Western States Endurance Run 100 Miles 2016 Richard Bettles (Guest Post)

25th June 2016

Western States 100miles

Note to self: “Do more down hill training next time you do Western States, your quads will thank you” Well at least I can say there could be a next time.

Here is my WSER 100 race report

A 100mile race report starts well before gun goes off. The training and support of people around me deserves a report of its own but so this isn’t war and peace, let’s get in to the business end. There’s a whole lot to think about and months of admin to get to the start line. I wish it was easy enough to rock up to the line and start running when the gun goes off but in the months’ prior the following has been outlined with last minute tweaks and decisions

– Race nutrition strategy
– Crew Strategy
– Pacing Strategy
– Gear Strategy
– Hydration Strategy
– Race week plan
– Race plan

Sorting the admin is more stressful than the race itself
The alarm went off at 3am and I slipped straight into my race gear neatly folded on to a chair. Months of gear choice anguish sat in a small pile on the chair. I had decided on:
–  soft flasks
–  a lightweight race pack (as opposed to hand helds),
–  Hoka Speedgoats (shoes)
– NRG singlet
– North face shorts
– Arm sleeves with gel pouch
– Injinji inner sock
– Features outer sock
– Trucker cap
– Buff (to start)
– Squirrel Nut Butter (Californian for Lubricant!)
– Sunscreen

My crew would have ready
– Ice scarfs
– Nike Kiger shoes to change into
– change socks
– Half buff (for headtorch)
– Ay-up head torch w/ spare battery
– Petzl Tikka heard torch
– Petzl mini (back up) head torch
– Sunglasses
– Hand helds with hard bottles

 

Louise, Marc Phil and I piled into the Chevvy and drove the short distance from Tahoe City to Squaw Valley at 3.30am. I felt pretty calm as we pulled up to the Olympic village. It’s funny how there are far more nerves at the beginning of a half marathon or marathon where it’s on for young and old right from the start. In a 100miler it’s all about preserving yourself in the first 50k’s or so and I feel less angst.

A Breakfast of coffee and pastries is served and athletes are milling around putting on race numbers, tweaking their kit and wishing each other well. We find Andrew Tuckey who is very relaxed, has a couple of handhelds, no crew and a strategy of relying on food at aid stations! I’m thinking he’s a little too relaxed but then he did come 9th last year so maybe the rest of us have just over thought?

Suddenly these 5 minutes to go before the start and we make our way to the line. There’s no point in jostling for a position as we’ll all run the first 50meters for the cameras and then start walking up a steep ski slope!

The starting gun goes off at exactly 5am. It’s the same hunting rifle that’s been used for the last 43 years and is one of many traditions the race adheres to.

I pinch myself at the realisation I’m actually racing in western States then buckle in for a 24hr ride For the first 8k’s we weave our way uphill. I know when it’s the top as I had listened to the “Ginger Runner” podcast from Australia and knew he would be there to greet us at the top wearing Lederhosen and playing alpine horn.  Runners run/walked, taking it easy settling into a powerhike. I was intent on running to feel as we hit snow level and slipped and slid our way through patches of snow and icy streams. I found myself running with a number of the favoured female athletes and chatted to a number who had ambitions of top 10.

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We were in the high country and the trail was simply beautiful.  When the sun came up there was this sudden warmth and the morning chill dissipated. It was a warmth that was to get a lot warmer. We ran 11k of single track to Lyon ridge, and  was startled by a huge deer jumping across the track. I felt incredible at this stage and echoed the comments from runners as we chatted “I wish we could feel like this for the rest of the race” but we just had to enjoy the good times on the fresh legs for as long as we could. Just be in the moment and enjoy the trail; pinch and remind yourself that you’re on the WS course – it could be a once in a lifetime experience

At Lyon ridge aid station I grabbed some watermelon, re stocked gels and  as checked out of the aid station by  two lovely volunteers in bikinis. “Enjoy the beauty”, one said. I was still lucid enough to reply, “Ladies, I just did” = giggles and cheers – this race is going to be fun!

The trail was nice and runnable to Redstar ridge where we enjoyed another speedy pitstop thanks to the expert volunteers. Let’s talk about the aid stations and the volunteers for a minute – They make the race the most fantastic experience. Each aid station has a captain and between the captains there’s 300+ years for experience. Seeing as there’s only 360 competitors and some 1700 volunteers, the competitors are made to feel incredibly special. Their brief is simply to look after the runners, whatever it takes. A typical experience at one of the 23 aid stations “Runner number 94 approaching”
“Hey Richard, I’m Jess, I’m here to help you” “and I’m Bob, can I fill your water bottles” water or sports drink” “Food is over here, we have chips, water melon, gels, candy etc etc, what would you like” “Can I take any trash?” “You’re going great; 5.5miles to next aid station, 2.8 climbing and 2.3 down hill”
“Do you want ice- in your hat, your arm sleeves or in your water bottles”

You want an ice “carwash” ?(iced water sponge bath – trust me, it’s fantastic).  Sometimes you would have the attention of 5 or 6 volunteers

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More of the same to Redstar – enjoying the trail and feeling the heat starting to rise.

