruce Craven on Megalong Rd. As soon as this flattened out I took off the handbrake, clocking a sub 5min/km (OK, it says 5:01 on Strava) and going through the marked 50km point in 6:22 race time. I felt great until the stile to get into the paddock to approach the Six Foot Track checkpoint. Yes, my legs locked up in cramps but I told Kurt Topper to hustle on ahead as we were ‘about 20 minutes off our 14 hour target’.

Richard Bettles at Gordon Falls

Richard Bettles at Gordon Falls

Into CP3 in 5:51 against a target of 5:24-5:40, so I’d lost another 8 minutes against the average time. My goal was slipping away, but I also knew that CP4-5 was likely to be 10-15 minutes faster this year. I need to keep the pressure up to CP5 because anything could happen!

CP3 is the first where you get access to a checkpoint bag, and I guzzled down the 600ml Coke I had stashed in there, oh it was sooo good! In previous years CP3 had been relaxed, but this time it was swap and fill bottles and get the hell out. I knew that I needed to do the next section in about 1:40 to make the average time, but I was already 30 minutes behind so a quick section might restore some confidence.

Unfortunately it was not to be- drinking that Coke all at once gave me some minor stomach problems, and I couldn’t run the bits I needed to. Kurt Topper played it nice and steady and started getting away from me. Up Nellie’s Glen I was pleased that I didn’t have to stop more than once (this has been a problem for me for years) and it was great to see legend Natalie Watson at the top of the stairs, but I couldn’t talk! I just couldn’t put it together running the technical bits afterwards. Luckily there is a bit of road into CP4 and I came in feeling fairly good, but knowing that the big test was about to start.

Arrival at Katoomba Aquatic Centre in 7:36 meant that I was drifting farther from the 7:05-7:21 times I needed but as mentioned before, I felt there might be a chance to make up some time to CP5. If I’d taken the full set of figures provided by Ian Rowe I would have seen that I was heading for a >15 hour finish. Lucky I didn’t!

I didn’t bother having any noodles here as is my habit, I was getting all the nutrition I needed from Perpetuem. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, I stashed the Coke bottle from my bag into my pack to sip on while running. Rob Mattingly was stuck to a chair at CP4, it probably made him miserable to see me get past him here- we both know he’s a much better runner than me, but if it’s any consolation I didn’t take any pleasure out of it either! The next section is a bastard- on the elevation profile it looks relatively flat and perhaps runnable. In reality it’s a constant grind of up and down stairs, closed in single track and mud puddles. It’s very difficult to get any flow, more so for me as I am quite tall. But this was my chance!

Or maybe not. I passed and was passed by quite a few people on this section and just couldn’t make it happen. Recurring cramps were making me over cautious- pretty difficult to fully commit to a step when you don’t know if your leg will get stuck motionless in the air before it hits ground. I’d had a single Panadol tablet (yeah I know) at about the halfway mark to see what would happen, and it did make my legs hurt a tiny bit less, but did not help the cramps at all. For the amount of stress the experiment caused, probably not worth it. I was just begging to hit the road and get to CP5 and a runner said to me ‘will we get to CP5 in day light?’

Chantelle Farrelly at Gordon Falls

Chantelle Farrelly at Gordon Falls

I said no because we had yet to go past Wentworth Falls and up Rocket Point Track and it was close to 5pm. Sunset was officially 5:06pm so we’d probably have to use our head torches before CP5.

We finally hit Rocket Point track and got up to the road, where a marshall was waiting to tell us to put on out hi-vis vests and get out our torches. The marshall was kind enough to help me with this so I was ready at the same time as Michael Hanavan and we trotted off together down to Queen Victoria Hospital.

Last year I had needed my head torch shortly after Gordon Falls on this section so I was deeply impressed to get as far as Queen Vic without needing to turn the torch on! Arrival time of 11:07 race time was still way behind my goal of 10:32-10:53, but wow, what a journey! Only 22km to go, 8.5km of that roughly downhill, but I knew that getting under 4 hours for this section would be tough. Remember according to those stats, the last person to do sub 14 arrived in 10:53. Which means the fastest time I could get would be about 3:10, and I’m not very fast at all. Bugger.

Gordi totally rocking the pink Skirt Sports- Thanks Natalie Watson!

Gordi totally rocking the pink Skirt Sports- Thanks Natalie Watson!

It was here at CP5 that one very odd thing happened. Michael Hanavan had left the CP and I filled my bottle and was about to leave when a marshall called out ‘have you got your fleece?’ I replied that we only had to carry it if it was after 7:30pm as per the rules but he insisted I had to take it. So I went back, got my bag and took it with me. I should point out that it was before 6pm! And the only reason I even had access to a fleece is because I had put one in CP4 bag and one in CP5.

I caught up to Michael and we began the downhill run to Jamison Creek. I was very grateful of the company but there wasn’t much conversation beyond ‘I’m stopping for a wee, I’ll catch up’ and ‘it hurts to pee’ so I’ll leave the rest of that out….. by this stage every single step felt like my quads wanted to burst out of my skin. They were revolting and not in an interesting way. My feet were really good though- the combination of 2Toms lubricant powder, Injinji socks and Hokas was wonderful. I still had bashed up my little toes a bit but that’s mainly because I hadn’t wanted to stop to re do my shoelaces tighter. I might try that heel lock lacing system in future.

