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 🙂

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

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The Loop UTMB 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What I learnt and what worked for me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gear

Kicks: INOV-255 rocklites

Socks: Injinji Compression

Shorts : Speedo Board shorts over skins

T Shirt: Nike Dry knit

Sun Glasses: Julbo Powel

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

See you on the trails!

Guest Post- Tanya Carroll- GNW100 2015

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GNW Race Report

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

What a difference a day makes

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya GNW100 2015

Key learnings from this simultaneously sublime and torturous experience:

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

 

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

*good is a relative term

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

–        I already have 3 UTMB points by getting to Yarramalong

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

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

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

 

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

 

Photo credit : Pip Candrick

Great North Walk 100 Miles- Guest Blog- GNW100 2015 Chantelle Farrelly

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GNW100 Miler Race Report – September 2015

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Pre Start:

The day started the same as any other race day, up early, half nervous/half excited. Super Supporter Sally was driving myself, Rocco & Doug to the start about 10 mins away. When we got to the start there was lots to do: check in, collect arm tags (no race numbers), mandatory gear check, weigh in (58.4kg), drop off checkpoint bags and meet all the other crazy NRGers (and non NRGers) we’d trained with along the way. Then the Race Brief began and things got serious, eeeeekkkk!

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Start to CP1 Forest (Distance 28.6k) – Expected Time – 4hrs – Actual 3:48

We all lined up, hi vis’s on and everyone was in great spirits. There was hugs, kisses and well wishes. Once we were told to go Geoff lead the group out. There was lots of time to chat along the road. Rocco and I had planned to run together as long as we were both happy with how we were going. So that’s how we started out. It’s a long road section before you hit trails with a few hills thrown in, of course. The first few k’s ticked off quickly and we all knew the climb to the communications tower was coming up. Tim, Doug, Rocco, Robyn and I all ended up running some of this section together which was an unexpected surprise and settled the nerves because it made it feel like a training run rather than the big day. Coming into CP1 I could see Chris, who was there to support Ann in the 100k and Sally waiting for Rocco. I didn’t have a CP bag here so I just filled up my water and I was ready to go. Time in CP: 2mins

CP1 to CP2 Congewai School (Distance 23.9k (52.5k Total) – Expected Time – 2:45) Actual 2:51

Rocco was still getting some stuff so I shouted that I was going to go ahead, he said he’d catch up. Error No.1, I should have waited! I headed off down the trail and looked at my mini directions which I thought said the next turn off wasn’t for the next 11k’s so I trotted along thinking how nice this bit of downhill trail was, how lucky I was to be out there. Luckily for me a lady pulled up in a car beside me and asked if I was doing the race when I said I was she told me I’d missed the turn off… Argh… Error No.2 so I started to run back up the hill because I knew Rocco would now be chasing me down. By the time I made it to the turn off he was nowhere to be seen. I met a few people along the trail and had to try and get myself out of panic mode and just hope that either he would realise I was not running that fast and slow down or that he would be at CP2 when I got there. I sorted my head out and just continued on. I’d had a shocker of a training day on this section and was happy to be feeling ok out on the long firetail. Near the end of the technical downhill before turning onto the road I met Doug and he reminded me to put on my Hi Vis going onto the road section. It was very warm along the road towards the school. As I got close I met Rocco & Robyn coming to opposite way after finishing up in the CP and heading up towards the communication tower. Hmmm panic mode re-engaged, I had about a km to get my head around the fact that I would have to navigate myself for the rest of the run (navigation is probably one of my weakest points and something that Rocco and I had laughed at during the Monday night trail runs). I got into the CP and it was a flurry of activity: get weighed, check in, sort out CP bags with the help of Sally and Alison (thanks ladies), get all my gear out for the gear check (lost my buff along the road somewhere so poor Sally ran off at full pace to her car to get me one, Tim was at the CP too and gave me his spare one), check out. I had asked Tim if he wanted to run together for this section but when I looked around he was still getting himself sorted so I decided to set off on my own. Time in CP: 12mins

CP2 to CP3 The Basin (Distance 29.1k (81.6k Total) – Expected Time – 4:30) – Actual 4:58

