This race is awesome. Whether you race, spectate or crew, there is something for everyone.
Was overly anxious about this race all week leading into it. Number 1 son had been unwell and my sleeping patterns had been quite broken. Work was insane all week. My right ITB had been giving me grief just walking down stairs and all wanted was for the race to be over by the Wednesday beforehand.
I worked at the UTA Expo the day before the race. Whilst it was great fun, it may not have been the best idea to stand up all day, the day before a 50k race. Dinner was very late, but I was hydrated through the day, which turned out to be a good idea as race day was quite warm.
Thanks to the Noosa NUTRS, we had accommodation very close to the start. Race morning dawned after a terrible sleep (perfectly normal for most runners I hear).
The start was heaving by the time we got there at 6am. Such a great sight to see!
Anxiety levels were peaking and after some wise words from Summit Sister Bek , took myself off to watch the 100k runners come down road to see Adam and all the others that were running. Did some warm ups while chatting Belinda Allison in the car park. A few yoga moves later, anxiety was done to more manageable levels and I was taking off my jacket in preparation for the start.
I was really happy to be in start wave 4 this year. Started at the back with some of the Summit Sisters, took off a bit too fast through the crowd and up the hill (Note next year start in the middle of the wave and listen to what others say!).
First 5 k is on road to spread out the field before going down the Giant Staircase. It’s a bit of a killer as its quite hilly. Good warm up though.
Photo credit- Rebekah Markey
Passed back through the start area and waved to all my friends were crewing and spectating this year – such a boost to the ego to hear your name called! Gavin Markey made me giggle using the road cone as megaphone!! Classic. That image stuck in my head for quite a while.
Through to the Giant Staircase via Clifftop walk – again probably a bit fast. I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but there was a runner who kept running and walking and just annoyed the crap out of me. I suddenly realised that it was not their fault and soon settled down into a good rhythm. Top of the Giant staircase and no lines, just a few people making there way down at a good pace. Had the lovely Tom behind me, who talked too me all the way down the slight scarier bits (I’m not good with heights). He was fantastic.
Running through the Leura forest (my favourite bit!) and a guy in front came down.
Everyone stopped to see if he was OK, he said he was fine, so the conga line kept going. I mentioned to the vollie and the medic a bit further on, that he had come down and may have done an ankle. I heard a bit later on that someone had shattered their kneecap and had to be airlifted out. Hopefully it was not him.
Stomping up the stairs out of Leura Forest and I start to see a few Summit Sisters ahead. The single track of this part of the race, I love but today my legs were very heavy and it was a struggle.
This part of the race was the only place that I experienced a slight delay with the stairs. Other runners were very good about letting you past.
Through Gordon Falls to the cheers from Bek, Sharon and other Summit Sisters who were being the world’s most awesome support squad.
Got caught up with a much faster runner and stuck with her for about, oooh 500m, and then let her past. She was fast.
The highlight of this part of the race was getting to use a proper toilet at Conservation Hut. It was nice to sit down too…. Got some lovely support from the Melissa Caslick Cheer squad here!
Chugged along until Wentworth Falls where I had to empty the stones out of my shoes. (Note to self – buy some Trail Gaiters). Had a lovely chat to a guy who had run the Pace Athletic 22k and was waiting for a friend to appear.
Through to the Fairmont where the Ellen Braybon cheer squad was waiting. Grabbed a handful of chips and kept moving. Ran into Tom again in the next section. Really thought he looked familiar… more on that later.
Got to the halfway point and my left knee/ITB was unhappy. Stopped on Tablelands Road and did some running repairs with my dodgy ankle tape.
Sailed into CP1, got a quick hug from Selena, another conversation with Tom, grabbed coke, watermelon and banana, filled up with water, more repairs to the left knee and sailed out again. And then discovered that my little water bottle had been leaking coke into the pocket. Sadly had to drink all the black gold in one go.
Struggled down Kedumba with ITB /knee pain – but at least this year I was mostly running rather than walking. There were a few other runners in the same predicament.
Got the Jamieson to discover no water in the creek. I was planning to wet my hat here. Walking up the hills I started to pass some of the runners who had passed me on the downhill. Started to crave ice cream at this point.
Just before the Leura Creek – I hear – “hey, you’re Adam’s wife Sarah!” It helped that I had my number around to the back…. Had a chat to Byron about how Adam was my husband and left him to it. (It’s a running joke in our house – training one day on the UTA course and about 6 people said – “Hey you’re Adam’s wife Sarah”).
Get to the 41k mark, rattled my backpack to check if I had enough water – it felt like it. BIG mistake. About a 1k later, wondered why water did not come out of the hose….. No water. No coke. No watery foods. Dismissed the idea of going back.
