UTMB Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc 2017 Russell Evans

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Sooooo,

UTMB 2017, the loop again, where to start?

In 1968 a race was held for the first nonstop solo yacht race around the globe. By the time the race had finished, more people had been on the moon’s surface than had completed the solo voyage.

For the record, Robert Knox-Johnston was the only person to finish the race but curiously, a French sailor by the name of Bernard Moitessier had the chance of winning. Rather than sail to finish line to instant fame and cash prizes, he instead continued to sail on to Tahiti, (effectively sailing 1 1/2 time around the world non stop).
It became apparent to him that racing wasn’t the inspiration for competing in the event but rather a pure joy of sailing.

 

I like to think this is what happened to me over the 43 hours I was out there and hopefully this will become apparent within the below mumble jumble of my race report.

Let me just say from start that attempting such an individual event takes a team. Those of you who were around me during my training should feel part of my run. Family and friends, please feel part of my run as you directly or indirectly got me to the start line; you have every right to feel proud of yourselves because of what we achieved.
UTMB 2017 would be my second time running in the event;

I knew what had to be done.

I had learnt valuable lessons from the first time and this time there was an entourage of Australian’s going to the event.

 

AND

As a bit of a ultra groupie, the field for this UTMB was epic.

This includes, but not limited to:
(Listed in finish places)

Mens
François D’haene
Kilian Jornet
Tim Tollefson
Xavier Thévenard
Jim Walmsley

Womens
Núria Picas
Andrea Huser
Christelle Bard
Kaori Niwa
Kellie Emmerson
Alissa St Laurent
Anna-Marie Watson
Amy Sproston
Maria Nikolova
Robyn Bruins (I know her J)

Beginners guide to surviving Chamonix before UTMB:

  • Get there before the race starts (essential).
  • Go for a light run after the flight from Australia.
  • Eat baguette’s, eat all the baguettes.
  • Don’t walk too much.
  • Buy everything from the expo.
  • Take a selfie with Killian.
  • Go to one of many Pastries and go and look at a Chocolate Almond Croissant……. But don’t eat it ! (But know that it’s there when you finish the loop).

 

The night before the run a group of the Australian crew had gathered for dinner at an Italian restaurant, only two tables down was David Laney who had finished 3rd and 4th in this event. I think everyone on our table ordered Bolognese as did Laney!!!!!!!……… This was a great sign!

Friday came and I did everything I could do to sleep before the start of the race but I just couldn’t, the excitement was just too great.
With a course adjustment and horrible weather predicted, they started the race later making it an 18:30 start time. The Aussie contingent gathered at the church some 100 metres from the start line. We were in no rush to push up to the front and I was actually sitting down until the count down.

 

As a man, you are only allowed to cry in two situations:

 

  1. When watching the end of Terminator 2 and Arnold Schwarzenegger lowers himself into the molten lava to save humanity and gives the thumbs up, and

 

  1. At the start of UTMB when they play Vangelis Conquest of Paradise (I’m not too proud to say I shed a tear or two while this was playing at the start).

Since learning lessons from my first loop, my strategy this time was to get through the night as slowly as possible, make it to Courmayeur in some kind of shape and not the complete wreck I was on 2015. After Courmayeur I was going to ‘Pimp my Run’: I had caffeine, iPod, Panadol and clean running clothes bought from the expo.

Anyway back to the start. My ‘no rush’ policy was working well, just keeping up with general traffic and making a point to look around at the views. It was a really good strategy that I felt worked well. The only part where I wasn’t comfortable was the weather. From experience, I don’t feel you are really in the run until passing Col De Bohemme, (it’s approximately around the marathon mark). Until that point, I was slow; not being passed by too many people and not passing anyone, when even the slightest twitch or feeling of chafing occurred I would pull off to the side and reapply my ultra glide, I ended up having to do this every 4 hours or so but no real issues. (Chafing almost brought my race to an end last time). The climb from Les Chapiexu  to Col de la Seigne  seemed to take forever and much longer and tougher than I remembered. During this time it started to rain and  the mud was making it horribly tricky to climb. At one point I fell over in a puddle of mud, but I got back up and continued on. Once above 2,000 m it started sleeting and eventually snowing. Stupidly I didn’t change into warmer clothes so my fingers went numb before I could open my zipper. I was locked in to making the pass in shorts and a t-shirt. Thankfully the pass was close enough so that I was able to gut it out and then get the hell off that mountain.

Climbing above 2000m I really noticed a change in weather and my heart rate. The air gets thinner and with the mixture of cold air, it really slowed my pace, but as soon as you drop down to  below 1,800 m you feel awesome and it almost makes you forget about the climb you were just on. It’s kinda a UTMB sucker punch that you fall for every time.


The run down was some of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever run on mixed with the sun rising over the Alps it was trail running at it purest.

As I came into Lac Combal (65k) I saw Emma as she was leaving, she was in high spirits, she was running really well, she was either having the race of her life, or unbeknown to her she was about to blow up.
I wished her luck and spent a good 15 minutes at the checkpoint having some soup, salami and cheese and got out there and started a runnable flat section before the climb to Arete Du Mont Favre, (roughly 500m of vert  in 3km) It’s an epic climb as you can see the top when you start and the trail follows ridge lines up. You can see people making the pass when you are still an hour away. You always wished you further up the climb but then you turned around and appreciated where you had come from.

After making the pass, the run down to Courmayeur is gentle for the first 4km but ruthlessly cruel after Col Checrouit.
It’s kinda like coming off Mt Solitary but runnable. Either way it sucks hard and your quads start to cry.

If you’re reading this report and thinking of doing UTMB this part is brutal! It makes you realise that you may be lucky to be running UTMB but you are also as dumb as fuck because you just don’t think a run could be this cruel.

 

UTMB has it’s own personality and right now it was being a moody bitch. Coming into Courmayeur I was feeling ok-ish, time to pimp my run!

Again a familiar situation, I saw Emma as she was leaving, she still looked pretty good but the race was really only just starting.
I was lucky enough to have one of Bruces (One of the Aussies I had dinner with last night) friends Danae’s help at the aid station. An absolute sweetheart and champion! I changed my clothes, took some panadol loaded up with caffeine gels and got out of there. Spirits were high and I started to climb pretty well, keeping up with people and overtaking where I could but once again I was in no rush, I figured I was 3 hours ahead of cut off without doing too much and I was hoping to increase that to 6 hours by the time I hit the streets of Chamonix, ultimately getting a sub 40 hour time.  Those who know the climb, know that it’s in Italy, so it’s not well maintained and I think it is one of the steepest climbs on the course. This climb almost broke me last time but this time I really enjoyed it. Yes I became one those annoying people who would say “Hi” to everyone.

 

To put things in perspective, I took about 30 mins off my climb back in 2015. I figured from here I would try to hurt myself till Champex – Lac, approx 40km away (not that far by UTMB standards) for a nap, I figured I could make it in 8 hours.

Got to the top Refuge Bertone (83k) feeling awesome, hi-fiving ethe day walkers, commenting on people’s fashion choices – life was good. As I was getting my water bottle filled I heard this cry of “Russell”, I looked around and thought I was hearing things but sadly not, there was someone who used to be Emma, (think of a sick puppy………… Actually puppy’s are kinda cute even when they are sick…….. think of a sad lioness).
Those of you who remember doing there first “Miler” should appreciate the feeling, if it was a 100k event you are ok because you can get your shit together to punch out the last 20 k ’s, but when you have 85+ks to run you are nowhere, you dare not even think about the finish line, you really just want to curl up and die. I was looking for ‘proof of life’ from Emma and I honestly thought her race was done. I reminded her that this is exactly what happened to me in 2015 and that although you want to quit, you just need to make it to the next checkpoint. The one thing Emma has in abundance is heart, she got up and left the checkpoint

I stayed at the checkpoint for a little longer, restocking and changing into my rain jacket. The weather at this point was horrific, a strong headwind and it was sleeting; tough ks were ahead. I caught up to Emma and just stayed with her for a while, she had regained the key component of running ultra’s……….. Persistence.

Soon enough after all the help I thought I could give, I passed her and I started to run pretty well. The trail is once again gorgeous, massive glaciers and a view of Mt Blanc to your left, and I was almost skipping over very runnable terrain.

Coming into Refuge Bonatti (90k) the toll of the run was starting to show on my body. I could notice I was starting to get really tired, hot spots on my feet and a little chaffing were becoming more apparent. I took a good 10 minutes at that checkpoint, trying to sort myself out. As I was leaving Emma was coming in and I decided to wait for her and get the next part of the run done with her. It was actually nice to run with someone, I think we worked pretty well together as we were able to push each other without red-lining. The only real bad part was the final descent into Arnouvaz (95k). The trail had basically just turned into a mud slide, no amount of “lugs” on the shoes would grip.

It was about 1k or so down and we both struggled down the mountain. The highlight was one guy who we pulled over to let pass but he refused. He then tried to take higher ground to pass, only to slip and snap one of his poles.  I asked him if he was OK, but inside I was thinking good luck climbing up the 5 climbs with one pole you impatient fucker!