It was definitely warm and having a full pack was not good, I met Joe then Adam Darwin just before the turn off and I headed up to the communications tower second guessing every step I took because I hadn’t been on this section before. The climb to the communication tower was super tough and seemed endless in the heat. I got to the Cabans Road crossing and stood there for a while trying to make sure I took the right road, as I continued on there was a fork in the road, I was reluctant to pick which road so I took out the map, directions, compass and tried to work it out, no luck so I tried my phone which had signal and showed that I just continued on left then I saw a lady I had chatted to earlier, phew I was on the right track… Not far after this Error No.3 happened (sorry Geoff & Rocco – I was well warned on this one) and I ran straight past the Bar Trail turn off (didn’t even see it). I met two guys coming back up the trail and they said their GPS was gone off course, we made a decision to continue down the trail because we thought that the three of us couldn’t have missed the turn off! We had! And we ended up running down the trail and having to come back up it again. When we reached the turn off I met Doug and Tim again. Tim wasn’t feeling great and they were sticking together. I headed off. I got to the Basin signposts and started the seemingly never ending journey to the CP. I met Rocco, Geoff & Susan on the way to the CP and we chatted briefly. There was lots of people at the CP. Sally & Alison helped get me sorted with my gear and some soup. I decided that because this was a tricky section of the course I’d see if I could follow someone, just as I thought that a guy that had been sitting down with his support crew popped up and was heading back out. I jumped up and followed him. Time in CP: 7mins

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CP3 to CP4 Yarramalong (Distance 22.1k (103.7k Total) – Expected Time – 3:15) – Actual 3:03

We chatted and I asked if he was familiar with the course (he had done GNW) and I asked if he minded if I follow him, he didn’t mind. Woohoo. This man knew what he was doing and he was keeping a slow and steady pace on the tricky trail section back out of the basin. Along the way I met Adam, Joe, Dave Madden and Robyn, she’d gone wrong and had spent ages going the wrong way L I followed the same guy and he was going at a perfect pace for me. Along the trail we met Ann who was now in the final k’s of her first 100k, we ran together along the verrrrrrry long road section back to Yarramalong. I was excited to pick up Ruth at the CP and was surprised that I was still feeling ok. Getting into the CP was very exciting because there was so many people around including James, pacers waiting for their runners, people who’d finished the 100k. I got weighed (57kg -1.4kg). Ruth did my mandatory gear check and I got some soup. James filled up my water. I was good to go. Time in CP: 11mins.

CP4 to CP5 Somersby (Distance 28.4k (132.1k Total) – Expected Time – 5hrs) – Actual 5:19

Ruth & I headed out on the road and I realised we were running a bit too fast and up a hill, ha ha that had to stop, there was still a long way to go. We chatted away and the time passed as Ruth diligently followed the directions. We nearly missed a left turn under the power lines but luckily I remembered it from training. At some stage along this section the blister issue raised its ugly head, both my feet felt like they had blisters and I was walking and worrying about being the only one in the race walking. For some reason this climb didn’t seem as brutal on race day as it did in training and the exit out of it was not how I remembered it. We fast walked to the CP where James and Sally were waiting (as well as Robyn’s parents and Geoff’s wife Josie). I was feeling mentally very good but the blisters were an issue so I decided to change my socks and runners. Time in CP: 10mins.

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CP5 to CP6 Mooney Mooney (Distance 17.8k (149.9k Total) – Expected Time – 2:45) – Actual 3:14

We headed out of the CP and the padding on the new runners was not helping the blisters. Anyway too late now. As we went along the road I realised I’d forgotten to fill my bladder and my water bottle, so I had 600ml of powerade to get me through the section, Ruth gave me one of her soft flasks, fortunately it was a short section. I was still fast walking because running/shuffling wasn’t possible and the walk was quicker anyway. The technical downhills/rocky trails were a nightmare but I hobbled along. We’d done this part of the course twice in training so I happy that I was familiar with it. As we went down the technical section we could hear voices, it turned out to be Doug and Gillian. Not long after Robyn and Luke passed. This was tough mentally cause although I was happy for them I started to think everyone was going to pass me and there was nothing I could do about it. Ruth sorted me out and constantly told me I was doing great and doing my best and that I just need to worry about myself. She was right I was doing my best. The run along the river seemed endless and that was the first time I felt tired, the kind of tired where your eyes just want to shut, it lasted a while but wore off. I knew I would be meeting Orla at the next CP so I was excited to get there. When I got to the CP, Sally gave us a good cheer (legend) and so did Orla. I got weighed (56.4kg – 2kg) & had some soup and a potato. Robyn, Tim and Doug were at the CP too but took off before me. Time in CP: 11mins.