Once we hit the hills I knew I had to push on otherwise I’d go over 15 hours, and I didn’t want to waste all my effort. Surprisingly I was able to go up hills ok, at only the slight cost of nausea. I felt bad about leaving Michael as he’s always been so nice but I’d expect him to leave me in the same circumstances. I got to pass two people- correction- one person- the other one slightly lengthened his stride and nearly broke me! Yes I’d caught up to ‘Tall Geoff’ Evison. I didn’t have any energy left for speaking and luckily he had earplugs in so we walked uphill in companionable silence for a while.

Of course I’d been doing maths in my head for hours trying to make sure I wouldn’t miss a major time target, but at one stage I lifted my watch up and was about to make a comment on our pace and Geoff said ‘I don’t want to know’, so the watch went down again. I was going to say that we were good for sub 15 hours but as long as I knew that was good enough. We pushed through the old Sewerage works with Geoff leading and once or twice he had me take point- he wasn’t going to allow me to latch on like a zombie as I do….

Ngaire at CP3

Ngaire at CP3

I was watching my Garmin like a hawk to see how far I could get in 14 hours. The answer turned out to be ‘within 3km of the finish’. Wow. I briefly pushed on ahead of Geoff and a couple of minutes later clipped small rock and went arse over tit. Of course both legs went into spasm and I felt very sorry for myself to get so far without an accident then BAM! Geoff came around the corner and said ‘get up, I’m not leaving you on the ground’ I tried to protest ‘just leave me here, I’ll be fine’ but to his credit he helped me up, bloody knees, blood dripping out of hand and wounded pride. You’re a solid gold legend Geoff Evison!

We walked again for a little bit, me encouraging Geoff to leave me, even while a couple of people snuck past, and then we hit the base of Furber Stairs. Time to suck up the pain and make those legs work again. In the absence of legs that would extend, I opted for full body contact on the stairs. A couple of people got past, but I used my arms to push and wobbled my core to get some upwards action happening. A couple of minutes later I heard Robert Rigg behind me say ‘I did/ didn’t think I’d catch up with you again’. I can’t remember exactly what he said because I was deep in the hurt locker. I’d completely lost the power of speech and the only non physical activity I had going on was counting stairs. There’s 933 stairs here (976 if you count the down stairs as well) and I count them in lots of 100 to keep from going mad. Sorry Rob, I had nothing…….

Not sure if I managed to acknowledge David Brown and Clare Northrop at the top of the stairs, but I spied Geoff who seemed to have slowed down so I caught up and we crossed the line together in 14:45:07. 21 Minutes from the base of Furber seems ok.

That’s a 45 minute PB for me (2013 was 15:28 and 2014 was 16:28) and I’m a very happy man.

Brad Smithers,  Sally Dean at the finish

Brad Smithers, Sally Dean at the finish

So, what could I have done better? Well a sub 14 would have required a 100% perfect race and a bit of divine intervention. I reckon I had about a 98% perfect race, and Divine is unfortunately dead. The fall at ~98km definitely cost me about 5 minutes, and I suspect the cramps are worth 15 minutes. I probably can’t completely get rid of cramps but I suspect that if I train harder they may not be so bad. I felt perfectly well hydrated all day but my wee was a bit darker than normal later in the day. There really wasn’t anything wrong, but I didn’t feel 100%. This is pretty common for me in hard races and I can usually get away with ignoring it. Getting into Wave 2 would potentially gain me a couple of minutes at Tarro’s Ladders. I had pretty bad nausea this year, it’s always present in a long race where you go hard, but this year it was a bit worse than usual. Not enough to make me chunder, but enough to be uncomfortable. Again it’s possible that training harder will mitigate this a bit. Laser hair removal- I decided to take one for theta but didn’t do this early enough and it started to grow back a bit before the race. I may have it done again so I don’t have to worry about chafing in races, but boys be warned- it’s like being stabbed repeatedly in the scrotum with a red hot knife. Yes, I once had a girlfriend who would have enjoyed that. Actually most of my exes would probably enjoy that.
So I’ve still got about 30 minutes of other gains to get under 14 hours, but a big fact has been unveiled- it IS possible!

So in summary
Don’t fall over
Train harder
Get in Wave 2
Train harder
Don’t be soft
Train harder

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Getting my bloody knees seen to- still clutching some mandarins that I had carried for 43km and had fallen on. Thanks for your sacrifice mandis!

Getting my bloody knees seen to- still clutching some mandarins that I had carried for 43km and had fallen on. Thanks for your sacrifice mandis!

I still have to follow up an issue with my lungs. it’s possible that if I get that fixed I’ll be ok. Quick fixes, who knows?

 

What went right? My nutrition was just about perfect. I had bottles of Perp and muesli bars in CP bags along with Coke and Powerade. This meant that the only thing I had to do was fill the Perp bottle with water and (I think) my CP transitions were super quick. Apart from drinking too much Coke at CP3 I don’t think I could improve this.
Feet- also great. probably should have stopped to tighten laces before CP4-5 as certainty of foot placement would help here but I reckon 8-9/10.
Weather- couldn’t have been better. I got hot for a few minutes then the clouds came back- awesome!
Clothing- double singlet, arm warmers, merino gloves, buff, Patagonia shorts, gaiters all went really well.
Shoes- the Hoke Clifton and Challenge ATR’s have a very flimsy inner sole that can shoot out the back when you run. I bought some Selleys Quick Grip Spray Adhesive and sprayed the inner soles before inserting into the shoe. Worked like magic.

Another slightly odd thing- at a couple of the checkpoints I went to where the bags were kept and they couldn’t find my bag. This was because it was already out and on a table for me. I’m not sure if they did this for everybody or even how they knew I was coming in but it was a bit confusing and slightly annoying. It’s obviously aimed at getting people though faster but I got a bit confused. Probably only cost 10-15 seconds but I’m not sure if this was covered in the race briefing- does anyone know what happened with this?