Anyway Emma’s family was at the next checkpoint to meet her which gave me the perfect opportunity to make a move and get to Champex-Lac before sundown.
Meanwhile UTMB were forcing people to put on wet weather gear.
Basically if UTMB tell you to put on wet weather gear you do it. Don’t argue. Don’t hesitate. Just do it.
The climb to Grand Col Ferret was without doubt the toughest bit of running I have done.
I have been caught in squalls on yachts before but this weather was the worst I have ever experienced.
If this was Australia the event would of been called off, but this was UTMB, we had to earn our gilets.

On the climb people were turning around and deciding their race was over.
I honestly thought we were marching to our deaths! I’m not just saying that I genuinely thought I was going to die…… my new mantra….. ‘don’t die’

Anyway,

I marched up that hill with every bit of clothing I had and out of the mist came a guy rugged in a huge parker who scanned my bib and pointed me to salvation, La Fouly was just 8km of downhill away. The climb was cold and had sapped my energy.
UTMB was having her wicked way with me and I started to fall asleep on my feet. I pulled off to the side of the track and lay down in the rain,(Yep, that was me). I ended up resting for about 5 minutes and got down to LaFouly

At La Fouly (109k) I put my head down on a table for about 20 mins. There was no chance of sleep but at least it gave me mental break. I got up, got some calories in and then as I was going out I ran back into Emma. It was so good to see a familiar face and she looked like she was coming good. From this point on we decided to stick together and tackle the rest of this monster.

Out of a LaFouley we were greeted with a runnable road section that had been changed because of the weather. We managed only a shuffle but we did manage to knock off some kms without exerting ourselves too much. The highlight of this section was a group of young kids who had set up their own aid station serving warm cups of tea all they wanted in return was a hi-5. Tooooooo cute!

Then the next climb up to Champex-Lac, I think out of all the recognised climbs this is the shortest and perhaps one of the least steep but for some reason everyone finds it hard and so did I. Emma as usual set a cracking pace up the climb and I just tried to hang on; it was becoming a familiar story…… Emma killed it on the up hills and very cautious on the down hills and vice versa for me. Frankly we both could’ve finished quicker if we were by ourselves, but would we have finished at all?
(I reckon I was going to feel just as good as Killian about finishing the race.)

When you get to Champed-Lac (123k) checkpoint, it is like aid station heaven: abundance of food, warm, friendly people and beds!
We were going to take a 20 minute nap, but I found it impossible to get warm from my wet cloths and it was actually quite the waste of time for me, however it was time off feet.
As we were getting up we heard Bruce’s voice. Out of 2 other sleep tents he walked into ours 🙂 We didn’t speak much, as we were trying to be quite, but it gave me an enormous lift to see or even hear Bruce. I honestly thought he was out of the race. He lay down and got some rest, and Em and I took off again.
The next section was to Trient – 17ks of “f@ck this shit”!
I knew that if we could get there we would more than likely make the loop. This sections is a bit of a blur to me. I remember being really sleepy and Emma and I picking out places that we would run…… to the next lamp post…. To the next marker………. We knocked off about 5km within an hour and this is where I started to loose it.
Being mentally spent, I remember thinking I was in a theatre watching a LaLa Land musical that used storm troopers as characters and how impressive it was that storm troopers who had a “Mask” were still able to show emotion.

Anyway next thing I remember is Emma firmly shouting at me, saying it’s time to take some caffeine.
I was still moving but I was out. Emma was good enough to bring me back to form. She told me to ask myself short questions to bring myself out of my coma. This seemed to work, but I was really nowhere in this section.
I asked the question above would I have finished if I hadn’t stuck with Emma? I really doubt it, Emma was paying dividends ! 🙂
She helped me get to the top of LaGiete and at the top I took off and agreed with Emma that I would run down and get 20 mins rest and wait for her. The run down is relentless quad bashing “f@ck this shit” shit! But I remember Bruce overtaking us going up the hill then me passing him on the way down. Bruce was having a strong run in the back half and the value of a coach was coming through.

I got into Trient (140k) then straight to the table for another nap, set my timer for 23 mins, pulled my buff over my head and this time I was out cold on the table. I slowly got up and looked around for Emma, she had fallen asleep opposite me. Curious as to how I would of seemed to other people at this time at it was 4am in the morning and I felt as pure and honest as I have ever felt. Really strange feeling, I guess your body is all out of excuses???

I knew now our chances of making it were fairly high and that it was all about getting to Vallorcine, the climb started off in the dark, but as we were summiting the light of new day was warming us and the run down to Valorcine was spectacular and not quite as devastating as I recall it being last time. Even stopped to take a photo!

What seemed to be a recurring theme was the gradient and terrain got extremely hard as you were coming into the check points, this was no different but least it was a little drier and it wasn’t raining.

Vallorcine (150k) to Chamonix, they had changed the course here as well instead of one massive climb we had “M” shaped climb……..two peaks! I wasn’t expecting this and neither was Emma and the terrain was technical, UTMB was still testing us. Em was pushing herself up the hills as she was trying to maintain/imporive her female placing. As I was walking behind her I offered to slow down her female competitors with cheesy pick up lines. “Your pace or mine?” or “when did you stop modelling and start trail running?” there was real no need as she was killing the up hills, she developed quite the gap on me even with a very technical downhill section, her sleep starvation of being the mother of 3 seemed to help her over the last 10 hours of the run! La Flegere was in sight!

We just had to climb a ski slope……
Straight up, no  switchbacks no turning, just a straight line to the top La Flegere chair lift.
It was demoralising
Salvation came with the summit and upon seeing a friend who I had done some training with Brook, she had finished 10 + hour ago, had had a nap and came up to cheer me and Emma on. Absolute champion! Small (actually quite big) gestures mean everything at this stage hi-5’s were more important than calories. Sincerely thank you Brook.

Now just a lazy run down hill to the streets of Chamonix, as Emma had her whole family here, we had agreed that we would run our separate races from this point on.
This is the part of the race that makes everything worth it. You know that you were going to finish, The camaraderie between runners is at its very best, everyone cheers you on: from day hikers to Killian Jornet (As Emma later pointed out). The race wasn’t quite over, I had been at battle with a fellow runner for the majority of the downhill, our intermittent energy burst were sporadic but just enough to pass one and other, I could tell that he wanted to beat me and I definitely wanted to beat him, but when we made the streets of Chamonix we agreed to finish together. I’ve experienced the finish before and it’s s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r.

It’s about 3-5 deep for the final 1km.
You look like shit, mud all over you but you know whatever you did to get there, it was worth it!
Impossible to explain nor will I try.
But I did learn something out there and to refer back to Bernard Moitessier, patrticipating in these events are not about racing but they are about running.

I had made the loop again for 2017, Emma finished soon after and then, Jennie Sharland Riggs who deserves a special mention. She had battled out the race and came within 8 minutes of cut off only to finish 2 hours ahead of cut off.
Complete respect to her as she did it all by herself, pure heart!

Things are never the same once you finish UTMB, you think about all the sacrifices you and made to get you to the finish It truly is the greatest pain you ever feel.
No better way to spend 43 hours 🙂

Now 3 weeks on, UTMB2017 is forever in the memory banks.

 

Questions and answers

Which was harder the 2015 or 2017 ?
I’ve really thought about this, Statistics will tell you differently as 2015 had a higher withdrawal rate. But I would have to say 2017 for me but only just and only because of the conditions.

Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat

Coach or no coach?
Ideally coach, and definitely a coach for your first try.

(I didn’t have one for 2017)
Typical training week.

Mon: Nothing

Tue: (morn) Strength (night) Tempo run

Wed: (Morn) Stairs

Thu: (morn) Hill reps ronald park (night) stregth

Fri: Nothing

Sat: Long run

Sun: recovery run

 

My average k’s during the 12 month block of training (excluding taper) was 63k’s and my longest week was 104k’s

 

What would I change?

I would just change my final long run to: from to 8 hours early morning to Friday night starting at 9ish 10ish and going until sunrise up and down kedumba and Mt Solitary. It doesn’t matter how much you save yourself for the final half, you still need to be able to put it in the action.

(My lack of training with minimal sleep almost brought my race undone)

 

 

 

 

 

UTMB 100 Miles 2017 Bruce Craven -Guest Post

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Firstly, thanks to Adam Connor for hosting this UTMB blog on his running+music website.  It might mean someone actually reads it!  Adam describes himself as forty something, which I can’t do any longer, and has just run the 135 mile Badwater race across Death Valley, so my UTMB efforts pale in comparison.

(Editors note- I’ll have to update the blog if it says 40 something, and there is a reason I chose Badwater over UTMB- I suck at climbing hills!)

 

Its exactly a week since I crossed the finish line of the 100 mile UTMB race in 42 hours 13 mins to complete a burning goal that had been sizzling for 3 years. Why write this?

1.  To remind myself why I might not want to attempt it again
2.  To help others achieve their goal and
3. To unload some emotions that built up for a while and are still rumbling around.