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CP6 to Finish Patonga (Distance 25.4k (175.1k Total) – Expected Time – 5hrs) – Actual 4:45

Orla and I set off, Orla was tres excited and I had to tell her that at the moment running wasn’t really an option. I had a cry (tiredness I’m guessing and the thoughts that I might actually finish this thing). I continued the fast walking strategy. We passed Doug and Gillian on one of the climbs. And not long after we met Geoff and his pacer Don, we ended up leapfrogging them for most of the section. There was endless technical downhill descents and they were playing havoc with my feet. My 28hr goal was looking to be slipping away so I said I’d go for Sub 30. At one stage I landed on my left foot and felt the blister push through to another part, I let out a scream but told Orla I just wanted to keep going. This meant all other downhills I had to land on my right foot. We powered on the flat fire trails. And there was a LOT of fire trail so as we got closer finishing in 28 something became an option again. The descend after the Trig was horrible and even 500m’s felt like an eternity but then we saw the boat ramp and heard the cowbell, emotion was starting to kick in again but Orla told me to wipe away the tears and smile so that’s what I did. We ran on the beach then she took off and told me to go, I ran for the first time in hours and the finish clock had a 28 in it so I was happy, I slapped the post then kissed it then cried.

GNW done, 28hrs 50mins. Post Race thoughts, it was HARD but it was always going to be. So proud of everyone that I trained with, this race is such a journey and another step in making me believe that as long as you’re willing to commit yourself anything is possible.

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Editors note- Chantelle didn’t mention it, but her effort made her 3rd female- a podium in her first miler!

 

 

Great North Walk 100 Miles 2012 GNW100- Guest Blog- Stephen Bowers

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GNW 100 Mile 2012 (total distance 175.3km, ascent 6130m, descent 6144m). Finishing time 31hrs, 44 mins.

Well here goes, hope this does not make you sick of reading these reports.

When this race first opened, I emailed my entry in within the first 5 minutes I was so keen for my first 100M! The next few months, I slowly came to the realisation that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. I finally concluded that I could not finish the brutal course. My race plan was to take one step at a time and never give up and this was the only way I would find out if I could finish and I did finish!

I ran what I thought was conservatively for the first two stages and did what I love in ultras and talk to the many interesting and diverse people. I talked to Grant Campbell, Lindsay, Gordi (fellow ex Kiwi) and many more. I twisted my ankle down the decline to Congewai Rd and it is funny how ankle sprains can become bearable after a few minutes of running. I did twist that ankle many more times after that, but not as bad.

During stage 3, I ran a lot with Gavin, who helped me through heaps and as he had done the course a few times and prevented me going off track. He finally showed his skill and took off through the jungle section to the Basin and I slowly struggled on with another runner.

The stage to CP4 was pretty uneventful and I came upon Gavin again and passed him (I was very surprised) and then ran to the CP with another Australia based Kiwi bloke who I don’t know his name, but works in Newcastle. On the road to Yarramalong, I had lost all my running ability and was happy to walk in. I was so surprised to get there well under 16 hours.