Finally a special thank you to those who made it possible- my long suffering wife who managed to leave the event 5 minutes before I crossed the finish line- I STILL think you’re awesome!

And to super coach Andy DuBois- you really know how to get an old man moving. I’ve gone from about 85km a week of training last year and going backwards (I was an hour slower in 2014 vs 2013) to a much more achievable volume- around 65km a week- just more closely aligned to the race. Yep, nearly 2 hours off last years time. I still think I’ll have to do a lot more but you really proved that race specific training works.This one’s for you- BOOM!

*Thanks to Doug Richardson and Sam Rossington who I think supplied most of these stolen photos.

 

 

Buffalo Stampede 75km 2015

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Warning- discussion about failure, and no actual answers.
So this was the Buffalo Stampede……

 

What’s the worst ever excuse for pulling out of a race? Well, you’re about to read it-

‘I didn’t finish because I didn’t want to’

So there you go. I wasn’t injured, there was no blood pouring out of me, I wasn’t vomiting or crapping everywhere. I was happy, felt good, had loads of energy and was beginning to make gains on some of the people in front. So why quit?

I was scared of the climbs on the way back.

I completed the entire course up to the 43km mark (I believe this is the entire marathon course) and the other 30km are just back to the start. Unfortunately that means crossing some fairly large hills and 2 utterly ridiculous ascents and descents. I don’t really mind hills, I accept that they are part of our sport, but my lizard brain started yelling at me quite early in this race that it wouldn’t support me if I wanted to do those hills in the dark. Let me describe these hills for you- when you look down and you think
‘if I lose my footing, I have no idea how far down I will land’.

Yeah, like that.

at the start Martyn Adam Tanya Jennie

When this bubbled into my conscious brain it went like this-

‘I can’t see any training benefit from another 30km of hills where you are going to fuck your legs up and turn your little toes black. They aren’t going to recover before North Face and you’ll be sorry’

‘there’s 2 inches of soft powder under every vertical step on the way back. If you were skiing this would be a good thing. Since you are meant to be running it’s actually going to be part comedy and part life threatening’

‘you had a couple of 20-24 min/km on the way out- you’re going to have worse on the way back in the dark. For what?’

aaaand so on…..

Ultra-Stampede-Profile

So I pulled out. I still think it was the right thing to do, but the critical question has to be this-

‘did it help or hinder my chances of a sub 14 hour finish at the North Face 100?’

We’ll never know for sure, and I had a huge amount of angst when seeing my mates finish, get their medals and celebrate, but right now I feel strong and ready to take on the world. I doubt my recovery from 75km would be as good.

So I’ll dust myself off and get back in the saddle. My compliance with the training program has been pretty average lately, and a DNF has actual helped in a couple of ways

1. I recognise that I could have finished Buffalo. There was no physical reason for me to quit, so by consciously giving that up I’m now more determined to do well at TNF. My goal is still unlikely, but possible. I’ll take those odds

2. I only have 3-4 weeks of training left. I need to make them count. Taking this week off for recovery would have been a disaster

3. Stupidly I wanted to prove to everyone that I was being strategic and not a complete softie. I felt like running back to Bright, running to the next checkpoint, running anywhere- but I have a huge task ahead. If it costs me a medal or some respect from my mates I don’t care. I never said I was tough, in fact I frequently say the exact opposite!

4. I still needed to pause a few times up some of those climbs. I frequently saw my heart rate in the 4.4 to 4.9 zone. But the best thing is that on the 3rd major climb from Eurobin to Chalet I did not get passed by anyone! Even better was the fact I passed a few people in the last couple of km after Mackies lookout. Very pleased about this because I have been a poor climber, but it shows the work I am doing with Andy is definitely working.

5. This was my first race using Hammer Perpetuem. It worked really well and I just have to figure out how thick I can make it for future races.

Adam & Alex finishing

Running back down to Eurobin would have been nice. it’s only about 10km and has some really nice single track. Then it would have been fine to go 9 ish km back to Buckland- but then I would have been only 15km from the finish and pride would have demanded I carry on. Massive congratulations to an amazing number of friends who actually went the distance, and a special mention to Martyn Dawson who did 2 out of 3 days of the grand slam (nutbag) and Matt Grills who also did the third day and won it!

I saw Andy DuBois during the run and decided not to tell him about pulling out. It wouldn’t be fair to affect his race to discuss a DNF. I’m a big boy, he’s not my Mum and I have to accept the consequences of my own decisions. He certainly paid a price on the weekend and I hope he recovers well.

I had a chat with Marcus Warner afterwards and he said ‘running an event like this is the only way we can get our local runners qualified to run similar races in Europe’

Which makes a lot of sense and Marcus in conjunction with Mountain Sports (Sean and Mel) have put together an amazing weekend for runners. I’d absolutely love to come back, but not so sure about the Ultra! Maybe if it was further from TNF, or if I make sub 14 this year I can probably just go for it next year……..

*Thanks to Petzl for the entry, Northside Runners for the support, Andy DuBois for getting me this far, and my wife for organising some fabulous family time. Photos by Sarah Connor

Six Foot Track 2015

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Wave 3 start

The story starts back in October when we start training for this epic race. Actually for me it started in about July 2014 when I first asked the run hosts from last year if they would host again for the coming training season- thankfully most were happy to do it which made my job much easier! I missed a whole heap of training runs at the start because I was training for, and then recovering from my attempt at Coast to Kosci. This made my comeback to running extra hard- I’d just ticked off my last running bucket list item and had no desire to run another step. Ever.