 

This race crept up on me via one of my Sydney running friends, Tanya Carroll.  Tanya was training for this race in 2015 when I was training for the 100km UTA in the Blue Mountains.  I didn’t know much about UTMB at the time but I, along with many others, followed her training and finally the race itself via the online updates and video.  She had photos with Kilian Jornet, pictures of really high mountains, glaciers, cable cars, the best runners from all over the world, it went on and on.  Once I read more about it, I wanted to know more.  How do you get into this race.?  Could I do it?  Probably not was my thinking at the time.  Let’s just stick to the Blue Mountains.

 

For the uninitiated, UTMB requires the equivalent of 3 qualification races of over 100km to be completed by an entrant within 2 years.  Each race needs to be under a certain cut-off time.  With the points from the races under your belt, you apply in Dec, find out if you are successful in the ballot in Jan and if lucky, you get to race in August.   Most miss out in their initial entry.  UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) itself probably doesn’t need any introduction – 100 miles through 3 countries (France, Italy and Switzerland and back to France) with 10,000 metres of ascent and because we start and finish in Chamonix, there is also 10,000 metres of descent.

 

My qualifiers were UTA 2014 (100km), UTA 2015 (100km) and then a 113km race I did in Italy in Sep15.  This was called Morenic Trail in the foothills of the Italian alps just north of Turin.  I had planned on running GNW (a local qualifying race north of Sydney) and I had trained with my running colleagues on the GNW course.  However, a sailing holiday meant I couldn’t do the race and the cut-off time for UTMB entries was approaching.  Thus I found the Italian race which I could tack on to the end of my Greek sailing holiday.  The 10 days on the boat were during my taper and involved a lot of drinking.  Evidently that didn’t hurt my race and perhaps the enforced rest helped.  I was one of 2 english speakers in the race so they held a separate race briefing for the 2 of us.  Totally weird.  And at the finish line you douse yourself in red paint (a tradition).    See below.

 

 

Anyway, I had my qualifiers and the bunch of us NRG’ers in Sydney entered UTMB as a group (we would either all miss out or all get in – together).  As is the case for many people around the world, we missed out for the 2016 intake.  They take 2,500 people into the race each year but many multiples of this number apply (all with appropriate qualifiers).  So, having missed out, this meant one of my races in 2014 was no longer current and I had to re-qualify via UTA 2016 (another 100km).  And to make things even more interesting, I moved with work across to London in Sep 16 2016.

 

I know I haven’t got to the race yet but bear with me.  Just getting to the start line of UTMB is a massive effort in itself.  We then re-applied as a group in Dec 16 and this time we were successful.  Yessssss!  Finally!   Gulp!  What now?  (By the way, I think this is the largest group entry ever into UTMB from anywhere in the world).   Not only did we have our initial group but other Sydney running friends who were successful on entry joined our group chat and the size of our Aussie contingent grew.

 

This meant it was becoming real and I would need to train towards the race on 1 Sep 17.  I had 8 months!  However, reality dawned on me in January as I realised:

  1. I was alone in London as all my running buddies were in Sydney
  2. London is what you might call a flat track. How on earth was I going to get fit for the alps?
  3. Also, stupidly, in December I had been training for the London marathon and doing some intervals on cold legs which lead to straining a hamstring (first time ever). I should never have been surprised about hamstring problems because I only have about ¾ of each hamstring intact.   Two ACL knee reconstructions many years ago used both hamstrings  for the new knee tendon leaving me with depleted hammies.

 

It was a low point after the excitement of getting an entry and I wondered if I could even start any proper training.  Perhaps I would have to pull out of UTMB already?

 

I used the down time to attend a day-long seminar in February that a running company called XNRG ran just outside London.  Probably 30 people attended from the UK, all of whom were either entered into, or thinking about entering UTMB.  A group of pro runners gave talks about how to train, gear recommendations, the course itself, strategy, etc etc.  It was great for a lot of us newbies.  And it was during these talks that I realised I needed a coach if I was going to be serious about preparing.  I met Robbie Britton (appropriate surname) who is one of the top British ultra marathoners and Robbie recommended an Australian mate of his who could coach me – Majell Backhausen.  Majell is a world class mountain runner, had completed UTMB in 2015 in just over 25 hours and 22nd place, and knew the problems of training in a flat landscape.  Majell lived in Melbourne but our discussions and training interaction were all online from that point onwards.  I used a trip back to Australia in April for a wedding to meet up with Majell for a face to face chat as well.

 

And so it began.  The hamstring was healing up very slowly and I was able to begin some slow running in March/April.  The London marathon came and went.   I knew I had to complete it given my charity sponsorship and although I finished, it was a lot of slow jogging and walking in just under 5 hours.  So now it was late April and Majell had been adjusting my training to take into account my hamstring recovery.  It meant a lot of hiking uphill on the treadmill, spin classes, a lot of gym work but not much pure running.  By May my leg was better for running and the program picked up.  I was training a couple of times a day before work, lunch time or evening.  I was riding to work and weekends were spent outside London if possible wherever I could find hills.  The last half of June involved sailing for 2 weeks in Croatia but I made sure I ran for a couple of hours every morning before sailing and began clocking up some serious metres of ascent and descent.

 

It had now reached July and the race was getting seriously close.  I managed to get a weekend to the Peak District and Catherine was hiking whilst I ran into the mountains.   Lots of km and metres of ascent and descent on muddy single track which was ideal.  In one of my best decisions, a few months earlier I had booked an organised trip to run around the UTMB course over 4 days with a French group.  A couple of pro runners took a group of 12 of us around the trails and we slept each night in refuges in a single room with 12 bunks.  They were all French, including the pro runners, apart from Elaine who was from London, so the 2 of us would need translation of whatever was being communicated on the trail.   But we all got on very well and would re-group often to allow for different pace groups.  So approx. 40-50km of running each day with 2500 metres of ascent and descent daily.  Not only did I get to pound the legs for 4 continuous days (something I hadn’t done before), but importantly, I got to see the whole course in daylight.  Before that I had no idea what to expect from climbing a true alpine mountain.  Now I knew it was seriously hard but I found I wasn’t scared of it any more.  I knew I could do it.

 

 

However, (and this must be the old age), when I woke up on the 4th day, my achilles was quite sore.  Not enough to stop me completing day.4, but it meant I couldn’t push off the left leg as much.  Thus running on the flats was harder than climbing a steep gradient that used the quads more.  Hopefully this niggle would go away!  Upon returning to London, I went to Wales with Catherine the next weekend and she did more hiking whilst I hobbled and propped my way around Pen-Y-Fan mountain.  I found I could climb mountains really well and run downhill without inflaming the achilles, but running on the flats was out.

 

A few more weeks back in London was spent going to the physio to try and fix the achilles, doing spin, strengthening gym work and lots of work on the treadmill without inflaming the damn achilles.  Could I just buy a new achilles?  Could I really get to this race?  By race week it had calmed down and I was hoping it would hold up over the race if I didn’t push it too much.

 

It was now race week and the Aussies were gathering in Chamonix early on to try and get over the jet lag.  My 90 min flight from London meant an easy commute and I arrived on the Wed night.  My wife Catherine and 3 of her friends had been hiking the Mont Blanc route (TMB) over 10 previous days and Cath and Danae (who were to be my crew) met me at the hotel that night.  Without realising, we had booked a room overlooking the start and finish line of UTMB which turned out to be both a blessing (views, photos, atmosphere) and a curse (noise of loudspeakers and music day and night given some other shorter distance races were occurring on Wed and Thurs nights).

 

I had mentioned in a post on Fbook that I was both excited and nervous.  The nervousness was really unavoidable given the huge build up to this race but also because I had never run further than 113km and had only run through one night.  So I hadn’t done a “miler” (100 mile race).  Here I was about to embark on 170km over 2 nights and 2 days.  I knew the course in the daylight, but how would I go at night?  Would my achilles hold up?  What about food and nutrition?  I had read so many blogs of people not coping with stomach problems, the cold, tiredness, injuries – the list went on.  People who came to the race, climbed the first mountain and decided there was no way they could get through!  To top it off, the course organisers announced that the weather was going to be a problem this year and some course adjustments were needed given that it was forecast to be minus 9c in the high passes.  Wow.  This also meant cut-off times at checkpoints were changing and my race plan needed some adjustments.  Yes – I did have a plan which was based on the averages of some friends who had run before and runners from last year who finished around the 44 hour mark.  The race cut-off is 46.5 hours but along the way, each of the checkpoints has its own specific cut-off and race organisers will allow no discussion on removing a runner who doesn’t make it in time.  Each year approx. 1/3 of the runners who start do not finish, some from injuries, but many who just can’t get through the checkpoints in time.

 

(Side note – I met a guy from NY after the race.  This was his 2nd attempt.  He failed last year after 150km as his feet were so badly chopped up.  This year he came to the checkpoint at Trient (142km).  He had 15 mins before checkpoint cut-off time.  He needed to eat and drink and warm up.  He spent 14 minutes doing this and walked out of the checkpoint 1 minute before cut-off.  All good.  Except …. he had dropped his headlamp under the table inside the tent.  Bugger – so he turned around and went back in to get it.  At that point the clock ticked over cut-off time.  As he leant down to get his light, the official lent over and cut off his number.  Game over.  Out of the race.  Heart-broken and no arguments allowed.  He had to wait for a bus to get back to Chamonix – he saw me in my finishers gilet on the Sunday and he looked like he was about to cry.)