Todd my pacer and I left CP4 only to go too far up Bumble Hill Rd. This was a sign of things to come as we made quite a few errors on this stage and I got too cold. I came into CP5 completely shattered, I think semi hypothermic as I could not stop shivering. I thought at least I had got further than I had ever run! I put some dry clothes on and still was too cold. My crew reminded me that I could spend another six hours there and still finish the race if I wanted to. I was sceptical, but eventually agreed to lie on a mattress. They then layered four blankets and a duvet on me and I drank some hot soup. I eventually fell asleep. Just after 5am, my body clock woke me up and I think there was some subliminal crew persuasion going on. I put my shoes back on and made a toilet visit and found I could walk fine. I said to my next pacer (Sonia) lets go! I know she was dying to run (my pace wasn’t running though) the stage.
Off we went, at least we didn’t need lights or vest. We caught up with Andy H who was trying to have a sleep on the track, but we woke him up with our chatting. Andy really helped us with navigation and never let us get far ahead. It was a really beautiful run to Mooney Mooney in the early morning.

I had a 20 minute break at CP6 to recharge a bit as I was still not sure if I had recovered properly, once off though I knew I was fine. I soon caught up with Andy H, but Todd (my pacer again on this stage) discovered he omitted to take the compass off Sonia. Rather than risk DQ, he had raced back the 500m to get it. The sun had really come out by then and it got quite warm, especially out of the wind. I had examined the course profile a bit and knew there were three big climbs on this stage and was just determined to take them one at a time. I think we made pretty good progress and I know Andy was keen to catch up to Kirrily and Jane who we thought were not too far up ahead. Todd and I pretty much ran the best pace that I could go, Andy dropped back a few times but never left us.
When we got to the tar road and crossed it, Andy said he could get a pb, but we would have to run all the way in. That was really hard and all through it I thought we had no chance, but we managed it. During that running I had to remind Todd that he was a pacer, not a personal trainer, but he really got us moving. Sprinting down the headland to the beach was really hard and I felt a blister on my left heel burst. Todd pointed out through the trees the girls were on the beach, but not catchable. I was really worried that I would not be able to run the beach finish, but in the end adrenaline had pumped us up so much, we just flew in. It was fantastic to help Andy Hewat reach a pb after so many finishes

The race will really leave me with some memories. My pacers / crew Mark, Todd and Sonia. Know Todd and Mark donated their whole weekend + to my run and I am really grateful. Thank you to all the Vollies, Marshals etc. A special thanks to the medic who taped up my chafing at CP5.

Thanks to Kylie (wife) who had to put up with a lot of “focusing”, well that is what I told her it was.

I am the only person to have to pay rent on a mattress at CP5!

Most of all, thanks to Terrigal Trotters and the race director Dave Byrnes.

Legs now feel really good, I just wish my big toe and the blisters on my heels would stop hurting. I am going for a gentle run tomorrow morning anyway…..

Trail Going

Characteristic 100 Kilometre 100 Mile
Sect
1
Sect
2
Sect
3
Sect
4
Total Sect
5
Sect
6
Sect
7
Total
Trail Going (kilometres)
Sealed
Road
Easy 6.6 3.9 10.5 1.6 2.0 14.1
Moderate 0.2 0.2 2.0 0.8 3.0
Hard 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 6.8 0.0 0.0 3.9 10.7 3.7 2.8 0.0 17.2
Gravel
Road
Easy 6.4 7.8 8.9 8.1 31.2 5.5 2.0 38.7
Moderate 0.0 1.3 1.3
Hard 0.0 0.0
Total 6.4 7.8 8.9 8.1 31.2 5.5 2.0 1.3 40.0
Fire/
4WD
Trail
Easy 0.4 0.1 4.1 4.5 0.3 1.4 6.2
Moderate 4.3 12.5 3.9 20.6 7.2 0.4 7.2 35.4
Hard 2.4 2.4 2.4
Total 4.6 12.5 6.4 4.1 27.5 7.5 0.4 8.6 44.0
Foot
Track
Easy 1.4 1.4 1.8 2.4 5.5
Moderate 2.0 3.7 2.7 2.2 10.5 2.8 12.6 3.1 29.0
Hard 7.4 11.1 3.8 22.3 7.2 10.0 39.6
Total 10.8 3.7 13.8 6.0 34.3 11.7 12.6 15.5 74.1
Total Distance 28.6 23.9 29.1 22.1 103.7 28.4 17.8 25.4 175.3
Elevation (metres)
Gain 1476 472 1353 492 3793 1134 306 897 6130
Loss
996 837 1238 691 3761 895 551 937 6144

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from our hotel over the start/finish area

The view from our hotel over the start/finish area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view back down to Chamonix

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

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

3 famous trail runners - yeah right!