2 mile climb and some nice down hill to Duncan Canyon – trying not to over do it on the quads but, hey, I felt good so just opened up the legs and enjoyed the feeling of being fresh and race fit.

We ran through wild forest that was obliterated by the 2008 wildfires .  There was little cover and the sound of woodpeckers could be heard tapping in to the hollow trunks. We really were in wilderness and it was stunning.

It was all downhill to Duncan Creek and then 7k pretty steep trail to Robinsons flat. At 47.5k (29.7mile) I was looking forward to seeing my crew for the first time. Now the crew have, on 24hr pace, just over 6 hrs to get here which is easier said than done. The time  flies pretty quickly for them as they have to get on the road after the start and travel 3.5 hrs on freeway, almost all the way to Auburn (the end of the race) before taking a trail road back up to Robinsons flat. My crew had the additional hurdle of dropping Andrew Tuckeys car off in Auburn……………and I was ahead of schedule. Louise had planned the crew strategy  and with the help of Phil and Marc had a military style plan to follow. So I arrived at Robinsons flat………..whilst Phil was parking the car Louise and Marc were running in at the same time. It was a bit of a mad dash but they were true professionals and handled the pressure – it was great to see them. We refilled with Tailwind and I was off – no time to hang around and chat.

(Incidentally Robinsons flat was like a circus with many 100’s of crew and volunteers – incredible and moving).

I was still running with some of the elite females, mainly Sally Mcrae who I had been reading about in pre race reviews. She was striving for her 3rd consecutive top 10 finish and an automatic entry to the following year. She would get extra cheers running through aid stations which made the energy even more electric.

Steady descent down to Millers Defeat, a blend of single track and dusty firetrail. Continuing down to Dusty Corner – I was working out a system for aid stations.  I would be a sign a certain distance out and then a volunteer who would radio my number through: “Number 94 coming through”. I’m thinking: ‘Got the softflasks ready, now what do I want? Do I need a gel? I need to eat something. Remember to drink…’ (you would be surprised how easy it is to forget to drink at aid stations and just fill your flasks!)
‘…Ice in the arm sleeves, Ice in the hat. Refresh my ice scarf (rolled up special fabric bandana tied together with one of Louise’s hair bands) with new ice, ice wash down’ I’m asked: “Do you want ice water down your back?” “You bet ya I do” – OMG, it was heaven…………………Did I say it was heating up – would have been at least 35degC by now

More dusty trail, up and down through a few canyons and creeks. I’m starting to  be aware of the heat but the “cover me in ice” at the aid stations strategy is working well. My hat dripped with cold water but the ice melted quickly. My arm sleeves stuffed with ice, initially my fingers go numb with cold and I get “the burn” but 5 minutes later cold water is delightful. Ice slips from my scarf down my top and into my shorts – BLISS.

We have done 69k, I’m still running and feeling pretty good

Now it’s time to descend into the first big Canyon on the way to Devils Thumb. The down reminds me of UTMB i.e. 4 miles (6k) of steep down hill. Ouch, the toes are taking a battering in the HOKA Speedgoats and I decide that a change of shoes is definitely on the cards at Michigan Bluff. Every step I’m banging my toes against the rigid toebox of the shoe. My 2 big toe nails are going to be black and swollen. I can feel the pressure building under the toenails. That was a 550m descent.

Thinking there was no aid station until the top of the ascent out of the canyon I conserve my fluids only to be greeted at the bottom by another friendly bunch of volunteers and a very well stocked aid station! I grabbed a can of Ginger Ale, more ice and straight into 550m ascent. I had been keeping my place and yo-yo running with a number of runners I would see throughout the day. I pass them, they pass me and so-forth. Incidentally Sally Macrae had got her A-Game on and had left me after 60k’s. I did however pass Magdelena Boulet (Ranked #1 female and last years winner) and offer her some assistance. She was not in a good way and her race looked over. She wished me well in the race and I left her to pull out at the next aid station.

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I was enjoying the uphill, more than the down. I can just grind out the uphill with the knowledge I typically go slightly faster than similar competitors. One guy did however charge through and I realised there was still work to do in strength conditioning for future races – how can he go that fast?
36 switchbacks later I was at Devils Thumb, an energetic aid station with bubbly helpful volunteers and some pumping music.