But I’d entered Six Foot in December and if I didn’t want to be picked off the course in a foetal position I’d have to move my rapidly expanding bottom.

The training runs that I did get to were heaps of fun as usual, but I realised that being a barge-arse had cost me dearly- Martyn Dawson was back from injury, had stepped up to run with the fast middies and was leaving me to eat dust. That’s great because I don’t like to have it easy, but he had improved so much it was astounding. I spent the last couple of months wondering if I could ever catch up……

Race day I was feeling strong- I’d written down some goal times for various sections and knew that the rest was up to the race gods. Saturday dawned while we were all milling around at the start- that’s the thing about Six Foot Track- you consider not doing the race, but you know all of your mates will be there. Total FOMO. I got to say hello to dozens of running friends while I was looking for coffee and freezing my nuts off. There had been some mix up with wave allocations and a bunch of faster people got pushed up, while I lost my place in Wave 3 and was pushed back to Wave 4. That’s completely cool because I don’t like being hunted down- much better to be the hunter.

When the gun finally went off we’d been in the second row and had a bit of a race to the stairs. It was 10 degrees at the start so it took a while to warm up but once running it was perfect conditions. I got down to Cox’s River in 1:36:48 which was right on target. Crossing the river was the last time I saw Martyn- this probably means I ran too fast to the river however I had a ball on that section! Stuffing some food in I started the big climb up to Mini Mini Saddle. I felt much happier going up here than previous years, Andy Dubois training really helped. In fact last year I lost 100 places between Cox’s and Pluvi, this year I gained 24 places, running 1:32:24!

YHA before start

Running along Black Range was exactly as painful as it always is. Very difficult to keep moving when you just want to rest, but again my training helped. Being able to push through the pain means you can make much more progress than if you allow the pain to slow you down. Yes I know this is obvious but there’s an astounding difference between just moving and pushing on…… I started feeling sorry for myself but tried to consume more food to change my outlook. Hey, whatever works right? I breathed a sigh of relief at Deviation camp ground which quickly became a huge grin as the NRG crew let out a massive shout. Thank you to those amazing people who gave up their weekend just to cheer- it made huge difference and I loved it!

With only 11km to go it was time to go hard. Andy had said to me ‘don’t go too fast down to the river’ which of course I had intended to do, but being sensible is HARD. I also took his comment to mean ‘when you get to the top, make it HURT’ so at least I had that covered. I’d somehow gotten past Petra Erby on Pluvi and Col Woodliffe along Black Range (thanks for the chat ladies!). Then John Doughty just before the road crossing. Unfortunately as always happens in Six Foot Track my legs decided to ping cramp warnings as we crossed the road and I knew that the undulations would make the last few km a bit uncertain. I slowed down a bit, sped up a bit and tried to manage it as best I could. All to no avail- with under 2km to go I was screaming in pain as the cramps hit like a train. I’ll agree it must have looked quite comical to see me rubbing my inside leg and screaming ‘come on!’ but I couldn’t see the humour at the time.

All 3 of those NRG’ers got past me while I was incapacitated but they ran well and deserved to do well. If I’d been a bit smarter and had salt tablets earlier I may have bypassed the cramps but hey that’s racing.

As I came on to the concrete path to the finish chute I realised I was going to be a few seconds over 5:20 so I ran with no regard to cramping and screaming at people to get out of the way- Garmin elapsed time 5:20:05. Bugger.

Luckily I had taken a while to get over the line at the start and my net time was officially 5:19:49 and a 20 minute pb.

So did I have enough to match Martyn? Not a hope in hell, he had a 40 minute pb and came in at 5:08, what a blinding run- congratulations!

Martyn Dawson

There were lots of pb’s that day- I suspect the weather had a lot to do with it. Female course record fell to Hanny Allston, and amongst NRG there were an embarrassing number of great times

David Madden 50 minute pb

Leigh Reynolds 1 hour pb

I absolutely loved hanging around afterwards and chatting to my mates, it’s an epic race in every way.

 

*all photos by Pippa Bradbrook

Coast to Kosciuszko C2K 2014

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‘I love a bit of carnage’
     Adam, feeling cocky at 81km

‘Be careful what you wish for….’
    Paul Every, Race Director

These shoes have done 2 runs for a total of 288km, still look pretty much brand new. Thanks to Northside Runners and Hoka One One Australia

These shoes have done 2 runs for a total of 288km, still look pretty much brand new. Thanks to Northside Runners and Hoka One One Australia

*warning, rude words follow-

 

The Coast to Kosci race is Australia’s longest road ultra marathon, starting at sea level on Boydtown Beach near Eden on the New South Wales south coast, and finishing at mainland Australia’s highest point, the survey trig marker on Mount Kosciuszko, just on 240km away. Actually you have to go back from the marker 9km down to Charlotte Pass to finish the race, but the basic premise is to go from the lowest to highest points in the land. It’s nice to see the race and RD mentioned in the Wikipedia article, this is where I found that I was incorrect to call the top bit ‘Strzelecki Monument’– that’s a bronze down by Lake Jindabyne, the top is just a simple trig marker.

I’ve crewed the last 2 years, and after seeing the incredible feats of endurance that these runners produce, I figured maybe I’d put my hat into the ring. You never truly know if you’re ready, the only thing I could say for sure was that I was NOT ready in 2013 after a DNF at GNW100.