After about another 1k, finally bit the bullet and asked if anyone had any spare water, and Marco came to my rescue by sharing his electrolyte. We power walked the course through the old sewerage works and the mud. Linda, who I had met during training out the back of Belrose one day, came to my rescue too and filled my leaky bottle with water, which lasted for about 3 k. Marco and I were having a grand old time chatting along this part of the course. Discovered that our kids go to the same school!
Got passed by the winner of the 100k – he was very polite and very fast. Then about 30 mins later came the 2nd guy. And then the 3rd, 4th and 5th males … hmm those guys can move.
Took my salted caramel GU with about 2 k to go. Marco was making sure I was well hydrated too. And then appears the Furber stairs. Now I’m not a fan of stairs and I knew this was going to be tough. For the first time ever I cramped, which meant I had to put my heel down first on each step to keep my calf muscles long.
Finally got to the top and could hear the crowd. The lady next to me was emotional, so I grabbed her hand and checked on her – it was her first 50k! I managed to run about 2 steps with her and then the cramping started again. It was a walking finish for me.
Photo credit- Jo Brischetto
Sat down on the finish line, not quite sure what to do about the cramps. The ever-amazing Jo came and picked me up and got a medic to advise me what to do. So 2 electrolyte tablets, 2 glasses of the Hammer Fizz and a chicken soup later, I was feeling much better. Marco and his family were there and it was lovely to meet them. Marco’s wife checked my time and that was when I discovered I had done a PB by 8 mins.
Linda was also there and then all of a sudden, Tom finished and I worked out how I knew him! I had met him with Linda that day in the back of Belrose.
Thanks to all my running friends who supported through out the day – it would not be such an awesome race with out the fans !
Thanks to my family who put up with my cranky runner impersonation whilst tapering. Thanks to Julie, my long run partner – she suffered for this too !
Love the ultra running community! Love this race. If you are thinking about doing an ultra or just want to have a go at the 22k , this is the race for you.
Patagonia undies – gotta have good undies
Moving comfort sports bra
Unknown brand of socks that I got from Pace Athletic and I love.
Lulu lemon singlet – in hindsight could have done without it.
Summit UTA 2016 Sisters Buff and UTA 2016 t-shirt.
Nathan Vapour Shape 2 L/&l hydration pack.
Hoka One One Stinson ATR Trail .
Food to Nourish green envy balls
Choc mint M&M’s
Pre made rice cereal with apples –Farex brand
And boy did I get it wrong this year – could have done the whole course with Coke and chips and baby food.
Since I’ve given up making excuses, here’s a list of reasons why I failed in my attempt to make it 2 from 2 making 180km in 24 hours at this race.
1. Apx 3 marathons in 4 days only 10 days before this race
2. Some mild but undefined plague the week before the attempt
3. Carrying 5kg (ok 6kg) more weight than last time
4. Not as fit
The weather was expected to be atrocious, and running around a 400m track for 24 hours in this could easily be described as ‘character building’. Lucky a few characters turned up….
It poured down while we were setting up, and had a few moments early on, then the rain cleared and they used a broom to clear the water from lane 1. And then it didn’t start raining again until literally 2 minutes from the end. We were VERY lucky…….
So, how did it go?
The strategy was to run 21 laps per hour for 12 hours, then 17 laps per hour for the last 12 hours. Making 22 laps good, making 20 or 23 bad. I managed to make a comfortable start, and by the third hour I was right on target/ slightly in front at around 66 laps. But shortly after that I fell apart. It was way to early to have these kinds of issues, but I had to walk off the course for a massage. This meant I pretty much blew the plan- you can recover one or two laps, but as the deficit gets bigger your task seems to get exponentially harder. Each lap that you should be doing in 2:40 to 2:50 then needs to get a little faster to claw back.
I went back out on the track and things seemed to be going better, I even felt like I the fat lady hadn’t sung yet. For the next couple of hours I had visions of simply sucking up the pain and making it, but then I started getting flashbacks of 2014 when I did push on and plumbed dark corners of consciousness that I hoped never to see again. Never mind- I was quite prepared to do that to make my goal as long as my body would cooperate.
But it wouldn’t. The fat lady was clearing her throat, ready to mock me for being so over confident. Here’s my stats from last time-
50 mile: 9:32:44
100 mile: 20:03:46
So my plan was to go a bit slower through the marathon mark, easier through 50km. About the same for 50 mile, exactly the same for 100km, then I’d be quite happy to slip a bit for 150km and add up to 2 hours on to the 180km time. But that was apparently some sort of wild dream. And not one where I got to spread honey on naked ladies. Oops sorry for that mental image…
I got through the marathon in apx 4:47 which was perfect. But yeah, BOOM! Sometime around hour 6-8 I realised that my body would not cash the cheques my mind wanted to write. I wasn’t injured, sick or disabled, best guess is I had not recovered enough from the BUMS marathons. I settled into ticking off the laps without struggling. I fell way behind my mates- Taras was looking great and Kurt Topper and Matt M were pushing on, and Kieron Blackmore might as well have been in a different race, he was so smooth.