From Devils Thumb it’s 8k of quad busting downhill to Eldorado Canyon. I was starting to cramp and my toes were killing me. For the first time a negative thought came in. If I’m cramping at 76k’s how and I going to do another 84? Do I need to re assess my goals just to finish? Just run through it was the answer; I’ve done it before. Don’t stop, just take the pain. My stomach was also starting to shut down and I knew I needed to get a gel inside me. When I get to this point, it’s a 5 minute build up to prepare for the gel. Open packet, get water ready, squeeze a bit out and consume with water. Gag, try not to vomit and repeat until consumed.
The downhill went on for an eternity, every step slightly torturous. El Dorado aid station was a blessing, the end of the descent but I didn’t feel too good. It had to be 40+ degrees. I ate some water melon then a half can of Ginger Ale. One of the volunteers noticed I was going to burp “He’s going to burp” came the call. I then proceeded to vomit like an 18 yr old who’s just had his first 10 beer session – Gels, Ginger Ale, Banana, Berry Shot Bloks, it was all there………..and now I’d cleared the system I felt a million $$’s. Excellent, press the reset button and go again – I grabbed a can of Ginger Ale, a handful of Watermelon, a quick gel and I was ready for the biggest climb of the day in the  hottest temperature of the day, to Michigan’s Bluff.

It’s important to note, I had been taking 2 x salt tablets at least once an hour and dipping fruit in salt at aid stations – The salt goes straight in to the system and for me is my antidote against cramp.

If I thought the climb to Devils thumb went on forever, the climb to Michigan’s Bluff went for ever and a day. OMG, it refused to end but the reward was triumphant. Here I will see my crew and they will have been here for hours preparing. I was about to experience a Formula 1 Pit stop.

Louise & Phil were  there to greet me and tell me where they were set up (the crew area is always beyond the aid station).  Went through the normal aid station ritual and then I got to my crew. Marc changing shoe and sock on one of my feet, Phil on the other. My big toes were throbbing and swollen. The nails were already going black and the skin was stretched tight and bright red with the pressure. I winced as the pitcrew changed my tyres but this was no time to complain. I was asking a lot of these brave men to go near my feet! Louise was taking care of the top half of by body with ice, rub down and fresh sunscreen. New socks, running shoes, ice scarf, massage, rest in chair. Filled up with coconut water in one flask. Some words of encouragement and I’m out of there. I’m well ahead of 24hr pace and been running for 11h48mins and 90k.

The next section to Bath Rd and Foresthill starts on a dirt trail before descending in to Volcano Canyon and ascending to Bath rd where I will meet my pacer John. I was running on my own again. I hit some single track that turned into firetrail, all very runnable. In a world of my own I kept descending, ticking off the k’s one by one. What happened next was a pivotal point of the whole race. From the trees above the firetrail a woman’s voice called out “you’re going the wrong way, the trail is up here” Somehow I had missed a marker and was off the course. And then she was gone so I bush bashed my way up to what looked like a single track and continued along it moving away and upwards from the firetrail. I didn’t see that woman again but had she not have caught site of me I would have kept running on that trail and heaven knows where I would have ended up. I dread to think. “Ok, that was a lucky break. Time to recalibrate, remain alert and concentrate” I thought. I hit the dusty trail, descended into and ascended out of the canyon which was beautiful (and freaking hot!).

At Bath Rd 1.5hrs later crew member Marc and Pacer John were there to greet me and run  into Forest Hill. This is one of the only parts of the course crew are allowed to run with their runner. They said I was doing well and ahead of 24 hr pace and I thought to ask what position I was in?………65th came the reply. ….65th??? I thought I would be in the top half of the field but I had no idea I was in the top 20%. This gave me a real boost of confidence and I found energy to charge the hill and up the pace to Forest Hill. “Ok, it’s on – let’s do this thing”.

Forest Hill is on a main Rd before you enter back on to the trail and consequently there’s 100’s of spectators and crews who clap and cheer every runner as if they were their own. I had a cheer squad of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy – it was amazing and I felt strong. My crew were there ready for another Ferrari pitstop. My hat came off, replaced by head band and Head Torch – it was about to get dark.

This is where Pacer John Zerbe, 3 x silver buckle and 3 x pacer came into his own and took control of the strategy – I just now had to run, eat, drink and not fall over – John would do the thinking for me.

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John had all the splits in his head and had calculated how much time we had to do each section. We had 10 hours and some change to run 60k’s. I had run the first 100k in 13hrs. John advised we could run for 4hrs and powerhike for 6 and make Silver Buckle cut off easily. Now I was thinking top 50………..but only briefly! As we started running again, I took check of the situation and reminded myself of my race goal which was sub 24hrs and every minute less a bonus. Now is not the time to blow up, cramp up, bonk or fall over. Stick to plan but go confidently and assertively.