 

Friday was race day but strangely the race was not going to start until 6.30pm.  I had always started races first thing in the morning.  What to do all day?  What to eat?  How to rest?  As my hotel was right above the start line, I could see runners beginning to position themselves at the start line – 5 hours before the race!!   What on earth?  They were sitting on hard concrete in their race gear ready to go.  I have no idea if they finished the race but this preparation was not going to help them!

 

 

I had spent time on Thursday catching up with all my Sydney running mates, getting my compulsory gear checked, shopping at the UTMB expo (every running company around the world had a stall there which was fantastic), and just taking in the atmosphere.  Other races such as OCC, CCC and TDS were taking place and some of our running colleagues from Australia were taking part.  So there was always something going on to occupy time.  And meanwhile you watched the weather and could tell it was deteriorating after having been so nice for weeks.  Typical.

 

My race gear had been adapted over months.  Lots of testing of different gear and changing what needed to be changed.  I had moved to Altra shoes to allow more room for my feet which was a great decision and meant my feet and toes were not getting bashed up as much.  I had trained extensively with poles in the mountains and each time I ran outside London, I would take exactly what I planned taking on race day with all gear and nutrition.  This meant quite a bit of weight.  Not sure the exact tonnage but it certainly felt like tonnes rather than kilograms.  Majell’s training program had also prepared me for the climbs.  In fact I was looking forward to the ascents.  I don’t want to give away his trade secrets but the use of the treadmill for hours and hours at slow speeds but high gradients was all part of it.

 

Friday 6pm and I finally came downstairs from the hotel.  The place was absolutely packed already.  All the Aussies met just near the church and we had a few last photos before merging into the masses for the countdown.

 

 

(Note we are missing couple people including Jen and Marty)

 

The music, the slow capping, the atmosphere …. this was why we had spent years getting here.  It is absolutely unbelievable.   There is a photo of me at the start and I look quite calm.  And I was.  I had played out in my mind each of the race sections and I knew how I wanted to approach them.  I had worked through with Cath and Danae what I needed in each checkpoint and they were all primed for the nights and days ahead.  The one section I was apprehensive about was the first 8km to Les Houches as it was flat and required a fast running pace – something that I hadn’t been able to do for weeks.

 

 

The mass start and our position near the back meant it took a while to get over the start line, and then we were walking/half jogging for a couple of kilometres, lapping up the cheers and hand slaps from the crowd on the way out of Chamonix.  I was running along with Tanya, Emma, Russell and Geoff at this stage and then we caught up to Jen and Marty who had started a bit further ahead in the crowd.  I couldn’t think of a better place to share the trails with my friends from Australia and we all had Aussie flags, boxing kangaroos and koalas to show off our Aussie roots.  And as the pace picked up and the runners spread out, I was quietly hoping the achilles would stay quiet.  The slowish start was not a problem – one of the biggest errors is to go out too hard in this race.  It really doesn’t get going until after Courmayeur (80km) and some say not until Champex-Lac (126km).

 

I had expected the congestion of runners to ease off by the time we started climbing from Les Houches, up to Le Delevret (900m) and back down to Saint Gervais where the first checkpoint is.  But it didn’t.  It was packed and at times you came to a complete stop in single file.  Darkness arrived and still we were stopping and starting as the crowd ebbed and flowed through difficult parts of the trail.  I couldn’t believe it really.  How long is this going to go on for?  But inwardly I thought perhaps this is a good thing.  Enforced rest.  Just go with the flow.  And I used the time to sip on my Tailwind nutrition and relax.  Geoff and Russell had moved off ahead and Emma was nearby whilst Tanya, Jen and Marty had fallen behind.  Tanya came past at one point as she loves the downhills and the race started to play out as we went through a minor checkpoint in Saint Gervais (21km).  This was a fast stop – fill up water but keep going – no crew allowed.

 

Exiting the checkpoint, it was still early and runners were everywhere and a slow jog was the order of the day.  There are some rolling hills and a gradual incline towards the first major checkpoint at Les Contamines, and it was in this section that I could feel my achilles calling.  Bugger.  It had behaved so far but this section was the worst gradient for it requiring a slow uphill jog, pretty much designed to inflame an achilles.  In the space of 5 minutes I went from feeling comfortable and relaxed and focused, to thinking, I don’t think I can get through another 145km with an achilles that is starting to hurt.  So I slowed down again and did some run/walk for a bit.  And I then started working out how I would tell my friends and family that 3 years of hard work had only allowed me to get through 25km of the race.  Swear words here *&#$%%*.   Thus it was that I entered the major checkpoint at Les Contamines (31km) to meet my crew.  It was great seeing Cath and Danae but they could tell something was wrong.  Explaining that my achilles was playing up, we had a quick chat and Catherine whipped out 2 panadol.  We decided that I would just keep going and see what happened.  I topped up my nutrition and took the chance to munch on salami, cheese and drink some soup.  My pre-race coaching advice had been to always grab food whenever it is on offer, and thus I ate more than I would have in any prior races.

 

 

Heading out of Les Contamines, there is a massive long climb for 1300 metres over 13km.  It was still crazy with congestion and we were in a long single file, unable to pass people and stuck at whatever pace the slowest runner was going.  It was extremely muddy, slippery and steep and I loved it.  The pace was slow which gave me time for the Panadol to kick in, the climbing suited me and I was using my quads mostly which gave the achilles a rest.  After a while I didn’t notice the achilles and as the crowds around me thinned out, I was passing people.  We went through a minor checkpoint at La Balme and once again, I ate and drank soup and soon I was ploughing downhill through the mud and heading towards Les Chapieux (50km).  I felt good.  I was still passing people and at the checkpoint I once again topped up food and soup.  I didn’t have crew here as it was very difficult to get to.  I knew from here it was a long slow climb to one of the high passes in the race but it was a section that I loved in training and I was looking forward to it (can you believe that?).   It was also in this checkpoint at Les Chapieux that I noticed a huge number of people just sitting and staying warm in the tent.  I stood shoulder to shoulder with other runners and then sat for 2 minutes to finish my soup and then I exited.   Most people who were in there when I arrived were still there when I left.  I had eaten, topped up drinks, topped up nutrition in my bladder, had some soup.  What else did I need to do?  Nothing.  Get going.  Why sit around?  The mass of humanity in that tent also reminded me that what we experience in the checkpoints is a lot different than the leading runners who have a table each with all their gear laid out and everything provided.  We were shoulder to shoulder like standing room at a footy match.

 

On the section to Col de la Seigne, it was another 1,000 metre climb.  You get used to them.  That is the typical ascent for each of the climbs.  It was early hours of Saturday morning and I knew dawn would arrive somewhere along this section.  It was beautiful.  Looking ahead towards the Col, you could see the long line of lights on the switch backs and I was once again passing a lot of people.  I wasn’t tired and my achilles was not bothering me and I felt like I was flying up that hill.  Dawn arrived just before I reached the Col so I got the silhouette of the top of the mountains as I looked east.  Fantastic.  Worth racing just for this.  However the clouds soon arrived and as I reached the top of the Col, it was suddenly snowing.  Not too cold as it was light snow but I still put on the warm gear and I prepared for a long descent to Lac Combal.

 

I have a photo below from my training run that shows this section in daylight.  It is amazing and such a pity that so many runners never get to see it.

 

 

 

Once again I flew down from the Col here as the knees were ok (at this stage).  Runners were becoming more and more sparse as I went on (perhaps they were all still back in that tent!) and I would see a runner ahead and try and pick them off as I descended to Lac Combal (67km).  I topped up food, drinks, nutrition here, sat for a few minutes to have some soup and then got out of there – once again no crew here.  I was well ahead now of the cut-off time and that gave me quite a bit of confidence.  I haven’t mentioned any of the other Aussies and that is because I hadn’t seen them since before checkpoint 1.   I assumed they were ahead of me and hoped they were all going well.

 

It was fully light now and heating up as I went up another climb via Arete du Mont Favre and Col Checroutt Maison Vielle (75km).  I had pasta at one of these checkpoints and filled up on drinks etc .  And as it was very runnable on the descents, I pushed along quite quickly (for me).  Still passing people and still feeling good.  Courmayeur (80km) approached where I would meet my crew and I had a lot of time up my sleave in terms of cutoff times.

 

Courmayeur was mid morning and it was warm outside when I went in.  I didn’t linger here either.  Grabbed food, changed clothes, topped up nutrition, re-applied Gurney Goo, but basically got out of there.  22 minutes I think I was there.  Still time to do everything.  But it was here also that I noticed hundreds of people sitting around.  I think I went in and out before half of them had moved.   Farewelling my crew I knew the next sections would be tough, partly because I wouldn’t see my crew for nearly 12 hours, and partly because I could see the weather was getting worse.