I promised myself a nice long rest at 12 hours, and sure enough I spent over an hour in the pits just watching everyone lap me! Sally Dean turned up with a bunch of coffees and since Hailey Maxwell hadn’t turned up to claim hers, I drank it. That was a mistake for 2 reasons- I’d been cutting down my caffeine intake before the race and had already consumed way too much. Also I have developed a bit of a lactose intolerance in my old age, so I was really asking for trouble later…….
So suddenly I was so high on coffee I could taste colours. And nipped out for another hour and had a good one. Alas it wasn’t to last but I did develop a new strategy- my running laps had gone from 2:40 to well over 3:30, so I figured that I could walk 10 laps per hour at 4-4:30 minutes per lap and still have enough time for a 5-10 minute rest each hour. And so it went.
an artists impression of lactose intolerance
My estimate for 100km had blown out from 12 hours and I watched 14 hours slip away. With a bit of concerted effort I made it in 15 hours, but I was now increasingly appalled at how little progress I was making. Taras, Kurt and Matt variously had long pit stops, and Kieron did some blister treatment and changed shoes then set off again like a shot duck.
I began to focus on my position, because in these long events its the stayers that do well. Last I’d looked I was in 24th position out of 34 starters, and I knew that I would make up a couple of positions simply through attrition. The next time I looked I was up to 22nd, and over the next few hours I picked off a few more just by not quitting. Remember I was going slower than a giant tortoise on xanax, but I was still clocking up laps……
Over the grim night hours I made a mental game of seeing who I could pick of if I kept pushing my expanded arse around the course a bit more. While I would never call the performance inspiring, at least it kept my mind working. Or maybe that was the coffee.
For most of the day/ night I was pretty sure Sara Jaques would beat me but she succumbed to the sleep monsters late at night- but she’s got bigger fish to fry in a couple of months. However I was super impressed with her walking speed- I couldn’t keep up!
and then I was briefly in 11th position- WTF? I grabbed my phone off the table and had a look at the live tracking, there was no way I would catch 10th (Kieron Blackmore with a fantastic 157.555km), and some bloke who I’ve never met was dicing with me for 11th and 12th position. That was a great motivator but I knew that 12th was better than I ever could have expected with my level of competence. In the next couple of hours he made an extra 3-4 laps on me and cemented his lead, congratulations to Paul Mahoney.
And then it got light, and then it was over. And the rain came down…. Massive congratulations to all of my friends, old and new who braved this epic and silly race. I laughed, I cried, I hurled. OK I didn’t hurl, but Malcom Gamble did, then smiled and kept running on his way to first place with 222.656km. Also huge congrats to Sharon Scholz who ran over 200km for a total of 201.931km! Wow.
Here are my provisional stats
6 hours 48.4km
12 hours 84.8km
18 hours 108km
24 hours 133.087km
50 Mile 11:18:32
I have no idea why this particular race broke so many people. The weather was not as bad as expected, it wasn’t brutally cold- but I was affected mentally seeing some of my running heroes come to grief- Brendan Davies, John Pearson and Bryan McCorkindale all had nasty things bite them while on track. I made a joke about ‘beating’ them on Facebook but it wasn’t very funny as those guys are all in a completely different league to me. I hope they all recover quickly. To give you better idea of the scale of the ugliness- in 2014 when I ran exactly 180km that was only good enough for 9th place overall, in a much smaller field. This year that would have got me 6th place. There was easily 6 or 8 people on course hoping to make a C2K qualifier, how many of us made it? None. But Kristy Lovegrove got closest, only 12 laps away and she fought hard for that result. Respect.
Maybe I should apologise for my fashion choices too
So I walk away a little smarter, a little more experienced, with a slightly battered ego and a lot more muscle soreness. I also have a lot of people to apologise to- I can’t tell you the details but the filter was definitely stuck in the ‘off’ position for that 24 hours. All of the place getters were offered a chance to speak at the award ceremony and all of them remarked about how helpful the vollies were and how well organised the race was (and they were all correct!), but when asked to speak all I could say was
‘Thank god that’s over’
*Photo credits- thank you to Sarah Connor, Stephen Bowers, Sally Dean and Hailey Maxwell. If I have accidentally stolen your pics or you want them removed please let me know
UTA100 was my first ‘proper’ ultra, and I couldn’t be happier with it. In fact, even going into work on Monday morning couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!