The discussions with Wifey happened in February and permission given. This meant I had to chase at least one qualifier. I already knew I had to conquer GNW so that meant I couldn’t take the somewhat ‘easier’ Glasshouse 100M (or ‘SoftHouse’ as it came to be known on C2K weekend). But success there was never assured and I didn’t want to wait until so late in the year to get a qual. A study of the rules took me to the Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour race in Rooty Hill. Bad news, it’s only a couple of weeks after TNF100, which commonly makes me a bit tired. With the help of guru coach Andy DuBois I did actually make the 180km in 24 hours standard so the focus for the rest of the year was to get fitter and not break like a cheap toy.

The quals cover a 100 mile race in under the cutoff, or 180km+ in 24 hours on road or track. By September I had both so I was feeling pretty good about my chances. I shouldn’t have been so cocky- some of the other runners, even ones you’ve never heard of have incredible pedigrees. At the awards ceremony Paul mentioned one runner who had 15x 100 mile races to his name……….. this year! The was a collective sucking in of breath at that one.

Then it was time to look for crew. You need a team, ideally 3 people, who are utterly dedicated to getting you across the line. People who don’t require a lot of sleep, won’t kill each other, can think on their feet and equally take orders when needed. Thankfully amongst runners these qualities aren’t rare. This ended up presenting a problem because every time I got pissed I’d tell people about the adventure I was planning and gain another 20-30 crew volunteers. I had a few quiet conversations with people I thought would do the role well. Then even that was thrown out the window when I heard a hint that Jane Trumper might be injured and not able to run. And a chance meeting with the mighty legend Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory, he offered to crew too. And he’s also a great friend of Jane’s and said he would ask he if she would come for the ride. So that’s the story of how I came to have my wife, a 5 time C2K finisher and holder of several world records, and Blue Dog who has 3 finishes at C2K including a win in 2006. That’s got to be about the most epically talented crew ever, right? Well it turns out that over the 47 or so starters, there were 24 people on crews who collectively had 49 finishes. That’s right, pretty much the entire field had epically talented crew. And I had to make loads of phone calls that started with ‘hey mate, you know I asked you to crew me at C2K…..?’

Now the pressure was on- with such a class crew there would be no soft cuddly moments until that beast was spanked. Or as Blue Dog so succinctly put it in a phone call to me ‘Adam, if you can’t finish with us crewing you, you’re fucked’.

I think you might be getting the impression that these are pretty tough people. Yes, that includes my wife, who has also represented Australia in her own very odd sport involving running. However her sport also involved reading maps so obviously I’d be shit at it. More than one person commented to me ‘mate with a crew like that, they’ll do anything except give you sympathy’. How true, bring on the tough love.

And thus started nearly six weeks of packing. I even arranged a cigarette lighter powered Wifi hotspot so the kids could have FaceBook even when they couldn’t make calls, so you can thank me for all of the useless updates on FB.

The day before the race start is the ‘Cossie to Coast’ 7km fun run for the crew, including questionable outfits…… say no more.

Cossie to Coast 2014

Cossie to Coast 2014

It was kind of difficult going to the Fisho’s (Eden Fisherman’s Club) and not drinking, but at the race briefing there were unsurprisingly a few non drinkers…… we also got gold service from Brendan Davies who hand delivered our races shirts from Get Shirty because I had submitted the artwork 2 days too late.

Up at 4:20am on race morning, I took the time to prepare my feet- tape the little toes, lubricate the rest of the foot, one pair of Injinjis covered by a pair of double walled Wright socks. Stick these into a pair of Hoka One One Cliftons and I felt like I was floating on cushions of air.

C2K Start- Crew Photo

C2K Start- Crew Photo

Start to Rocky Hall 50km
We assembled in the dark at Boydtown Beach and each crew and their runner lined up for a photo in front of the C2K banner. I’d had good preparation and had even slept fairly well the night before which is quite unusual for me when doing a new race. Then all of a sudden we were called up to the start line and Brendan Davies is next to me looking at everybody’s shoe’s ‘should I have worn trail or road shoes?’ he said. My first thought was ‘you could smash this race in Blundstones Brendan’ but I managed to get out that it’s probably most sensible to wear road shoes. He seemed satisfied with the answer and as predicted I didn’t see him for the next couple of days……

c2k start

c2k start

Paul called out the countdown in his soft voice and we were off- it’s a bizarre feeling that you never thought in your wildest dreams that you’d be lining up with such a talented bunch. Then you have to remind yourself not to get too overawed because you qualified, and merely getting in means that Paul thinks you can finish. Put out all thoughts of failure and get on with it.

You can’t see your crew until the 24km mark at Towomba Rd, so there are aid stations about every 5km until this point, so we all just settled in and had a good old chinwag while the k’s counted down. Not too much to report from this section except I found myself in the midst of Roger Hanney, Annable Hepworth, Sabina Hamaty and Joe Ward. I let slip that the carnivores were outnumbered and may have outlined plans for the Dirty Bird 100- where the course is between KFC aid stations and the vegans get post mix soft drink. At least I knew they weren’t going to eat me…… probably.

Early on, all smiles

Early on, all smiles. Photo credit- Brett Saxon

I also met Raelene Bendall and predicted that she would beat me by 2 hours. In fact if she’d had a good run it would have been more like 4-6 hours however I did see her more than I should have in the next 35 odd hours. Gutsy run, Raelene.

I’d put in an order for a coffee at Towomba rd- I had weaned myself off coffee for the last couple of weeks and was pretty desperate to get back on the caffeine train. In retrospect this was a mistake because it gave me a boost early on when I didn’t really need it. Finding myself in front of Brick, Roger, Sabina and Nikki Wynd was just dumb, but I suppose I have a lot to learn about this distance……..