 

The climb up to Refuge Bertone (800metres) was fine and I had enjoyed it in training.  However the section through the rolling ups and downs along the bluff to Refuge Bonatti (92km) was hard.  I didn’t quite have the strength to attack it like I did in the training run but I kept up a steady slowish pace.  Noone else seemed to be going any quicker so that gave me some comfort.  The temperature seemed to be dropping and at the checkpoint, it once again started snowing.  This was a concern.   We were at 2,025 metres and I knew we had to climb over Grand Col Ferret at over 2,500 metres.  I saw a lot of worried faces at that checkpoint.  It was an outside checkpoint so no one was hanging around in the cold, but everyone was taking time to get every piece of emergency clothing on.  It took me 10 minutes to sort all that out whilst trying to eat and drink at the same time.  The downhill section to Arnouvaz (97km) was hugely challenging as it was extremely muddy with no footholds.  It was like skiing downhill on a steep single trail and hoping you stayed upright.

 

The tent at Arnouvaz was warm and I could tell no one really wanted to exit.  I knew it was a trap to stay in there.  Walking outside was uncomfortable and we were at 1700 metres with an 800m climb to come.  Visibility was not good and the rain and sleet were coming directly into your face.  It was mid afternoon but quite dark.  I knew it was a long way until I saw crew again and I think for many people, there was a huge temptation to exit the race at this point.  In fact, part of my mind was wondering how bad it could get before race organisers would shut it down.  And strangely this pushed me on, because I knew if I could get over this pass, then the other side was less exposed to the weather.

 

The climb was very tough.  Once again, this was a climb in training that I powered up, but not today.  It was pretty slow and a real slog.  Not many runners about and as you climbed higher, you were more and more exposed to what became a blizzard.  There was no way to protect your face as the the wind was head-on, and all the ground and bushes about you were frozen with sleet.  I didn’t have time to take photos but I wish I did.  And as I came towards the top, I saw a race organiser in a massive parka coming out of the murk yelling “Allez Allez Allez”.  Why is he shouting to hurry up?  I honestly thought he was hurrying me up because they were about to shut it down.  If you got over the top your race would go on and if you didn’t, they might bus you back from the previous checkpoint – race over.  So I found a third wind and pushed hard over the top.  It was quite frightening up there – dark, blowing a gale, sleet in the face, and I thought if you stopped up here for too long you would freeze very quickly.  It was definitely minus 9c here.  Quite brave for the organisers to let us go through it I thought.

 

Over the top and huge relief.   Long downhill runnable sections now towards La Fouly (111km) and thankfully out of the wind.  But a long way until the checkpoint.  Too long I thought!  They needed another checkpoint somewhere in-between and in training there was a Refuge (La Peule) along the way.  But it was closed.  Damn.  Most people were pretty cold and pretty stuffed along here.  In training it was a fast section but not today.  Late afternoon and you knew another night beckoned.  Another low point for me and I imagine others too.

 

At La Fouly, I went in alone as I had arranged for my crew to meet me at Champex Lac (126km).  At La Fouly you could see a lot of people who just needed to recover.  So no one was leaving.  I grabbed food, drank soup and didn’t stay long.  I was warm enough and I wanted to get to Champex Lac (another 14km).  We had to leave with lights on our heads as darkness was approaching.  A lot of runnable sections again if your legs and knees were up to it.  I probably lost a few places along here but I knew I’d made up a lot with people who were still in the warm tent at La Fouly.  Just to help things it was bucketing rain for the next 10km and it was a tough climb to Champex Lac.  I neither gained nor lost places along here but as I moved along, I was forming a plan to take a 20 min nap at the next checkpoint.  People were sleeping along the trail as I went (in rain??) and I thought I would far rather get a mattress in a warm tent.  I also knew my crew could wake me if needed.  Seeing Cath and Danae at Champex Lac was fantastic and they were excited to see me to break their boredom.

 

First thing I said was that I’m going for a nap.  Another 20 mins of boredom for them!  As I lay down and pulled a blanket over my head, I heard an Aussie accent 2 mattresses along!  Hahahha.  It was Emma just getting up from a nap.  And there was Russell standing in front of me!  They were heading out and asked if I wanted to join them.  I told them to go ahead as I need to rest and eat.  How fantastic to see them and as I lay there, I thought quite strange that I had run into them as I had assumed they were miles ahead.

 

I didn’t sleep at all as my legs were too sore, but getting off my feet was good.  Suitably fed and with nutrition topped up, I went out into the 2nd night again somewhere around 11.30pm.    Probably 40 mins after I had seen Emma and Russell.   The next section has a nice runnable downhill leg before a steep and difficult climb up 1,000 metres and back down the same metres again to Trient.  It was tough in training and it was going to be tough on the 2nd night.  The rain had stopped but it was muddy and the trail was covered with loose rocks and tree roots.  I climbed well again and soon I had caught up to a group of runners (runners were very sparse on the course now).  And there was that Aussie accent again.  Emma and Russell and a group of others.  I said hi but didn’t hang around as I was moving along well and so passed the group on the downhill section.

 

Trient (142km) and Vallorcine (153km) checkpoints came and went.  I met Cath and Danae at both.  Constantly fuelling up and feeling pretty confident.  More climbs, less runners, and kilometres and ascents/descents ticking by.  The light came up in the next section and I knew I was headed to a good time.  I had trained on the high Col des Montets section of the race and I loved it.  However the organisers had cut it out for safety and introduced similar ascent/descent and distance but all at lower altitude.  As I’ve read from some of the leading runners, most people think the new section introduced was harder than the original.  And I agree. It was very technical and on tired legs, very difficult to traverse.  It did feel like we were getting no closer to the finish in what seemed like a maze of ups and downs and back and forths.

 

It wasn’t until I made it to La Flegere (163km) that I was back on familiar ground again.  And then I knew the last downhill 8km section would be very hard on my knees.  But I thought stuff it, they can recover later, and I ran as hard as I could.  It started to heat up (temperature and emotions) as I headed down into Chamonix and it was only just before midday.  Originally I was very worried about final cut-off times (around 4.30pm) but these fears proved unfounded.  So I was very tired, very sore but floating really.  So happy.

 

Emerging from the forest in Chamonix was amazing.  Crowds were building along the course as I was lucky to be finishing at a peak time in the day.  Some of my faster friends were finishing in the early hours of the morning with obviously less supporters.  I ran as hard as I could through the town and saw Catherine and Danae, grabbed a flag and then turned the corner into the main straight and finish line.  Without knowing it Marty was running behind me taking a video which is great to look back on.  An absolute emotional high going through Chamonix and a feeling I will never forget.  And a time just over 42 hours that I’m very proud of. I was especially proud to gain places through the whole race going from over 2,000th to 1040th at the end.  This fit with my race plan.  I can say that once over the finish line the achilles decided enough was enough and it remains sore a week later.  But who cares!

 

Nearly all my Aussie running buddies made it and those who didn’t will be back for more I think.

 

 

 

 

So many thanks to Catherine and Danae for crewing and to Cath for putting up with months (years!) of preparation.  My coach (Majell) deserves a special mention because my training was very specific for this race and it proved to be invaluable.

 

Gear / nutrition / suggestions?

  • Trail shoes with incredible grip
  • Shoes that fit perfectly – any hot spots in training will multiply in the race (losing toe nails? Go up a size)
  • Perhaps wear a wind proof top and a rain jacket over the top with a medium mid layer warm top. Gives more flexibility on layering than one warm top and one jacket.
  • Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition – the gaps between checkpoints make it difficult to replenish but you can’t survive on the food from the checkpoints alone
  • Get crew if you can
  • Practice in training with every single piece of gear that you intend taking
  • Practice with poles
  • Guard against chafing
  • Get a good light and train with it
  • Prepare a race plan
  • Find a coach who knows UTMB
  • Use the checkpoints for what you need but don’t hang around
  • Take a nap on the 2nd night – but no longer than 20 mins

 

Good luck.  It’s worth it.  What a blast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UTA100 2017 Guest Report- Sarah Connor

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#UTA2017 Race Report.

(Disclaimer – I have still only had 3 hours sleep so pardon the swearing).

It was very fucking hard. The end..

Yeah right – thought you would get away with a short report! Ha! Never.

 

The race had course changes due to the weather this year. I was very Zen about it (very un-like me) as you cant control the weather or decisions that the RD’s and the authorities need to make to keep people safe.

 

It was cold and wet when we started, but eventually it became beautiful and sunny and clear. The night was perfect running weather.

I stuck to my race plan that Andy had sent me – slow in the first half and concentrate on passing others in the second half.

Start to CP 1 – just went with the flow –

The landslide had a conga line, but it was a chance to eat and rest.

CP1 – CP2

Tarros Ladders – there was a 10-15 minute wait just to get down to the ladders. I get vertigo, so opted to go around on the diversion track, which turned out to be the same time. Plus I had warmed up again.

The 50k men’s pointy end of the race tore past us just after Tarros ladders. Holy shit they can move.

The didgeridoo players were just before CP 2 – this was one of the only reasons I wanted to do this race, to hear them play in the race. Chills down my spine hearing them. So cool! Had a headache that was getting worse, but could not get any pain relief until CP 3 so had to suck it up.

CP2 – CP3

Had a really low spot because of said headache, running along Megalong Valley Road. Was hanging for the CP for panadol and my running poles.

CP 3 was a good quick transition.