Running an ultramarathon started as an idea in my head about 2 years ago, coming off a heal spur injury which sidelined me much longer than it should have, and with my 40th birthday (and surely midlife crisis!) slowly approaching I made a resolution to be fitter than I had ever been. What better way to prove this than by running 100k through the mountains?
Once I signed up for UTA and 6foot, I started seriously preparing. This involved watching a lot of Youtube videos while ironing my work shirts. And having a pretty dedicated training regime in the NRG 6foot training sessions was excellent. The hill sessions were killers but I did them pretty religiously. Closer to race day, I started doing a lot (A LOT!) of stair training, getting to know Curry Mountain very intimately. A few times, I actually loaded up a backpack with 12 kilos worth of dictionaries and did Curry Mountain reps at 5 am. I admit I got a little kick out of having some guy ask me how many reps I was doing one morning and telling him as casually as possible that I was ‘at 35, but may do a few more’. As soon as he was out of sight I fell into a quivering mess 🙂
Just to spice things up a bit, our daughter arrived just after 6foot and this changed my plans a bit. Originally I had been planning on running a lot of the UTA training runs with the NRG groups on the course, to find out how tough the course was. But now I felt I couldn’t really justify spending extra time away from the family driving out there & back. So for my long runs, I settled on local trails only. Which meant that I was not going to see the course before race day. My original plan of logging 100k per week went out the window as well. Instead, I decided that 60k was the new 100k. On the bright side, that left me incredibly fresh come race day. My plan (based on nothing more than kind of wanting a silver buckle), was to run the course in 14 hours, but I would still be happy with just finishing considering this was my first attempt at this distance.
The morning of the race I woke up excited. I just wanted to get this thing started. Looking back, I would have liked it to start differently though! I was in wave 2 and it took about 100 meters of running when I felt my shorts getting wet. Then my hands and my shirt. I looked down and I immediately wished I could start the day again: BOTH my water bottles were leaking. Every step I took, drops of water were flying all over the place. After 1k, there was only half of my water left. And to make matters worse I then realised that basing my nutrition plan on using Tailwind meant that apart from my hydration, it was also my nutrition plan that quickly evaporated. Oh well, only 99 km to go!
I spent the rest of the trip to CP1 thinking about what to do. Luckily, I had brought 2 soft flasks of 1/2 a liter each to make up the 2 liter capacity requirement. These would have to do until CP3, where I had left a spare bladder with my crew.
I was pretty worried though: I would have to run the 20k from CP1 to CP2 on 1 liter of water, and I had to start taking gels instead of Tailwind (I tried, but couldn’t manage to get my tailwind to go from my zip lock bags into the tiny opening of the soft flasks). Then, there was another gruelling 15k from CP2 to CP3 with the same worry. I was hoping it wouldn’t get too hot too quickly!
Annoyingly, I found out at CP1 that I couldn’t fit both leaking bottles in the back of my pack. I also didn’t dare to throw out the leaking bottles at the checkpoint, afraid of breaking the 2 liter water capacity requirement. So this meant I had to hold 1 of the soft flasks in my hand for the entire 35k until CP3. It took a few minutes at CP1 to get organised and ready to go (including eating some unripe bananas, yuck!)
Start to CP1 – 11k – 1h17 (Planned: 1h15). Time in CP1: +- 4 minutes
Even though I left CP1 a few minutes behind schedule, I started getting comfortable with the new situation pretty soon, and it was such a gorgeous day that I just loved being out there. I even started passing a few people again on my way to Taros. I only had to wait a few minutes at Taros, and I bumped into an ex-colleague. We ran a few km together which was really nice. My spirits really started to soar here. I was feeling great, running well, and passing people. Unfortunately, Doug was one of them. He seemed to be hurting quite a bit. I pushed on and made CP2 with water to spare, and took some time there filling up again. I was happy to see that I had returned to 14hr schedule.
CP1 to CP2 – 21k – 2h03 (Planned: 2h08). Time in CP2: +- 3 minutes.
Start to CP2 – 32k – 3h20 (Planned: 3h24)
The run from CP2 to CP3 was possibly even better: I was in the zone, running took almost no effort at all. It was a beautiful part of the course, going up Ironpot Mountain and doing the out & back along the ridge. For the first time, I passed the didgeridoo players that I had heard so much about. I took some time to inhale the views from the top while listening to the sounds. It was pretty amazing! On the out & back, I saw Rocco and Geoff just in front which gave me a little boost as I knew they were chasing 14 hours as well. It was good to know they weren’t too far ahead after I saw them speed off ahead of me at the start! Going down from IronPot mountain was super hard. I like running downhill, but this was so steep and slippery that I was afraid of ruining my quads here and I took it easy. After the IronPot descent I started running really well again, and I ended up passing some NRG runners. Geoff, Rocco and Tim were all running within a few minutes of each other. I was still a bit worried about running out of water, but as it turns out I was able to stretch it until about the last corner before CP3. I was so pleased to get to CP3, my crew, and the NRG cheer team! On top of that, I was surprised to see that I was now starting to get close to 13:30 schedule, and I was still feeling very good. It took some time to grab my bladder, fill it up & fit it inside my pack, but I was always planning on staying here at least 5 minutes.