I’d made the first marathon distance in 4:42 and the first 50km in 5:52. I was going too fast but having a ball. No, actually my balls were on fire.

Arriving in Rocky Hall I made my debut as a shameless ultra runner by putting Vaseline on my testicles in the middle of the road in front of about 30 people, now read on if you want all the gory details. Sensitive people scroll down a bit…….

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How to feel like you’ve set your genitals on fire for 37 hours
I had decided to shave down this area for the race and started about a week early. All signs were good but I felt I should maintain the manscaping in order to reduce friction. Here’s how it all went a bit Pete Tong-
1. Always use a fresh, sharp blade. I couldn’t find one so I didn’t bother. Strike 1
2. Do a really good job the day before the race. Water kept on going cold so I gave up. Strike 2
3. Don’t use Vaseline. It’s great for 5 minutes and then…….Strike great balls of fire

I ended up with really bad friction grazes on both inside leg and naughty bits. On both sides. A few days later when the muscle soreness had gone I was still walking like a 90 year old cowboy because of this, and the only cure is time. Many layers of skin were missing. These are mistakes I hope never to make again. Won’t somebody think of the children? Because it doesn’t look like I’ll be having any more……

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OK, sensitive people, you can rejoin us here…….

Rocky Hall to Cathcart- 20km (70km total)
I don’t really remember a lot about this section except that it’s the very last place where you might see an open shop before Jindabyne. Your crew will often get you an icy pole or a pie as a bit of a reward. I’d been drinking a lot of mineral water so my crew bought loads of extra bottles of it here. Of course I immediately stopped drinking mineral water just to piss them off.

This shot does not feature a naked Blue Dog attempting to put the hard word on our stunning NRG Mannequin

This shot does not feature a naked Blue Dog attempting to put the hard word on our stunning NRG Mannequin

My main nutrition source on this run was orange flavoured Accelerade. It has carbs, electrolytes and some protein. I really like the flavour (a little bit like Tang from my childhood) and the protein means it is just about complete food for running. My crew had developed a procedure of putting a whole bunch of stuff on a plate and offering it to me as I went past. Then they would change the stuff on the plate and repeat the process. This meant I always had new stuff to choose from if I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted. It also meant that I overate for about the first 100km. food and drink was sloshing around in my stomach enough too make me feel a bit slow, but not sick. I don’t usually get sick. Oh yeah, cherry tomatoes are amazing…….

Dave Graham battles Big Jack on day 1

Dave Graham battles Big Jack on day 1

Around the 81km mark when I was crossing the Monaro Highway it started raining, big fat lazy drops of summer rain. It came in harder and I saw Paul Every the Race Director standing on the side of the road ‘I love a bit of carnage’ I called out, he gave me a little smile and replied ‘be careful what you wish for….’ I should listen to him. Paul is not only a fantastic RD, he’s an amazing athlete. This year I saw him at the Canberra marathon  so I looked up his time, pretty decent but not massively sharp. Then someone told me ‘oh he rode his bike to Canberra to compete’ and ‘it was probably a taper run because he did a full Ironman the week after’. Like I said, amazing athlete.

Sarah and Sally supercrew

Sarah and Sally supercrew

Cathcart to Snowy River Way 37km (total 107km)
I was pretty keen to put in a decent 100km time because I knew from previous calculations that I could walk the rest of the way and still make the cuts. It didn’t mean I would walk from there, just that I had a decent buffer and could do things like change shoes and eat while stationary. The rain had stopped so I should have changed my shoes but I think my mind was starting to go. Greg Brown got past several times and appeared to have a demon chasing him, he was running up hills I wouldn’t have considered but seemed to be absolutely thriving. That was the last I would see of him. Finally Brick caught up to me and restored some natural order, then just about 1km from the dead tree Roger caught me- I love him dearly but the guy has a stream of consciousness conversation with no filter. Of course the only way for me to combat this was to say ‘I need to go and crap in that ditch’. We had a quick group photo at the dead tree and my crew asked if I wanted to  change shoes (again I should have said yes) and we agreed to have dinner at the next CP, about 4-5km away.

He's behind me, isn't he? Photo credit- Brett Seaxon

He’s behind me, isn’t he?
Photo credit- Brett Seaxon

So I’d made my first 100km in 12:44 and was pretty happy. I knew that I was on course for a 38 hour finish or better if I could keep up the pressure, but conversely the pressure was now off (for a finish). From here to Jindabyne on the first overnight would be a big test, as would ascending from Thredbo River in the morning.

Day 1 weather was moody like this and wet in parts. Better than 35 degrees? Who knows....

Day 1 weather was moody like this and wet in parts. Better than 35 degrees? Who knows….

Snowy River Way to Dalgety 41km (total 148km)
I sat down to dinner of cup noodles as the rain set in for the night, it was looking pretty grim but I got on some wet weather gear and headed off. You’re allowed a pacer from 8:30pm and I’d arrived at around 7:30pm. This was about 30 minutes in front of Jane’s time from 2013 but I wasn’t to know how much suffering there was yet to come……

I was moving pretty well and trying to do a light run on the downhills here when I came across another runner recycling his dinner over the guardrail. A quick check of his welfare (they never want any help) and I strode off into the deepening dark. I was initially pretty happy that the weather was a bit gloomy, but actual rain was a bit of a bother because it meant wet feet and as Roger says in his report, you can run with just about any problem except broken feet. Water makes it much more difficult to keep your feet working.