CP3 – CP4

Left the checkpoint with Jen and Ingrid, which was lovely. (No cows in the field this time). Ingrid and I hiked up to Nellies Glen together. It was hard work, but everyone else was suffering too! Heard some interesting burps…. So decided to rate them – as you do when you need to keep occupied. Some random lady in a blue onesie was handing out choc chip cookies just before CP 4 – oh they were awesome. Going to have those again in a race!

 

CP4 – CP5

Ingrid’s support crew of Bek, Janis and Sharon helping me out with massages and checking that I had what I needed made transition easier. Thank you ladies!

 

Now this is when I knew it would be tough. The course changes affected from CP4 – finish. I was heading towards the longest distance I had ever run, and was not sure how my body would cope. Left the CP very positive and moving in the right direction. Sunset was happening just as I came around Echo Point, so the views were spectacular.

Came into Gordon Falls Reserve and got the best group hug ever from Bek, Janis and Sharon- seriously that was awesome!

Hailey and Roger, said that they would meet me on course – and there they were at Gordon Falls Reserve with liquid black gold – a can of coke. My ITB was beginning to act up, Roger gave me some tips on how to deal with it and off I went into the darkness.

Ran into Tim somewhere out the back of the golf course and he walked up with me back to his car and we had a great chat.

There were runners coming from both directions and I felt obliged to let the faster ones who were returning from the out and back loop, go past first. I think this slowed me up quite a bit having to always get off the track.

Coming out of Wentworth Falls, I had been looking out for Adam (actually looking for his trail gaiters as I was looking at the ground most of the time) and I found him! It was lovely to see him and get a hug.

Then it was the slog down the road to CP5.  It was at this point (apx 72-73k), that I knew I would be reduced to walking the rest of the way, due to my left ITB, so I made sure I was really power hiking and not just walking.

 

I could hear the CP before I got to it and was really looking forward to sitting down! Except when I got there, there was a 3k out and back before you could enter the CP. There were many swear words at this point. That was mentally tough. So I sucked it up and got it done.

The Summit Sister cheer squad were there and it was lovely to hear them! Saw a snake crossing the road. Yes a snake, it was 8C.

Sally met me at the CP and looked after me very well and made sure I was compos mentis. I was very surprised to find that I was 2 hours ahead of schedule. Threw on my warm clothes, my toes were aching, but there was nothing I could do, so gave them a quick massage and walked off into the night.

I spent most of this leg by myself, which suited me just fine.

Then my headlight died with about 8k to go.  I had forgotten to check my back up light batteries, but it was working so I dropped it to low lumens to conserve the batteries and kept moving. I had forgotten to pack spare batteries into my pack at CP 5. I turned my phone to flight mode, to conserve its battery so that I could use the torch I my phone if needed.

The stairs were horrid. I could only go down diagonally with the right foot first and am now sporting a large blister on my left foot.

I have never been so glad to see Leura Forest. It was then 4.8k of just slogging it out. Furber stairs were hard. There were a few tears shed here.

You can hear the finish line before you can see it. It’s torture. Roger was working the microphone at this point, and when my name was announced, he started up a cheer, which I could hear but legs just would not work. Eventually after the last 5 stairs, my brain engaged that it was the finish and people were waiting for me, so I started a jog and eventually crossed the line in 21hours and 6 mins.  It was just after 4am (I had no idea of real time as my watch died at 76k) and I was not looking at my phone. It was so lovely to have people I knew around me.

More tears were shed, Roger has video that is not repeatable here, which basically said I’m never doing it again. Nothing could top that experience.

I felt in the early stages of the race that I could go under 20 hours. Apparently I was on track for that most of the day, but was de-railed once the legs died. I think with a longer training base, it would have been achievable for me, even with the extra stairs.

 

Now for the bit that is most important. I would like to thank (and in no particular order) the people below for helping me to achieve my goal.

 

Andy DuBois of Mile 27 – 10 weeks ago, after Tarawera Ultra, I contacted Andy for coaching and he got me to this race. I can’t thank you enough. The training you set me, made a hell of difference.

Mile27

Garry Luke of Muscle Therapy Australia – best masseuse ever!

Muscle Therapy Australia

Kathy Widjaja of Aequilibrium – all those body movement classes – my glutes thank you!

Dr Adrienne Leahy of Spine and Health Crows Nest – my spine thanks you!

Spine and Health Crows Nest

Paula Shingler of Running Right – last minute physio and scones and jam and cream really helped.

 

Julie – my running partner and therapist.

Cass – Friday mornings have improved out of sight thanks to world peace and coffee.

Summit Sisters community – you all rock!

Bek, Janis, Sharon and Sally – you are the best support crewers ever.

Hailey – for the texts and the liquid black gold AKA Coke.

Roger – the shiatsu massage really unlocked my back – it was the best. Can I have another one please?

AROC Sport – without you guys, this legendary race would never exist. Thanks for the superb organisation, in what would have been one of the hardest situations to work in this year. Your volunteers and staff are the best.

My friends and family who all support from near and far via Facebook .

And finally, my husband Adam and son, Alex. Thanks for putting up with me, early mornings, early nights and a sometimes tired and crabby wife and mother.

 

What I wore

Summit Sisters t-shirt

Moving comfort bra

Fabletics ¾ pants with handy pockets down the sides of the legs.

Zensah calf guards

Feetures socks

Hoka Stinson 3 ATR’s

Patagonia cap

Buff’s of varying different styles

Patagonia R1 fleece jacket

Salmon Bonatti waterproof jacket

Nathan Vapour wrap pack

(Sheesh I’m not very loyal to one brand am I?)

 

What I ate from my pack

Carmen’s muesli bars – mostly the more nutty ones

Chicken in a biscuit

BBQ shapes

Clif bar

Chips

Farex pre-made baby food

 

From CP 2 I had Nuun or Hydralyte in my water.

Panadol osteo at CP3 and after CP 5 – said headache was gone with about 13k to go …

From the checkpoints – Banana, watermelon, soup, bread, cheese and ham scrolls, a lolly, a chocolate chip biscuit, a bit of brownie, pot noodles, a chocolate bar from a random runner at a CP, coke, black coffee with 1 at the Fairmont , chips.

 

Recovery (so far its 24 hours in)

2 magnesium tablets before the race

Soup and chocolate milk at the finish

Blister popped at First Aid so I did not have to deal with it

Shower as soon as possible

Sleep for an hour – gentle rolling with the stick

Trying to move normally rather than the ultra lurch

Car drive home – stayed awake and kept my legs in different positions

Warm Epsom salt bath and then icing the knee

More good food and some chocolate

9 hours sleep – means I’m awake at 3am but hey that’s when all the best race reports are written.

 

Thames Path 100 Miles- Guest Post- Taras Mencinsky

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Thames Path 100 – Race Report by Taras Mencinsky

I’m not much for writing Race Reports, mainly as my races are not worth writing home about. But as this one was part of an international campaign of running and fell walking, I thought I’d bundle it up as a mini running odyssey.

First up was the London Marathon, a race I had unsuccessful entered about a million times. On running the race, I understood (a) why it is so special, and (b) why it’s so hard to get a bog standard entry. The answer to both is the same. It’s that the London Marathon is a charity marathon, where the majority of places is for participants who will probably never do another marathon in their lives, but do this one because they raise money for others. And every supporter lining the route is there to cheer for someone who has raised money for months, is carrying a tumble dryer on their back or dressed as a Mr Men character (I mean full timber frame and canvas skin). So, with all that incredible social spirit, the scene was set for a cruise around London, enjoying the sights and sounds and simply revelling in the moment. It was a great event to compete in, and I will keep trying in the ballot in future, simply because any chance to run this race is worth taking.

In the time between London and Thames Path, I travelled up to the Lakes District to check out some fells. I’m fascinated by the fells and fell running. The history of fell running is something I think any long distance runner can relate to. It’s all about the solitary runner. The terrain, environment, weather and conditions constantly change, making every run unique. And the concentration of fells and valleys in such a small geographical area makes it different to running in the vastness of the Australian bush. There are 214 Wainwrights (fells), 15 lakes and a dozen valleys, all contained in a small, craggy part of northwest England, measuring only 50km wide and 60km top to bottom. It is simply magical. I walked from Keswick in the Northern Fells, and climbed Skiddaw (931m), Lonscale Fell, Little Man and Carl Side. The views from Skiddaw were amazing. You could see the complete Helvellyn ranges in one direction, and Solway Firth and Scotland in the other.

Finally, the day arrived and I made my way to the start of the Thames Path 100. This is a flat 100 mile run from Richmond, London to Oxford along the Thames River footpath. Total elevation was only 400m (amazing how flat it was!), but this presented more than its fair share of challenges. Because it’s flat, it’s hard to find a natural time or occasion to walk and recover energy. You feel compelled to keep going and keep your rhythm. This worked well for the first 30 miles and then ok for the next 30, but once serious nightfall fell (about 10pm – 12 hours after the race started), the night demons descended. From there on it was a slow grind. The checkpoints were evenly spread (about 6-7.5 miles between) so thankfully it wasn’t too bad, but that may be because two weeks after the race, I have conveniently forgotten the worst of it. Thankfully, I had lots of company, if only in my head. To all those who gave me silent, and not so silent encouragement I thank you from the sole of my shoes to tip of my head.