3 famous trail runners – yeah right!

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

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


Start to Saint Gervais

0 – 21kms
Fri 5.30pm – 8.53pm

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

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

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

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

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

Still from UTMB Video captured by Adam Connor

Still from UTMB Video captured by Michael McGrath

Photo from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux

Photo from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux

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

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

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

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

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

The best ever Chicken Noodle Soup

The best ever chicken noodle soup

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

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


Saint Gervais to Les Chapieux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

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

    Source unknown

    Source unknown


Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

49kms – 77kms
Sat 3.53am to 10.57am

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the trail overlooking the Italian town of Courmayer

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

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

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

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


Courmayeur to Champex-Lac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.06.07 pm

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

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


Champex-Lac to Vallorcine

122kms to 149kms
Sun 1.01am to 9.24am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vallorcine to Chamonix (finish)

149kms to 168kms
Sun 9.37am to 2.43pm

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

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

Looking back at where we had climbed up from

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

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

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

before Flegere

Tete aux vents mini checkpoint

Coming towards Tete aux vents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy & Joel on our post race holiday

Amy & Joel on our post race holiday

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

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

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The North Face 50 2014- Guest Race Report- Sarah Connor

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My lead up to the TNF50 was very, very ordinary.

I had taken 3 months off after the Spiny Cray Ultra at the end of September 2013 to try and get rid of achilles tendonopathy.

After 3 months of physio and swimming training, we finally discovered that my post tibialis muscle is very weak and is causing pain in the achilles.

And then my back decided that it was its turn to be sore and painful. So another 3 months of physio – I don’t heal like I used too …..

So I finally start training for the TNF50 in March 2014.

Only 3-4 k per run, plus a strength session each week.

And then I lost my running mojo.
Things were looking grim.

 

Somehow in April I re discovered my running mojo after a great run with friends around Lane Cove.

And that is when my TNF 50 training started. A month out.

2 weeks out, I came down with a really nasty cold virus after a rather large night out on the piss for my birthday …..

I signed up for an adventure race with a girlfriend the week before the TNF50.

Why? Cos it was fun!! 8k of paddling orienteering and a 3k orienteering course.

My back was great and the running was pretty good too.

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So the week before the TNF – physio was happy with my back, achilles was behaving, my number arrived, the nerves started, I found all my gear, bought a new Nathan Vapour Wrap pack.

Sorted out my gear and wondered whether I should go and get a lighter rain jacket as I needed a bit of space, when lo and behold, I was lent a prototype Salomon Sense Flyweight jacket which was vacuumed packed and weighed about a ¼ of my Patagonia Torrentshell . Thanks Ben!

Pre race nerves meant for a crap sleep the night before – but I did manage at least 5 hours worth and that’s pretty good for me.

Got dressed, had breakfast (tea and toast) and set off to the start with Sarah (yes a different Sarah, she only has one personality called Sarah that I know of- Ed) about 30 mins earlier than planned….

Met up with the Summit Sisters and had some photos taken and jiggled up and down to keep warm.

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(photo credit Andy Bowen)

On the start line, I did wonder whether I had bitten off more than I could chew… ah well too late now.

Tom counted us down to the start and we were off. First 6k was good, walked the hills and took it easy on the bitumen.

I managed to get to the bottom of the Giant Staircase without freaking out too much – thanks to the guy in front of me who talked the whole way down about random stuff and kept my mind from the fact we were going down a cliff face.

The first big set of stairs did my quads and glutes in. Luckily I knew this bit quite well and was happy to have all the technical stuff at the start of the race when my legs were fresh.

At Olympian Rock, Gavin and Rebekah Markey were there cheering people on and it was great to see them and get some much needed encouragement.

Bek and Janis were at the 13k water point – I did not stop, but it was great to hear my name being called out!

At some point after the water point, I was the head of a very long conga line. I kept saying to the guy behind, tell me if you want to pass. He was happy for me to be in the lead. He asked what time I was aiming for and said 10 hours or less, he then replied that he was on course for an 8 hour finish at the pace we were currently doing.