CP2 to CP3 – 14k – 1h44 (Planned: 2h00). Time in CP3: 8 minutes
Start to CP3 – 46k – 5h04 (Planned: 5h24)
Leaving CP3 in front of the NRG Cheering Squad
At CP3 I seem to have made my second big mistake: to make up for my perceived lack of calories taken on the first half of the course, I ate a peanut butter sandwich which I had prepared but wasn’t planning on using. Coming out of CP3 I started feeling pretty bad very quickly. Suddenly, the energy in my body had disappeared, I got annoyed at things like my bib falling off and having to redo the pins, needing a bathroom break, etc etc. As a result, going up Nellies my mind was in a terrible place. After having some Shot Bloks, my stomach was even worse. I was back on tailwind now though, so it meant I could at least keep up my calories. The lucky part about getting my anticipated ‘bad section’ here is that it was during an uphill section that you’re supposed to be walking/hiking anyway, so I didn’t actually end up losing much time compared to if it had happened during a runnable section. I just kept plodding along, and towards the top of Nellies my nausea suddenly disappeared, and I ran into the Aquatic Centre to a great reception. Steve, Nicola, Alison & Ava were all there, and it really lifted my spirits (that, and a magical can of coke).
CP3 to CP4 – 11k – 1h39 (Planned: 1h39). Time in CP4: 9 minutes
Start to CP4 – 57k – 6h43 (Planned: 7h03)
7 Ladies’ worth of Support Crew
CP4 to CP5 was amazing. I knew this was the toughest part of the course and was expecting pain and misery. Instead, I loved it. Sure, the stairs were tough, and there were a million of them, but my legs just didn’t seem to get tired. I was joined just after the Giant Stairway by 2 other runners and we ended up running together for an hour or so, which made the time go faster and the stairs less obvious! Once at the Fairmont I filled up again, said hi to the NRG crew and was well on my merry way to the silver buckle when I must not have lifted a foot up high enough… and smacked forward into the gravel. First came the initial shock, and then my legs started to cramp up. I was able to just avoid terrible pain by stretching my legs upwards. A group of passing runners helped me get up and when we looked at the damage, I could breathe a sigh of relief: my left knee and hand were bleeding, but it didn’t seem race threatening. I told them to go on, and swallowed my final salt tablet. Yes, my final one. I had bought an enormous tub of salt tablets before the race, and bizarrely had decided to bring only 4 in my pack?? I had taken the first one going up Nellies. The second and third I had given away an hour earlier to a guy that I passed as he was cramping up. So when swallowing that last salt tablet I made a mental note to make sure to ask my crew at CP5 to replenish them for the final leg. I then cleaned the wound out with the water dripping from the rock walls (not sure if this was smart?) and started running again slowly. After another clean at the baths of Wentworth Falls I realised that all seemed to be working well again. In fact, in ran into CP5 feeling great, still energetic, and about half an hour ahead of schedule.
CP4 to CP5 – 21k – 3h15 (Planned: 3h25). Time in CP5: 7 minutes
Start to CP5 – 78k – 9h56 (Planned: 10h28)
Nursing a bloody knee at CP5
CP5 did nothing to dampen my spirits with the pumping music and friendly faces. I left feeling refreshed and I knew from talking to Danny earlier that I was going to get the silver buckle unless I made another stupid error.
It took me about 1 km to realise that I had made another stupid error. Basking in the glorious attention of my crew and Robyn & Laura at CP5, I had completely forgotten about replenishing my salt tablets. And when I started the descent into the depths of Kedumba, my knee started hurting. Not too much, but enough to make me realise how dumb it would be to end up with cramps in the middle of nowhere when all I had to do was take more pills that weigh about 1/2 gram each. I hobbled the downhill and was happy for the climb to start. At least walking the uphill didn’t hurt (yet!). It was now getting dark, and the darkness dampened my mood a bit. Also the fact that everything was just going so slowly now! This part of the course seemed to never end. I kept trying to tell myself to relax, but now I just wanted it to finish. It took an eternity before I finally got to Furber and it was only then that my mood lifted again. I’d done it! Running through the finish chute and getting cheers from wife, crew and NRG was amazing. It easily ranks as one of the best feelings ever 🙂
CP5 to Finish – 22k – 3h27 (Planned: 3h38).