So, for the next 7 hours I walked and micro-slept, and shuffled when the micro sleeps went over 2 -3 seconds. While the terrain wasn’t challenging, the proximity to the river at times was close, so last thing I wanted to do was slip in for a midnight dip in the Thames.

Thankfully, dawn finally arrived, but unlike Australia, where you’re greeted by the dawn chorus of raucous cockatoos, kookaburras, galahs, bellbirds, whip birds and crashes in the bush, dawn in the UK is more subtle and while I didn’t feel as if all my energy returned, certainly enough did to know that the end was achievable, if not in sight. I continued to shuffle slowly through checkpoints and struggled to eat or drink, which is my perennial problem. It seems that when you go as slow as I was, you can keep moving with little external energy consumption and use internal resources. Sorry darling, but that’s why I have no cheek fat. I didn’t stop at the 89 mile checkpoint, thinking it was time to get this over with and ground through to the last checkpoint on course at 95 miles. I sat down, exhausted, and thankfully, as was the case throughout the race, the volunteers were runners and knew what I was going through. They coaxed me gently into having a strong coffee and some watermelon, and once I started moving again I could feel the energy return. I vowed to finish strongly, as you always have to look good at the finish! So I picked up the pace and started to breathe better, and very soon I was hitting 8 minute km’s, then 7 minute km’s and finally I was motoring at 6:30 minute km’s with 5 km’s to go. I maintain this pace and passed several runners who were feeling the hurt but resolutely moving, and by the time I turned left and entered the finish chute I was floating on air. After 25 hours and 23 minutes, I had finally conquered a 100 Mile race. While I missed my Centurion target (finishing under 24 hours), I was ecstatic to have finished and finished strongly.

In summary, the race was a great opportunity to exorcise some demons and give me the belief that maybe, just maybe, I can call myself an ultra-marathoner and be in the same room with so many people I admire. At least stand in a corner of the room quietly and discretely!

If you ever get the chance to run the Thames Path 100 or any other Centurion race in the UK, I would highly recommend it. Great organisation, great volunteers and wonderful courses that are as different from the Oz bush as you can imagine.

Finding New Music- Guest Post- DJ Dan Rowntree

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Note from Adam- this blog was always meant to be a personal collection of stories about life and music. If you read the stuff here you’ll see that running has taken a lot more of my time than music in the last few years. One of the things that is very difficult to do is find good music- there’s so much out there and you could go crazy just searching for stuff that you really like. So I sent a cheeky email to a mate who is completely steeped in music all the time with one question- how do you find the good stuff?
I’m very pleased to present what might be the first blog post about music on a site that should have been partially dedicated to music!

Take it away Dan-

So as a DJ I get asked all the time how I source my new music, new artists, new labels etc etc so I thought I’d write a few quick little paragraphs about this very subject! I’ll use Beatport as an example but this also works across Junodownload and some functionality in iTunes as well.
Step 1: Start with your current favourite track in your library or on Vinyl if you are making the switch to digital. (I’ll use Sonny Fodera as my example).
Put that Producer into Beatport Search and what comes up are not only all the tracks that the Producer has made and is available to buy but also the label that said Producer is on along with his remixes as well!

Labels are usually pretty good at releasing tracks that all have a similar sound, in turn if you like a particular producer/artist it’s more than likely you’ll also dig whats on that label.

In the above image I clicked the defected record label and a whole bunch of tracks and producers has come up. I’m good here now for about 45mins! I’d start with “Purple Disco machine” or “Claptone” from the right hand side column…
Step 2:
It is also good to click on and search producers that remix your favourite artists work or in turn tracks they’ve remixed. This opens up many options and to be honest it naturally turns into a free for fall of new music to access.
In this image I clicked on “Colette” and it takes me to her artist page and then that opens up a whole bunch of new labels, producers she’s worked with and the list goes on…from here I would click on “Lawnchair Generals” or “JT Donaldson” in the right hand column and repeat previous steps, as there literally 100,000 plus house tracks on this site it can soon turn into 3am and have racked up 300 tracks in my cart!
So as you can see, once you get started and just keep exploring you can build a 25,000 track library in about a fortnight if you have the time and budget!
I hope this has helped some of you, I’m happy to chat further anything music related especially if you need some music for your Yoga studio, Hotel, Bar, Salon, Retail Space, Restaurant etc etc…
Have an epic day.
Dj Dan Rowntree
Editors note- in addition to DJ’ing across the world for luxury brands ( I’m not jealous, sob) Dan has played at venues in Sydney like Ivy, Hemmesphere and events like Dinner en Blanc. If your venue could use some seriously cool music, check out his music service Dusk Music.

Race To The Stones- 100km Guest Report- Richard Bettles

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Race Report

100k “Race to the Stones” June 2014

This race was going to be interesting after a 4 week preparation diet of Belgium beer, French wine and goat’s cheese. Essentially Louise and I had been eating our way through Europe and arrived in England 2 days before race to 30 degrees and a forecast of thunderstorms for race day. Probably not the best idea to bolt on a 100k race at the end of a holiday but 2 pts were on offer. They would complete my required tally of 8 to qualify to enter the ballot for the UTMB.

The unique race is a 100km route following the footsteps of Romans, Vikings, farmers and traders along the 5000 y/o Ridgeway path. Passing Iron Age forts, ancient burial chambers, crossing the Thames and the mystical down-lands of Salisbury plain on the way to the finish line at the 3,000- year-old stone circle at Avebury (older than Stonehenge!)

Race day: Having stayed in a country pub we woke to predicted torrential rain at 4am. I wasn’t too concerned as this was due to clear and make way for a 25 degree day with afternoon thunder storms and a typical English Summer day.

6:30am we headed to a field in Chinnor in the Chilterns where 1500 competitors were going about their business of registering and final prep. I found my mate Jonny who had driven from Devon the night before, arriving at midnight to sleep in his bivi bag in a farmer’s field. It had leaked during the 4am downpour but Jonny was in good spirits! Despite being a fully supported race the organisers hadn’t secured a sports nutrition sponsor. So as well as mandatory kit one had to think about carrying gels and sports drink for the whole race (or trust you could get by on flapjacks and coca cola!). For me I didn’t want the gut to shut down so I loaded up with tried and tested gels and a tube of SIS sports drink tablets surprisingly sourced from a small local village.

By the 8am start the rain had cleared and the gun went off. Louise, my #1 support crew waved me through. I thought this would be the last I saw of her until the end due to the checkpoints (Pitstops) being in undisclosed hard to reach National Trust locations, the locations were kept secret so supporters wouldn’t congregate. I’d been advised to make a good start so as not to get caught up on single track for the first few K’s. But this wasn’t a sprint race so casually I eased my way through the field and was in a comfortable place for the tight start.

First 10k came and went in a cautious 50 min

We were through the 1st Pitstop with ease and shortly after greeted with the first significant hill. I shot up it overtaking several runners and losing Jonny for a while; clearly the North face training and some training I did in the French Alps between wine and cheese sessions was paying off. At this stage I felt really strong but then again I was only 17k’s into a 100k race.

This race is renowned for its beauty and stunning trail and we had the first real glimpse as we ran through a valley of White Poppy fields. Ah, the Chilterns, the Opium capital of Europe!

Second Pitstop Jonny caught up to me, I grabbed some bananas and a bag of Jellytots (any English reading this will remember Jellytots, once a child hood staple, now sports nutrition!) Shortly after, Jonny and I led a group of runners up a path which turned out to be a driveway to a farmhouse! The farmer kindly pointed out we shouldn’t be in his garden and we returned to the ambiguous arrow marker and the correct path. That would be the only wrong turn in what turned out to be a very well marked course

Here we entered a few K’s of woodland trail and we cautiously opened our legs up conscious it was early days and we were averaging 5min low k’s. The trees cleared and we ran along Grims Ditch, a long flat excavated pathway dating back to the Iron Age

25k’s in I started to cramp in my right butt and my whole right side was struggling to keep up with the left. A strange feeling and I was really running with discomfort. By 30k I was thinking there was no way I was going to make it and my mind was floating the idea of pulling the pin. I had another 2 salt tablets, kept up the sports drink and hung on to Jonny who I could feel was starting to hit his straps.

We ran through a very pretty village, crossed the Thames and hit the marathon distance in 4.10h. The cramps had receded however the quick pace across trail and muddy bridleways was taking its toll and I was tiring.

We hit 50k in 4:58h, it was 1pm, the sun was fully in the sky and England was turning on a sultry summer’s day in the mid 20’s. The humidity was really kicking in and I sensed this would be a game changer for many competitors…..but this was the point where the hardy soldiered on and a majority of the field called it quits for the day, a rest, a night sleep and completion of the second 50k on the Sunday. I was wishing I could join them and be part of the “2 day” racers. Alas I was in the 100k nonstop and there was no getting out of it.

The support crews at the pitstops were great, taking your water bottles and filling them up whilst we refuelled with butter flapjacks, chocolate cake and for me bananas and half a dozen cups of Coke. It was humid and I was drinking like a camel.