We began the descent into the American River Canyon, the infamous California Street. This 25k section of the race is one of the most important and deceiving sections of the course. While it is, indeed, true that it is “all downhill,” it is the uphill sections along the way that make this the crux of the race.

On the way to Dardanelles (Cal 1) aid station I popped 400mg of Caffeine as tiredness was starting to kick in. We were passed by a few runners and their pacers and despite feeling ok I was amazed at how strong these runners looked. I was content with running the flat and power hiking any gradient. These 2 runners came up behind us and tailed for a few 100m’s before we let them through. 10 minutes later we arrived at the aid station. The normal fanfare, not so much ice as the temperature was dropping but this time we got extra encouragement to run strong through the next section “Lance Armstrong is just in front of you guys………Go get him!” Lance must have been the last runner to pass us and turns out he was pacing Eric Byrne the Baseballer.

Looks like the race was back on again!

John advised he had us planned at 1hr 5 min for the last section and we were 1h3min. He had us at 50 min to do the next section……………The caffeine tablets kicked in and I also kicked, with a really strong few k’s. If John had me at 50, we were going to do it in 40 and put 10 minutes in the bank.

We hit a short exposed climb and powered up it. John would just tuck in behind me. If I ran he ran, if I powerhiked he powerhiked. We shared some good conversation, although I did draw the line at discussing Brexit. It just wasn’t the right time or place and I needed to stay calm! But for the most part we were in the zone, only speaking when necessary. Cresting this hill, we ran 2.6k’s of relatively flat terrain before beginning “the rollers,” a series of 15 short climbs that I was told would kick you in the teeth if you’re not ready for them. If you’re not too brain dead, you can count these rollers and when we got to the “red roller” (so named because the soil there is red), we ran one more before we hit the Elevator Shaft. The Elevator Shaft is a .3-mile steep descent on rugged trail that can drain the quads out of just about anyone.

The next section is a bit of a blur. It got dark as we ascended Six Minute Hill, we passed a couple of runners (unfortunately not Lance) and I was feeling a bit rough. John would tell me we’re on track with some time in the bank. I was now confident we were going to make it.

We descended to Cal aid station where I thought a quick vomit would help with the nausea. I stuck my fingers down my throat and had some good reaches but alas no diced carrots. John kept an eye on me and just let me get on with it – I admired his easy attitude and felt he had me under control. He’d seen it all before and this was just what happens in a 100miler. So we just moved on and started the 8k section along the river to Rucky Chucky, just grinding it out. No one pulls out after Rucky Chucky, so I had been told. This was a pivotal aid station to get to. As we neared Rucky, we were in pitch black – I had chosen to use my Petzal Tikka XP head torch. It’s powerful with reactive light but I wasn’t sure the battery would last the night. My other option, the Ay-Up would light up a runway with better battery life but the torch itself was much heavier. I hoped I had made a sensible choice!

We passed another female elite, Nicole Kalegoropolous the US 100mile record holder who looked to be struggling with cramp.

As we neared Rucky Chucky, it was lit up like a football ground and we could feel the energy. I was looking forward to seeing my crew. “Runner # 94, Richard approaching” announced our arrival. Marc was there and I got a hug and a kiss from Louise – it was really great to see them. By now my stomach had pretty much shut down and I could only get liquids and soft fruit inside me. Ginger Ale had become my life force! It was 10pm and I had been running for 17hrs. Phil was taking photos and offering encouragement…………and there was Lance – we had caught him. Everyone was telling me there’s Lance Armstrong, “you have to get him” – I sort of felt a bit sorry for him!

Rucky Chucky is the famous river crossing .  Depending on the level of the water they put you in a raft or let you wade across. This year we were wading through chest high river. There are 10 or so Marshalls in wetsuits hanging on to cables and light sticks on the river floor highlighting holes or rocks to step over. After 125k’s it’s difficult to negotiate holes, rocks and moving water – every step I was worrying about cramping. It was pretty damn cold too! We put on life jackets and took good instruction to hang on to the cable and follow the calls of the marshals.

Across the other side I could hear my crew and random volunteers calling out my name “Go Richard, you can do it”

A number of runners seemed to have come together at Rucky Chucky – this is game time and the busiest hour for the finish line is 23 – 24hrs. All these runners were now running/walking/powerhiking/stumbling, just putting one foot in front of the other to get in. We’re all in pain and gritting it out.

We went straight into a 3.5k climb, Lance was just in front and it was now time to take him. We strode past, wished him and Eric G’day and never saw him again.