Start to Finish – 100k – 13h23 (Planned: 14h)
Looking back, I realise how lucky I’ve been. There were a few screwups there that could easily have cost me a lot of time or even the race. So I’m happy that it turned out the way it did. Having said that, I did my training well, and I think the biggest reason I had such a great experience has to do with those hard yards. Hard, but so worth it. I am forever grateful to my wife for allowing me to keep following my dream during a very turbulent family period, to Steve & Nicola my fantastic crew for their incredible efforts to keep me on track, and to all NRG runners who have helped and inspired me along the way!
Steve, my loyal crew. His expression shows there is still room for improvement 🙂
When you’re running this event, your whole body hates you.
If you’re crewing, it’s only your liver.
At around 9am on Wednesday Jane Trumper and Sally Dean arrived at my place and we made a few last minute decisions about what to take and leave and headed off. Then headed back again because I had forgotten my laptop. Sometime much later we arrived at Hailey Maxwell’s place and added her stuff to the amazing assortment of crap in the car.
The trip to Eden was uneventful except for 2 things- somehow we didn’t go via Berri- and hence missed the fresh donut van, and we managed to talk openly about bodily functions for quite a long time. It became obvious I was going to enjoy spending time with these lovely ladies…..
A quick stop to dump our crap at the caravan park and it was off to dinner at the Fisho’s- Eden Fisherman’s Club. It’s like going home. Well, a gaudy home that sells delicious fried things. And beer. Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory was there with his team so we added Mick and Bernadette along with BD, coming back after 4 long years in the injury box.
Getting back to our new waterfront trailer, we were pretty happy and took a few selfies with beer and decided to head off to bed. At that moment Wayne turned up with a bottle of red wine, and the ladies ran away and shut the room doors. So Wayne and I sat up and talked about nothing, nursing a few middies of red. Nice way to finish the day.
Thursday morning and strangely I wasn’t feeling 100% but I wasn’t worried about getting sick, as alcohol kills bacteria. We popped into town for breakfast and met Joe Ward and Anderson, who would both be running. After that we hit Coles for supplies and everything looked delicious. Poor Jane was made to pay for our soft drink and chip habit, then we handed the big job of re arranging the car to Sally while Hailey and I checked the course for Cossie to Coast.
If you’ve never seen this race it is hilarious- the crews all wear a swimming costume and run 7km from near Boydtown Beach back to the caravan park. This year we had 29 starters, and for some reason I ended up as the RD, but it went smoothly and we didn’t have to send out a search party for Annabel Hepworth like last year. She was in a gorilla suit so I’m not sure if she’d have been able to hunt down any food……One person this year wore a ‘Gafkini’- a bikini entirely made from Gaffa tape. Just be glad I’m not posting a photo of that one…..
Back to the Fishermans club for the race briefing and pre race dinner- it really is Christmas for ultra runners- almost every ultra runner you know is in that room. Handshakes, backslaps and sandbagging is the order of the day, before an early night and even earlier morning for the race start.
We shuffled down the beach in lovely mild conditions to start the race. This year my running club (NRG) had 5 runners accepted into the race, but sadly 2 were out with injury. Would have been an amazing thing to have 10% of the field, but alas it wasn’t to be. On the upside we did have Robyn Bruins, Chantelle Farrelly and Rocco Smit- all of whom had amazing performances at GNW. I snuck in for a pic with team NRG, got one with my crew + runner and suddenly they were off!
The last few years there has been a rule that everyone must head off to the Pericoe Rd meeting spot directly from Boydtown Beach. Makes a lot of sense, and prevents runners breathing in heaps of dust from cars going past. We arrived there to see the locals making coffee and bacon & egg rolls. They were delicious, but I had a few things to set up too….. I planned to be the only car on the road with wifi, aircon, and an espresso machine. OK air conditioning isn’t that special in a modern car, but I figured good coffee and access to Facebook would make the crew very happy……
At Pericoe Rd we ‘serviced’ our runner for the first time and started to get into the rhythm of the race. Jane had been a bit worried about a niggle she had picked up during her race in Manislu and had brought her own moon boot. That’s a new level of sandbagging. I hoped. However she seemed to be moving well when she came through. In the early stages of the race you get to see pretty much everybody, and it’s a real party for the crews before the field starts to stretch out. Trevor Allen came through first at warp speed, followed closely by Joe Ward and others- not sure it’s a good idea to make your 10km pb in a 240km race but I have full respect for those who can ‘go out hard and hang on’!