At this stage in a 100k race I find it’s all about the mind because the body is telling you it has had enough. The pace gets slower and I’m aware of every K. Jonny couldn’t eat any solids but despite not much fuel going in, I could sense he was feeling strong and I struggled to keep in touch with him from 60k onwards. The terrain was mixed and tough, rutted bridal ways, long, long sweeping downs and long gradual climbs. The scenery was stunning and I was having to make a conscious effort to take it in.

72k another Pitstop was looming. I knew this because markers were placed before the stops “1km until Pitstop”. It became clear someone’s Garmin wasn’t working or the organisers were getting km’s confused with Miles. By the 3rd 2km trot from marker to Pitstop we realised you could only take the markers as a rough suggestion of the next Pitstop. They were screwing with our minds!

And then I saw some people, in fact I saw a t-shirt I recognised………..it was #1 support crew (wife!) who had just worked out where a checkpoint was and literally just arrived. The planets were aligning! It was great to see her and she ran with me in her Haviannas for a km. Louise had heard I was in somewhere near 25th place. This was all I needed and the competitive spirt was awakened. A few salt tablets, some paracetamol a few more cups of coke washed down with some blackcurrant drink and I was out of the checkpoint with renewed vigour.

At 80k I felt good and started to pass a few runners who had passed me earlier. Jonny had gone and I wasn’t to see him again until the finish. Strewth it was getting hot and the air was thick with humidity. Big black clouds were on the horizon and as I ran atop a sweeping dale torrential rain could be seen in the distance. And then a thunderclap like a bomb going off broke the tension and it absolutely pissed down. I ran along like Fred Astaire lapping up the cooling rain.

Last checkpoint at 91k. Instructions were given to the end – we were told the race didn’t end at Avebury Stones but 2k after at a nearby farm. The Stones were at 98k and we had to double back for

a k and turn left off the track up a hill to a 400m road to the finish. I was briefed, fuelled up and ready for the final push. I was also feeling nauseous!

At 96.5k according to my ever reliable Garmin I had 3.5k to go, that is 1.5k to the Stones and then the home straight. Psychologically I was ready. I passed an English runner (#843) with whom I had exchanged positions for some 15k’s. A sign appeared in the distance; surely it would be the sign that said 3km to go……………..but no, ”5km to the Finish!” it read. The straw had broken this Camels back and like a Tsunami I threw up a mixture of bananas, gels, coke and blackcurrant. Adding insult to injury the English chap seized the opportunity and passed me as I fertilised the pathway without so much as a “are you alright old boy?”. He thought I was broken. I thought I was broken but the surprise vomit relieved the nausea and I now had my sights on the finish and finishing ahead of runner 843. I had passed a 110ft high, 1000 y/o “The White Horse of Uffington” carved in the hillside and not even noticed it. I had white-line fever and new found drive to run down 843. Pass him I did

Finally Avebury Stones were in sight; I was ushered to weave through them and return along the same footpath to the final straight home. I passed 843 again on the way out of the stones and gave a quick nod of respect.

A big inflatable finish arch welcomed me in, #1 support crew and Jonny among the cheerers. I had finished a really incredible race in 36th position in 11:20h

Footnote: Jonny had never run further than a marathon before the event and finished in 27th place and 10:48h!

Footnote 2: recovery = bowl of pasta, 4 pints of beer and a live band down the local pub!

Cradle Mountain Run 2017- Guest Post Leah K

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Cradle Mountain Run, Tasmania 2017

 

I’ve always wanted to do this run for a few years now, I mean c’mon – Australia’s Oldest Ultra Marathon, who wouldn’t wanna do it! Especially since it’s a one day traverse over the infamous Overland Track (who has time to hike it anyway?!)

After being sad that CMR was cancelled in 2016 due to the devastating bush fires that were raging in the North Western parts of Tasmania, I was even more motivated to secure a spot for the 2017 race. Fingers ready on a Sunday night in October, I scored a spot!

Fast forward to February 4th 2017, I was lining up at the crack of dawn (6am) in a small asphalt area outside our Waldheim Cabins in the freezing cold. While Sydney was getting blasted with a 39 degree heat wave, it was about 10 degrees in the Cradle Mountain National Park – PERFECT!

Two roll calls from the Race Directors and a quiet count down, 60 of us runners ventured out over the iconic chicken wired duckboard and off into the untouched Tasmanian wilderness.

And what a wilderness!!! It is a beautiful, prehistoric and really, really untouched wilderness! Photos and descriptions really can’t portray how amazing it is to wind your way past ancient mountains, bluffs, and flora that seems to go on forever.

The only real climb in this course is Marions Lookout. Once you’re up there, the VIEW!

Anyway, long story short, it is a visually spectacular run!

Something incredibly deceiving about this run is that it has a lot of beautiful images depicting

runners cruising along the duckboards. I think these photos I took sum it up perfectly (but it did get much worse than the pic on the right!!!):

This run is a battle. A long, 78km battle along tree roots, rocks, tree roots, rocks, more tree roots, wait is that duckboard?! NOPE! Just more rocks, and an awful lot of time being spent in ankle deep mud. OK, I lie, there’s about 12km of duckboard, but the rest of the 66km route is tree roots, rocks and mud. It’s slow going and by the end of it, the soles of my feet felt like they went through a meat mincer.

Once you’re out of the open plains and into the forests (there’s a lot of that!) you can’t get rhythm either. As soon as you get some sort of pace going, you’re forced to stop and delicately pick your way across super narrow but very broken down duckboard / tree roots / rocks / mud. It’s all ankle breaking stuff!

That said, I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Here’s the break down of my run:

Start to Pelion Hut: Cruising along duckboard, trying not to freeze, until about 20km in and took a massive stack, majorly bruising my left knee and spraining the front of my left ankle. Nice work Leah. Frog Flats is horrendously technical as was Pine Forest Moor. Slowly slowly!

Pelion Hut – Kia Ora Hut – Du Cane Hut: Able to get some pace along here and enjoy the views. The historical huts are very cool to look at and seem to pop up out of nowhere.

Du Cane Hut – Narcissus: Back to technical trail dancing with my new friend Deb Nicholl for about an hour before she scooted off into the distance. It seems never ending and exhausting. Narcissus popped out of nowhere with the time keepers yelling “Welcome To Narcissus!!!” They had a small amount of fruit and coke (blessed coke!!) This was the only thing that resembled half and aid station and I was so thankful for it! Did I mention this was a fully self supported run? Surprise; it is!

Narcissus – Watersmeet: Good lord the rocks and roots!!!!!!! Turns out, running around the edge of Lake St Clair and into Cynthia Bay is verrrrrrrrrry long and soul destroying. It’s around 16 – 17km to Watersmeet (where all the rivers join up into one giant rapid) and took me around 3 hours to do this final section. The trail kept disappearing too, making it hard to find the clear trail path again. I really had to concentrate once the trail disintegrated and ensure I scanned the entire area to find the trail start back up again usually around 20 – 50 metres ahead.

Watersmeet – Cynthia Bay: Approaching Watersmeet was salvation! I knew I was about 2km away from the finish line. Time to get a wiggle on! Too bad that this still took me around 30 min to quietly shuffle my way to the end…… But the finish line popped up out of nowhere! I saw two timekeepers, Deb, another finisher who offered me a soft drink and no one else around. Nice! While it seemed like an uninspiring finish, it was really cool to have a quiet finish line – it kept it inline with the casual vibe of the run.
The great news was, I finished in a time that allowed me to bus it to the Derwent Bridge Hotel, shower and still have 5 minutes to spare to order dinner and a pint before the kitchen closed – winner!

The Next Day: Breakfast time was a time to huddle in and receive our participation awards and our Huon Pine Coaster (very cool). I may have to run it another 5 times to get a set of 6 coasters.

During the presentations, I think the winner of CMR (Damian Smith) summed this race up really nicely when he accepted his award: “The dickheads seemed to have not discovered this race yet, and I hope it stays that way”. Yup, me too.

 

Overall, pretty happy with my splits:

 

For anyone wanting to do it, a few things to note:

•This thing sells out quicker than 6FT Track, so have your fingers ready at rego time to be one of the 60 lucky runners to score an entry.

•I highly recommend adding in the accommodation and bus tickets during registration, this was an excellent way to meet other scallywags heading to Cradle Mountain for this run.

•Immediately call Derwent Bridge Hotel (or other nearby accommodation) to secure your bed for the finish line. Otherwise you’ll be stuck paying $300-$400 / night when these all sell out.

•For the race itself, I highly recommend only taking two 500ml flasks to fill up at the creeks and rivers during the run. There’s so much water available on course that you don’t need to be worried about carrying too much. I used ‘Aquaprove’ to sanitise the water. It works in 5 min and I had no stomach trouble. (Thanks Dom Gallagher!!!)

•It’s actually 78km, not 82km as stated on the website. It’s also 2400 metres of elevation gain.

•The cut off points: Pelion Hut is at approximately 32km, and Narcissus is at 61.3km.

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

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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.

bettles

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

bettles3

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 50km UTA50 Sarah Connor Guest Post

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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.

 

 

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

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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 🙂