Less than a marathon to go

John had asked me how many times I had peed during the race and I had only gone to the toilet once. John was slightly alarmed as I had been drinking gallons and when you stop peeing it can lead to Hyponatremia, where the body stops being able to release liquid, i.e. you stop sweating, peeing and get a build up (sometimes fatal) of Potassium/Magnesium in the body. I sweat a lot and often don’t pee in races so I wasn’t too worried………….until about now when I realised I wasn’t sweating and I still didn’t need a pee. I upped the pace a little to see if I could start sweating and there was just the slightest hint of moisture. I checked my wrists weren’t swollen. They were not which was a good sign. I wondered how long it took to get Hyponatremia and whether I could just get to the end of the race and jump straight into a medical tent. There was no way I was going to mention “my condition” to anyone in case they pulled me from the race. I had Summit Fever!! Was I really going to run another 30k with a potentially fatal condition? Simple answer was yes………….there was no way I was stopping!

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The next 10k’s were fairly gruelling – across creeks, grinding short ascents. We passed a small memorial, (created in memory of a woman who was attacked and killed by a mountain lion here back in 1994 on a training run) and arrive at Auburn Lakes Trail (Mile 85 or 136k). I am stuffed and feel nauseous. I shoved my fingers down my throat again but can’t bring anything up. I have now stopped drinking purposely so as not to compound “My condition”. I filled up one soft flask with Ginger Ale to sip occasionally. This would be by fuel source and my hydration to the end. John was great and just let me do what I needed to do – he seemed to have a knack of not being overly attentive but his calm nature gave me confidence all was ok. We just had a job to do and we were getting it done.

The 7.5k stretch to Browns Bar is very runnable and on another day we would have skipped across it. Now every small stone was a hurdle to trip over and every tree root could bring on a cramp. My head lamp was weakening and John ran behind me to give me more light.

We reached Browns Bar. We were passing some runners and others were passing us – often we would pass and then get repassed by the same runners. It just depended on who felt good when. In my head I thought I was a net 5 runners down from Rucky Chucky – it didn’t matter. It was the time that counted and I just needed to get to the finish in under 24hrs. It was here I really knew I had this in the bag. We could powerhike in from here and still have time to spare. If I wasn’t running for a few hundred meters, I was powerwalking with purpose. I took a moment to stretch my cramping quad. This was a bad idea as the stretching action caused my calf to go into full cramp. I was going to have to tough this one out and just run through the pain. I had a mantra going on, over and over in my head “Pain is temporary, failure is forever”

Next stop Highway 49 and the last time I’ll see my crew before the home stretch. The California Highway Patrol guide us across, it’s 2:30am and the local bar has just been kicked out. Apparently in years gone by drunken young lads have hidden in the bushes to scare runners but not today thankfully. It’s mile 93.5 miles (149k) and I feel like the Death March is coming on. The crew is there to greet me and like true professionals have the full crew kit laid out, ready to give their runner whatever he needs…………..what I need at this point is to keep moving and finish! I acknowledge and thank my crew but don’t stop. Only 2.5hrs to do 11k’s but I’m hurting.

We head straight into another 1.5k climb that leads to the Cool Meadow. After 150k of dusty firetrail, mountain single-track, wild forest and canyons,  the Meadow is exactly that.  A beautiful grassy pasture. I made a point of gathering my thoughts, forgetting the pain and putting myself into a positive space “How lucky am I to be able to experience this” I stood tall and regained my form “let’s enjoy these final 10k’s”

Pacer John told me he too had done the death march through the Meadows on a previous Western States with less time to get to the end than we had up our sleeves. I knew we were going to make it but these little anecdotes from John were always inspiring and he seemed to know exactly what to say to keep me going.

We now had a 300m descent over the next 4k’s to No Hands Bridge. 4k’s going down hill was torture. I felt like my legs were going to cramp with every step. The treeroots were becoming hurdles and small stones were becoming landmines! But with every kilometre ticked off we were 1k closer to Placer High School running track.