From there the next major moment is at Rocky Hall, 50km in and designated Checkpoint 1. Jane made it here at 11:55am or 6:25 race time. This was 19 minutes slower than her PB in 2013, but the day was getting hot and certainly no reason to worry.
We designated Hailey to walk up Big Jack with Jane, and I went up in the car with Sally. It’s the first time I’ve been up there in a car- twice pacing Jane and once running the event. At the top, we figured we had enough time to sneak into Cathcart. It puts the odometer out of whack, but we wanted to buy lunch, get ice (we were using a lot in drinks etc because of the heat) and make sure there was something good for Jane (she likes a mango Weiss bar at Cathcart, but we already knew they didn’t have any).
Back to the top of Big Jack and no one was any wiser, except for the pie stains on my shirt. Jane checked her feet, and it was here that we started to hear about the carnage unfolding on the course. Jan Hermann (11 time starter, 9 time finisher and bloody legend) had pulled out at Big Jack- we found out later that he had recently been knocked off his bike and was still injured from that. Tough guy but poor luck this year. It was a big blow to all of us to hear this.
Another to pull the pin was Billy Bridle. I really wanted to see him finish, he’s worked really hard for his place and lost 50kg over the last few years. Alas it wasn’t his day but I hope he’ll be back.
Into Cathcart and it turned out that the earlier trip was worthwhile- they’d run out of ice! It would bean extra 20km into Bombala to get some if you needed it…… Jane was now running 45 minutes behind her PB but still looked comfortable. Blue Dog had his game face on but looked like he was in pain, and Sabina Hamaty was way back in the field and looking unhappy- but 240km is a long way and like someone said ‘if you feel good during an ultra marathon, don’t worry- the feeling will pass’.
Jane asked us to meet her 4km up the road outside Cathcart, so we went out 4km, I laid back for a nap, and the ladies sat at the rear of the car and talked quietly. Just as I drifted off I thought’ we haven’t seen any runners or cars for a while’ but it wasn’t enough for me to wake up…… and shortly after this my mobile rang and it was Andy ‘Whippet’ Hewatt the race medic using Jane’s phone to find out where we were……. she had run 6km and figure we had gotten lost. Oops. Yes, we’d missed a turnoff.
Back on track and Jane came up to the window and absolutely tore strips off us. The air turned blue and all I could manage was a weak apology, then I looked around and Damon Roberts crew (who had helped Jane while we were indisposed) were filming us! We’d been set up!
So I called her a bitch and she variously said she was fine and we were a bunch of er whatevers, and we all trundled merrily down the street. Next thing I’m being interviewed by Damon’s team again about our ‘mishap’ and Billy Pearce (race medic) comes up to give us shit too. It seems runners can’t keep secrets….
It’s a bit of a slog from here to the dead tree at 102km, and we were all a bit sombre after getting lost. Your runner really does rely on their crew to be on top of everything at all times, it could have been much more disastrous than it was.
We’d decided that I would be first pacer and would start at CP3. Cup noodles were ordered from the finest chefs in the land but unfortunately our stove kept on getting blown out in the wind. They eventually solved the problem by using hot water we had in a thermos from the morning. Nice!
By this time it was obvious that Jane was not having an easy time and it would be a matter of minimising losses rather than killing her PB. I saddled up for a 6 hour shift and we headed out into the night. Previously we had done a big 8 hour shift to start, but this time we had only 2 confident runners on the crew (Sally would have been fine but our job was to keep Jane moving, and Sally more than makes up for not pacing by being super organised and nice to be around!)
I like the night shift, it’s quiet and you can see stars and reflect. The trip into Dalgety can be a bit soul destroying because it is pretty long at 42km but there’s nothing for it except to keep going. I insisted the ladies get a bit of sleep as I was carrying everything that Jane needed for the next few hours. So we left the clipboard on the windscreen of the car and I wrote the time we went past, allowing them to get a bit of sleep. I did turn into a bit of a Nazi though, yelling at Hailey for not being asleep! Sorry Hailey!
Hailey took over pacing around 2:45am and I settled in for some sleep. Amazingly I was pretty relaxed and actually slept for a while- massive win!
Somehow I managed to arrange things so that Hailey had to pace Jane up Beloka Range. I awoke in the early morning, and as men do, needed to wee. First problem- there was about 5 cars up there! So I spotted a tree a discrete distance away, but just as I was about to drop trou, Damons team command parked right in front of me. Given their previous treatment of us I was pretty tempted to urinate on their nice clean car, but figured it wouldn’t really make things better. You’ll keep, you cheeky bastards.
In another stroke of brilliant luck, Jane told us to go ahead to Jindabyne and get coffees, breakfast and supplies. So I got a couple of hours sleep, coffee, breakfast and plenty of rest. Heaven.