About 10km out of Dalgety I finally asked for some foot care, so we all stopped and Blue Dog got out the foot care pack. He removed the socks (sure enough my tape had come off) sprayed the feet with adhesive and taped up the problem areas. Man it was like I’d had new feet transplanted on. They weren’t any better looking but they worked a whole lot better. Should have done that 50km ago…….

It was during this section that we said goodbye to a 38 hour finish. The stats say you need to get through here between 1-2am for a 38 hour finish and I think I left at 2:55am.

Dalgety is a big reward for the crew- the hall is set up to give them a warm feed and somewhere to sleep if needed. Oh and there’s a toilet. Toilets are awesome.

Dalgety to Jindabyne 36km (total 184km)
It’s about 12km from Dalgety to the bottom of Beloka Range, which is the second big climb (after Big Jack at 56km and before the climb to Charlotte Pass) so we told the crew to drive ahead to Beloka and have a 2 hour nap. As soon as they drove past my headlamp  flashed 3 times, meaning it was out of batteries, and my spare was in the car! Oh well, Jane had hers and a spare so we were fine, it was just an embarrassing mistake. Particularly as I’m supposed to be the electronics geek. It went into low power mode and lasted most of the night, but I did think I had tuned it for a longer burn time.

supercrew Wayne and Jane getting ready for the Beloka ascent

supercrew Wayne and Jane getting ready for the Beloka ascent, about 5am Saturday

Around Beloka we saw Annabel again, she’d had quite a long sleep and was moving pretty well. I couldn’t match her speed up the hill and so we said goodbye for about the 10th time. I was pretty determined to get to Jindabyne in good time but couldn’t make the maths work. It was a sign that I was really losing it, and soon the crew came to me and said they wanted me to sleep for 30 minutes. This was good because I had started hallucinating. I could see loads of words flying up the road like movie credits, but too fast for me to actually read. I gratefully got into the car and shut my eyes- I did have a wonderfully refreshing sleep for about 15 minutes but then woke up freaking out that they had not set the alarm or something. But then I could hear voices outside the car, so I knew they wouldn’t forget. I couldn’t get back to sleep so it was a bit of a relief when they came to wake me up. I felt energised and happy with only a few km to get into Jindy. I was moving well, but then old iron guts decided he needed relief- I found a nice quiet stand of trees and just as I was pulling my pants up the Singaporean runners van pulled up and he jumped out- ‘you runner?’ he said and I couldn’t think of anything to say. Of all the outdoor toilets in all of NSW he had to pull up outside mine…. but read on to find out how I got him back!

Blue Dog took me through Jindy via the bike path and the ladies went to buy coffees and try to book in to the motel where we would stay after finishing.

Jindabyne to Perisher 33km (total 212km)
It’s around this time that you start to make shit up. I mean, I knew that the last 40-50km of this run is basically uphill. So I have no idea how I managed to be convinced that there was only 11km of uphill then it would taper off. But I kept on looking around the next corner and then the next for a bit of relief. And it never came. The weather started to close in too. Looking up from Jindy we could see dark menacing clouds around the peaks, just where we were heading.

And sure enough, the higher we climbed, the more filthy the weather became. It wasn’t too bad at first with the wind whipping up a bit, then the heavens opened and it just deteriorated from there. And I got slower and slower. Jane had been saying to me constantly ‘when you get to Thredbo River you’re halfway through the race’ which quite frankly gave me the shits because it was quite clearly more than 2/3. But maths and reality can diverge so she was right in meaning that you need to reserve a decent amount of energy for this last push, or you’ll get crushed by the course. I was in the process of being crushed by the course, and when the crew said to me ‘maybe you need another sleep’ I took a couple of km to think about it and agreed. But before I could tell them they pulled over to a sheltered spot, pointed out to me that I only had 2 hours to make Perisher and started to dress me in warmer wet weather clothes.

They were using the flimsiest of excuses, I mean I’d actually written the stats that they were using against me, but I had no choice but to buckle up and carry on.

Perisher to Charlotte Pass 9km (total 222km)
We arrived at Perisher about 15 minutes after the time on my sheet, to find Joe Ward rugged up and waiting to see if anyone would continue with him. I hadn’t seen him since early the day before and thought he’d be finished by now, but he’s obviously had some hard times in the intervening period. I hadn’t realised how cold I was, I didn’t feel too bad but when someone handed me a cup of soft drink I couldn’t hold it still. Time for even more clothing and then we would attempt the 9km from there to Charlotte Pass. Joe and Ben Blackshaw came out of the bus shelter with us but quickly slipped behind. The weather got more grim. The wind whipped up the rain into our faces and we had a constant roar of rushing water in the culverts next to the road. I started matching the cadence of my feet with a soft repetition of ‘fuck this, fuck this, fuck this’ while watching the world destroy itself through my 2 inch viewhole. Jane came back and said ‘Whippet (race medic Andy Hewatt) wants to call the race off, but he said if I can go to Charlotte Pass and take over there, he will go to Rawsons Hut and tend to some stuff that needs doing’. I’m a bit ashamed to say I was thinking only of myself at this point and how much I wanted to finish the race. It didn’t really matter that was happening elsewhere, I just wanted to finish, and I didn’t want to be plucked off the mountain while so close. ‘Go’ I said to Jane without asking what she wanted. I realised after that Sarah was pretty tired by then, in fact everyone was tired and over it. We’d been brilliant as a team, but cracks were starting to show. Blue Dog would have to take me to the summit and he had to borrow some pants from Brad Smithers. He’s quite happy not wearing pants most of the time but these were mandatory……