We cross No Hands Bridge and start a gentle climb which steepens and crosses 2 creeks. John tells me we have 1 qtr mile to the top and as we near I can hear the good folk supporting at Robie Point where it is only 2k to the finish, the famous Mile 99. I can hear Marc calling my name, there’s hollers and whoops as the partying crowds become aware another runner is coming in. Louise had joined us and the next 300meters are a steep incline and hands on thighs I start my final push and catch up to a runner and his crew. It’s a guy I’ve been yo-yoing with for 40 odd k’s. I pass him on the hill and then turn my power walk into a jog, this increases to a run which took my crew by surprise. Time to leave nothing on the track. In front of me I can now see down Brook Rd as it undulates into Marvin way. There are another 4 runners and their crews and it was now time to make up a few places. I just keep increasing the pace and my crew are running hard to keep up. We pass one runner at a time until all 4 had been reeled in. The Voice of God (or Norm Klein) can be heard commentating on the track. The flood lights of the track are a heavenly site as we make our way to the corner that once turned will show me the entrance to the track……….”And heerrree comes Richard Bettles from Allambie Heights Australia, he’s a sales manager in the coffee industry and is supported by his long suffering wife Louise” It’s 250meters of joy as I forget any pain and charge around the track to the finish line. I had read that this 250m is the most memorable ¾ lap of a track I’ll ever run and had been envisaging this moment for a long time – It was. I was elated to cross the finish line under 24hrs and joining a relatively small club of Silver belt Buckle owners. I finished Western States 2016 in 23h:21m:42s in 79th place and 1st Australian (Andrew Tuckey was registered under GBR!) It was 4:21AM and after watching Howard Norton come through in 23:46 I could only think of bed as we planned to be back at the track for the Golden hour, 29 – 30hr finishers. As my legs were now going into full cramp I suspected sleep was going to be difficult and it proved to be so as every time I moved my calves, quads, hip flexors, glutes and feet, muscles would contract with stabbing pain. I had a strange feeling of elation, pain and acute tiredness but all things said and done I would not trade this feeling in for anything. I had experienced something very special and even in this delirious state I rationalised I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Richard Bettles

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Message from John Zerbe my outstanding Pacer: “I received your message and I appreciate it.  It was a pleasure running the final 40 miles with you. Our running styles are the same, “keep moving and don’t complain”.   If I do not get in next year and you do I would enjoy pacing you again.  I felt your pain on several occasions and I never heard a complaint from you. It was inspirational, you are a strong and tough runner.”

Richard Bettles WSER 2016

Ultra Trail Australia 100km UTA100 2016


Yes I did run this race in a tutu, and because it caused quite a stir I’ll address this first- it has nothing to do with running so feel free to skip…..

I first ran the race in 2011 and I was utterly shattered, it would be the second and last time I would do a 100km race (first being Trailwalker). But of course after a couple of weeks the pain and scars faded and I started to cook up schemes to convince Sarah that I should be able to do it again. The most foolproof plan I concocted was to promise to run the race in a tutu if I raised a certain amount of money for charity. As it happened, Sarah was very supportive of my running and making excuses to run didn’t come up. I can’t express how awesome she has been over the last few years, when I come home and say ‘honey, I’d really like to do xxx race’ she makes sure I can, even if my body says otherwise…..

So fast forward to 2016, and since I got injured I didn’t have any time goals or any desire to do anything but finish. And Sarah suggested I wear the tutu. And I felt this was a fun thing to do.

Warning, politics incoming>>>

Shortly afterwards I figured that if I was going to dress up I could potentially use it to help certain people. I don’t consider it a big deal (remember I had thought about it for years before doing it) and it has been done before- Gordi Kirkbank-Ellis totally rocked TNF100 in Skirt Sports a couple of years back. So not terribly controversial, but my mind did wonder about those people who for one reason or another, can’t express themselves the way they want to. Imagine being gay and feeling you had to hide it? Imagine feeling like you had been born the wrong gender and not being able to dress the way you want? It’s pretty easy for us ‘breeders’ to do what the hell we want within the strictures of what society deems appropriate. But there are many many people who don’t fall into these ‘appropriate’ categories, and by insisting that they follow ‘our’ rules, we can make life impossible for them. Honestly, it’s taken me many years to get to this point, so my only goal is to make people aware. I’m not going to bark on about it forever- just until equal rights are a reality.  I’m sure the level of acceptance is growing daily, but a little push can’t hurt…..

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OK, but what about the run?

I was kind of worried because I wasn’t worried. Lining up at the start for the 6th time I knew I was too blasé, but by then it was too late! We took off up the road and waved and yelled at the others coming back, deliberately trying to slow the pace but not really succeeding because I’d had a really strong coffee! At least being at the back of Wave 3 there wasn’t a lot of suicidal runners willing to kill you to get past- it was almost civilised until it all stopped at the Landslide. I really do think that a sub 14 would be very difficult from the back of Wave 3, you would really need to be in Wave 2 or up the front of 3 to make a good time because of the delays here.

Up the Golden Stairs I was pleasantly surprised to only need to stop a few times- my present level of fitness showed, but the best I’ve ever done here is to not lose many places, so that’s a decent result. A bit more cautious up to CP1 and I was already 30 minutes behind last year but pretty happy.