I took over pacing duties again in a car park on the outskirts of Jindabyne, and we headed out of town towards the big climb. It was around here that we heard about an issue that had come up. I don’t really want to go into it here but several teams were warned about having too many crew cars serving their runner (you are allowed only one), and subsequently a time penalty of 2 hours was issued to Nikki Wynds team. It must have been gut wrenching for both Race Directors and runner (and crew), but anything that jeopardises the running of the race must be dealt with harshly. I can’t imagine that the race would get approval in todays nanny state environment, and we must do everything to preserve it’s viability.
Jane is typically very strong on the hills, and we started catching up to Kirrily Dear- eventually passing her by the side of the road with her legs in the air. Sorry that didn’t sound right- her all female team were attending to some nasty blisters. I’m sure Kirrily thought ‘game on!’ but when she got past again a few km later Jane told her there would be no contest and she could have the race placing with her blessing.
This made us aware of how badly Jane was hurting. You always hurt during these races, and Jane has a higher pain threshold than most humans I’ve ever met. And probably most I haven’t. However she was getting slower and slower. I’d paced her in 2012 to a PW and 2013 to a PB. I’d seen her really sick in 2012 and still finish. This year she was in (slightly) better physical condition (i.e. not spewing for 8.5 hours) but much more pain from a back issue. There were a few worried looks from the other crew so I had to chat to them privately about our strategy. Which boiled down to- don’t mention the injury, get Jane to the finish. We never discussed the option of pulling out in front of her, but it was quite distressing to see her like that. It became a task to make her as comfortable as possible, with loads of massage and stops, which she normally wouldn’t do.
Hailey had another stint at pacing and I took over again at Perisher. We had a long stop at Perisher to massage Jane, get some food on board and make the last 9km to Charlotte Pass. We had a couple of runner service stops and sent the crew forward to get our mandatory gear checked off. I’d spent a fair bit of time schooling Jane so she could pass a cursory medical ‘just stand up a bit straighter and make sense when they talk to you’. I went to Paul Every to ask if we could allow Jane to hold on to our packs to keep her a bit straighter but he wasn’t keen and said ‘you have to ask if you need to keep your runner upright if they should be going up the mountain at all’ and looked pointedly at Rhiann Blackwell, medic. Luckily we had already convinced Rhiann that she was ok. So, she’ll have to do it herself then, no problem. We were super organised but somehow it all turned into a complete clusterfuck once we arrived. Nobody could get their shit together for the final assault on the mountain. Even me. In fact the NRG’ers waiting at the finish line laughed when I yelled at the team to get moving and then spotted Ngaire and had to run over for a hug.
……. And then it got very, very ugly. If you’re in good condition you should be able to do the 9km up and 9km back from the summit in around 3.5 hours. It took us nearly 6 hours. We’d been explicitly told to get assessed by Andy ‘Whippet’ Hewatt at Rawsons Hut. We were lucky enough to get (for Jane) a more professional massage and hot chocolate, which she promptly threw up. But I was very glad that she’d had it- I’d been pushing her to eat and drink for hours with little result.
With 1.3km to go I asked Sally if she would go ahead and get the car- bring it up towards the finish line and out the heaters on full blast. It was pretty cold and I wanted to bundle Jane into the car as quickly as possible after crossing that line.
And so it happened- 42 hours and 39 minutes after leaving the shores of Boydtown Beach, Jane crossed the finish line for the 6th time. She’d been telling us that this was her last time for the last few days, let’s see what happens next year when entries open….
I drove us all down the mountain, not as fresh and awake as I’d hoped, but still ok to get us back to Jindy. Once we got inside we were all so shattered that showers were about all we could manage, and the thought of going out to the car for another pot noodle filled us with dread.
The next morning we all attended ultra runner church- the presentations. While the entire event is special, there’s nothing quite like it when Paul stands up and gives a little speech about every single finisher, and yes, while we’ve heard most of the asides there’s still not a dry eye in the room. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
After this I had planned to have a sleep but somehow got caught up shopping and drinking. This went long into the night- in fact when I flamed out and went home, Jane stayed until she got kicked out at closing time. Maybe I’ll have to develop that kind of stamina for next year!
Monday morning breakfast was quite sombre, at least until Roger turned up and started doing jokes. Somebody at the table said ‘Roger, what’s going on in that head of yours?’ and 4 other people at the table simultaneously screamed ‘DON’T ASK!’
Final word goes to Paul Every. As I was leaving breakfast he asked
‘So, will we see an application from you next year Adam?’
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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!
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.
What I learnt and what worked for me:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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…..
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!’
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
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.
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.
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.
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….
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
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!
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
Get in Wave 2
Don’t be soft
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!
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.
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.
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…..
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.
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
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!
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!
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.