About 5km from Charlotte Pass Sarah said ‘look, here’s someone coming down the mountain and he’s talking to everyone’ we knew it would be the announcement that they were calling an ‘inclement weather’ course, and we would finish at Charlotte Pass. This has happened 3 times in the 10 years of running the race and I’d have to say it was completely justified. It was Paul Every coming to give us the news himself, and he was very apologetic. I was reasonably happy because I knew it was going to take me another 4-5 hours to summit and the crew would not be happy at all with a 42 hour finish. We got within 3km of the finish and I told Sarah to get in the car as the weather was now properly vicious. I’d lost places to the Singaporean guy (he’d probably needed to get ahead because for the last 8 hours I had been pulling my pants down to wee whenever I felt like it and he was often in prime viewing position, sorry dude), Realene Bendall got past and also Joe Ward had shuffled past while I was looking for a chocolate bar. So I lost about half an hour in that last 3km. Lucky Blue Dog got out of the car and started using his dog whispering routine to get me to move forward. I was having all sorts of trouble but of course it was all related to being so close to the finish, all the aches and pains came out. With his gentle chatting and frequent stops we finally saw the car park at Charlotte Pass. A pretend run through the tape and it was over in 37:35 (inclement weather). Yes, this is also known as the 222km sprint course. Har har.

And thus finishes my ambitions and the pinnacle of Australian Ultra Running. There’s plenty of races I haven’t done in Australia, but none I wanted to do more. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and so happy to gain knowledge from these amazing athletes. I made loads of mistakes and yet ran really conservatively. I do think that I could do better if I did it again. Oops, did I say again?

Jane, Adam, Blue Dog at the finish. Sarah was warming up the car, I was bloody freezing! Thanks to Brett Saxon of TrailsPlus for this picture

Jane, Adam, Blue Dog at the finish. Sarah was warming up the car, I was bloody freezing! Thanks to Brett Saxon of TrailsPlus for this picture

So I’ve finished Australia’s toughest trail ultra (GNW100m), Australia’s longest road ultra (C2K) and the Sri Chinmoy 24 hour (Australia’s silliest ultra?) all in one year. That makes me a very happy ex fat bastard. Every groan has been accompanied by a grin as big as Dark Horse Dave Graham’s- that’s huge!

I also want to pay tribute here to Kurt Topper, who battled on for longer than I did and still came out smiling. We were both at the back of the field, but a finish is as good as a win for me, and I hope Kurt feels the same way.

Kurt & Paul Every finish

Kurt gets a hug from RD Paul Every a the Charlotte Pass finish

Saying thanks here isn’t really adequate to express how I really feel about the people who made this all possible, but I’ll try.

Sarah Connor- who let me follow my dreams and didn’t complain about all the extra child minding. I love you the ends of the earth and back, but please don’t make me run there.

Andy DuBois- who resisted calling me out when I re interpreted his instructions. I mean isn’t it perfectly reasonable to say
‘run 60 minutes easy’ equals ‘take the day off’ ?

Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory- who taught me that big boofy blokes can have a sensitive side, and still be hard as nails. You’re a brilliant man to have on my side and nobody I’d rather share the time with.

Jane Trumper- very grateful to have been taken under her wing in 2011, now look what’s happened… You’ve made me into one of those crazy running people, and I love it!

Getting my Akubra and hat pin from Paul Every

Getting my Akubra and hat pin from Paul Every Photo credit- Brett Saxon

 

on finding out that I had won the chafing award!

on finding out that I had won the chafing award!

Here’s proof that you don’t need to be wordy on FaceBook, this 5 word post got nearly 200 likes

Full points to Grant Campbell- Raw Aussie Athlete, who sat down opposite me at breakfast the day after and said nothing while a whole plate of pig made the ultimate sacrifice into the Great White Buffet Hunters gob. I can be sensitive, but that was not one of those days. And special thanks to Michael McGrath, who volunteered as a safety officer for the race. Afterwards he came into my room and said ‘I always knew you would make it and I’ve brought you some nice Scottish beers to celebrate with’. Thanks Mike, I’m sure you’ll be on the start line next year. He also sent this cheery note about the weather-

‘Worth noting that :

Perisher Valley BOM site recorded 128.8mm of rain in the 24 hours from 9am Saturday 6th December to Sunday 9am

Of which over 100mm falling between 11am and 10.30pm Saturday when bulk of runners were going through area

Average December MONTHLY  Rainfall for Perisher is 95.3mm

IE 35% more rain than for the average whole month of December fell in a single day’

Well, I’m glad it wasn’t considered an ‘easy’ year then!

Here’s the splits. I really slowed down in the back half, could have done a lot better with a bit more concentration.

http://www.coast2kosci.com/live.php

 

Andrew Tuckey and Adam, the similarity ends at the Akubra!

Andrew Tuckey and Adam, the similarity ends at the Akubra!

Last year this race had its 100th finisher. By comparison, on 23 May 2010, the summit of Mount Everest was reached by 169 climbers- yes in a single day -making a finish in this race a rare achievement indeed. (Wikipedia)

I want to stress this once again- I’m a normal bloke with no particular skills. Everything I have achieved is down to spending time with people who’ve already done it. If you want to do something like this, plan it out. Spend time with people who have been there. Volunteer to crew. Get a qualifier. Get involved. The rewards go much further than just a race finish, this event is epic on every level. Thanks to Paul Every, Diane Weaver, Dave Criniti and the whole team of volunteers. Don’t go changin’

All finishers who brought their hats are invited to be in the finishers pic.....

All finishers who brought their hats are invited to be in the finishers pic…..

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