I was lucky enough to catch Hailey Maxwell at CP1 and ran with her for a few km, but got to Tarro’s by myself. I had thought to take the diversion this year but since all competitiveness had gone I thought I’d do the ladders and enjoy myself. Claire Northrop turned up and seemed to be enjoying herself! Across Mt Debert and down into the fire trail to CP2 was good but slow. I ran a bit with Jon Lim, but he was having a hard time and I could see his mood getting worse- I tried briefly to talk him into continuing but saw later that he had pulled out. Jane and Peter Trumper caught me from the wave behind about 1500m from the checkpoint, I was to try to keep up with them all day, that was a nice challenge- I know that Jane is super consistent and if I could keep up with them I would be ok. Seeing Mike McGrath at CP2 was nice, it’s been a while mate!

On the way out of CP2 I met a bloke who said he was only there because he’d failed to sell his entry! I hope he enjoyed his race…… a few KM later came my nemesis- the climb up to Ironpot Ridge. Again I didn’t lose as many places as I could have, but that’s about the best thing I can say about that!

The descent off Ironpot is scary and not fun. The talc like surface feels so slippery and the hill is very steep. I know I sound like one of THOSE people but yeah, it used to be worse. A few years back when the track was not as well defined it felt more dangerous. I had figured that because it had rained the week before this would pack down the surface a bit, however it hadn’t rained in that spot!

I managed to give away a salt tablet to a woman who looked like she was having a bad day (I always carry spares) and we ran past the farm and up the next big climb. The run downhill towards cp3 is good fun, but this year I tried to keep it nice and smooth. Over the stile and into cp3 I saw Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory whose OP had flared up badly and sadly for him, his race was over. I emptied some stuff out of my shoes, grabbed that Coke I’d been fantasising about for the last few hours and headed out.

The extra caffeine didn’t give me quite the boost I was expecting up Six Foot track, but I kept it tidy and ran when I could. I yelled out the stair count to some Chinese runners behind me going up Nellie’s Glen (must have thought I was nuts) and soon enough we hit the top and spent a few pleasant km hitting the single track before the road into cp4.

The indoor sports centre is usually where I would see all the people with glazed looks of horror- the ones who went out too fast, didn’t train on the course or hadn’t realised how feral it actually is. But this time it seemed more calm- maybe I was so slow I’d missed all the victims?

There were no pre made noodle cups- disappointing because that’s my traditional noodle stop. And there was no way I was going to hang around for some to cook and then get cool enough to eat. So, another 600ml Coke, empty rubbish and put my headlamp on (it was still light but the next stage can take > 4 hours) and off I went.

I know the next section fairly well, but this time I had a big slump- maybe because I knew it would be dark before I hit CP5? Anyway, I just can’t seem to make good progress in this section- lots of stairs and single track, very difficult to make smooth progress. This year the water stop had been moved to the Fairmont so there was nothing at Gordon Falls. Sure enough it was dark when I hit the Fairmont (by the way, welcome back to supporting the race!) and I’d pretty much had enough. During the week I’d seen another runner talk about buying a smaller phone to fit in their pack so I had spent a huge $14 on an android phone that was on sale. I put some music on a memory card and spent another $10 on a recharge for it and carried it during the race. I sat down and thought to myself the quickest way to get yelled at for considering pulling out would be to call my wife. She doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for weakness, and I wasn’t feeling strong. I rationalised that I didn’t really need to finish the race and I wanted to be at the finish cheering my mates in, not running for another 6+ hours.

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Then 2 things happened- firstly my phone call failed because I hadn’t actually added the credit to my phone, and secondly my Ultra Wife, Jane Trumper (who incidentally has even less sympathy than Sarah) came over and said ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’, to which I mumbled a few excuses and got the full force of that large personality in a tiny package. Words were spoken, yelled, ejected and spent with an aggression that you don’t often see, especially 10 hours or so after a race has begun.

It was just what I needed, so I meekly promised to carry on and got myself ready for the next section. It’s only 11km, possibly only 8km of bush before Hordern Rd, but I was really loathing the very idea. Anyway during that section I came across Taras Mencinsky and Roland Hassal and had a great chat to them. Funny- that took a lot of the sting out of that section and I actually had quite a good time! Really interesting guys and I hope I can run more with them in the future.

We arrived at QVH (CP5) and it was a full on party! They had a DJ, announcer, disco lights and a huge amount of people- what a change from 2011 when Keith Hong saw me trudge up the hill into the CP and chased me away from the fire so I could finish the race. I got my bag, swapped a few things, finally got some noodles, stuffed my face, filled my bottles and………. nothing. We just sat there at the table. Jane was feeling sick, Peter looking for batteries, Taras and Roland taking their time -I couldn’t figure out what was going on! That’s the longest I’ve ever been at CP5, granted it was nice and warm but we weren’t even required to take our fleece- first time that has happened. So I enjoyed the serenity for a short while then buggered off.

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Conscious of needing to save my legs I didn’t push too hard down Kedumba, and weirdly got to cross Jamison Creek without needing to use the bricks. Being a fat bastard I suffered quite a lot going uphill to the helipad which was very well lit and only a few bodies, and then again up National Pass to the old Sewerage Works. Getting across the huge mud field required some balance, but finally I was on the home stretch- well at least I wouldn’t look like I was going backwards compared to other runners!

There’s nothing much to say about ascending Furber Stairs except that yes I counted them down in lots of 100, interspersed with my favourite F word. At the top I girded myself for the final push to the finish line and as I came into view the crowd mae a huge noise. Thank you, whoever you were, that was awesome! And my wife (who last year was very grumpy at the end and forgot my beer) was there to run up the finish chute with me and wasn’t very grumpy at all! And there was beer……

Huge thanks to George Mihalakellis who sat with me for ages after the race for a chat- I didn’t achieve a special time but the race itself is special, hugely difficult and very gratifying to finish. OK it was 18:23 if you must know.

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Ultra Trail Australia 50km UTA50 Sarah Connor Guest Post

UTA 50k 2016

 

 

This race is awesome. Whether you race, spectate or crew, there is something for everyone.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Gear worn

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.

Patagonia cap.

Nathan Vapour Shape 2 L/&l hydration pack.

Hoka One One Stinson ATR Trail .

 

Nutrition:

BBQ shapes

Protein balls

Food to Nourish green envy balls

Muesli slice

Peanuts unsalted

Almonds unsalted

Salt

Choc mint M&M’s

Hammer Enduralytes

Pre made rice cereal with apples –Farex brand

Pepsi

And boy did I get it wrong this year – could have done the whole course with Coke and chips and baby food.

 

 

Sri Chinmoy 24 Race 2016

Campbelltown sprots stadium

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.

Adam Kurt running

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-

Marathon:   4:39:57
50K:           5:35:42
50 mile: 9:32:44
100K: 11:55:17
150K: 18:33:40
100 mile: 20:03:46
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.
adam running
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

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
Marathon 4:53:13
50km       6:11:35
50 Mile    11:18:32
100km     14:54:44
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

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’
early morning
*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

Ultra Trail Australia 100km UTA100 Jeroen De Graaf (Guest Post)

What a day.

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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!

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Steve, my loyal crew. His expression shows there is still room for improvement 🙂

Coast to Kosci C2K 2015- Crewing

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…..

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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!

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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……

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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’!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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’.

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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….

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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.

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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!

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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.

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……. 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.

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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!

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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?’

‘try and stop me!’

Paul ‘Oh, we can stop you…..’

“OK, PLEASE don’t try and stop me!’

 

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

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The Loop UTMB 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What I learnt and what worked for me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gear

Kicks: INOV-255 rocklites

Socks: Injinji Compression

Shorts : Speedo Board shorts over skins

T Shirt: Nike Dry knit

Sun Glasses: Julbo Powel

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

See you on the trails!

Guest Post- Tanya Carroll- GNW100 2015

GNW Race Report

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

What a difference a day makes

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya GNW100 2015

Key learnings from this simultaneously sublime and torturous experience:

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

 

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

*good is a relative term

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

–        I already have 3 UTMB points by getting to Yarramalong

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

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

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

 

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

 

Photo credit : Pip Candrick

You Yangs Hard Core 100 Miles 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Starters! Thanks to fstop5

The Starters! Thanks to fstop5

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

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

Jane leading grumpy

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

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

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

Dave Graham

I wish I could run like Dave Graham!

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

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

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

Ice on the hire car windscreen

Ice on the hire car windscreen

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

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

IMG_1988

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

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

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

Adam at end of lap 2

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

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

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

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

Adam finishing v2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post race breakfast of champions. Or perhaps hungry mid packer

Post race breakfast of champions. Or perhaps hungry mid packer

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

Here is the interim results

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

The North Face 100 2015 TNF100

 

The night before the big race.....

The night before the big race…..

 

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

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

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

‘What does she look like?’

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

Apparently Gillian needs a T-Shirt with this on.

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

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

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

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

Robyn Bruins at Gordon Falls

Robyn Bruins at Gordon Falls

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

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

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

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

Richard Bettles at Gordon Falls

Richard Bettles at Gordon Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chantelle Farrelly at Gordon Falls

Chantelle Farrelly at Gordon Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ngaire at CP3

Ngaire at CP3

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

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

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

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

Brad Smithers,  Sally Dean at the finish

Brad Smithers, Sally Dean at the finish

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

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

Yeah, that sounds about right.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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