Whoops. Just a bit too fast.

Sarah Jane Marshall caught me just past the Conservation Hut and it was lovely to hear her voice!  I tried to stay with her, but she was too fast , motoring along  to finish in under 8 hours .

Along Tableland Road had a chat to Brad who threw people out of helicopters for a living. His nickname was Nudge.

And that was really the last person I ran with until the Furber Stairs.

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(photo credit Bek Cramp)

Checkpoint went smoothly – had a chat to Jill, Bek and Janis  – thanks for letting me hug you both sweaty and all.

Ate some noodles, banana, filled my bladder, filled up with Clif bars and used the facilities. Tried to stretch as both ITB’s were very sore and I knew the 9-10k downhill was going to be tough.

And then the suffering began.

Walked out of the checkpoint and discovered my legs were not very happy about running, so I power walked down Kedumba. I was passed by many many people – that was very discouraging.

Nudge tore past down the hill – he was plugged into some tunes and looked much better than he had before CP1.

I tried to keep positive, took photos of the km markers, looked at the trees, said hi to people as they streamed past.

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Richo and Jess caught me about halfway down Kedumba. . I tried to stay with them, but my quads just did not want to know about running downhill.

Finally made it to the bottom – relief. And then the uphill. And a bit more slow downhill.

Uphill was good – I managed to keep up a consistent pace.  But boy I was in pain on the downhill bits into Leura Creek.

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I did catch a few people (ok 2) but as soon as the downhill bits came, it was soon reversed.  It was at this point I really wished I had someone to talk too just to stop my brain from feeling the pain.

Made it to the 41k first aid point, filled up the bladder just in case and kept walking.

I then noticed my fingers where very swollen – and my feet were not feeling much better. And I started to fantasise about finishing.

Stomped up the hill, through the Leura Forest, tried to smile for the camera.  Failed. Saw a Lyre bird and a King parrot – that was lovely and took my mind off the pain….

Then I saw the 4k to go marker. Oh boy. Did that make a difference. I stomped a bit faster.  Still being passed by other runners but at least I was moving a bit faster.

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An English girl caught me just before the Furber Stairs, and she was really positive and made me feel much better! Thank you to whoever you were!
We caught up to Emma, and she told us that it was her birthday.

So true to form I sung (very badly of course) whilst going up the stairs.  Great distraction.

At the top, a lovely man told us that we only had 150m to go. Of course I did not believe him. And he was right!

Managed to sprint up the finish chute and make a spectacle of myself. Richo gave me a big hug in the finish area which was much appreciated, English girl handed me a water and then the men’s winner and second place getter of the 100k finished – birds eye view or what!

Emma and I shared a hug for beating them across the finish line as we knew it was going to be close.  And then I looked at the time.

And almost died.  Under 9 hours.

My brain was so frazzled I could not do the maths to work out what my time really was as I started in Wave 3.  I just knew it was under 9 hours !

Turns out I was 8:47. Only 6 minutes slower than last year .  No real training and 6 minutes slower. This course suited me much better than last years.

 Gear

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(Photo credit Bek Cramp)

Bamboo knickers
Target bike cotton lycra bike shorts (for warmth not compression)
Salomon running skirt
Lorna Jane bra
Lulu Lemon singlet with built in bra
Salomon Summit Sisters technical t-shirt
Summit Sisters Buff
North Face 100 visor (nicked from Adam).
2XU compression socks
Hoka Stinson Trails
Nathan Vapour Wrap pack
Salomon Sense Flyweight jacket
Patagonia capilene top
Patagonia R1 gloves
Chapstick

Plus all the mandatory gear
Petzl Tikka XP
Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeved thermal top
First aid kit, compass , whistle , maps, instructions, waterproof zip lock bag x 2
And many tissues.

 

Nutrition

Clif Bars x 4
Cheesymite x 1 in quarters
Farex baby food x 2
Tailwind for first 28k and Hydralyte sport for next 22 k.
(Picked up 2 extra Clif bars at CP1, ate some pot noodles and banana).
Came back with 2.5 clif bars.

Unfortunately my body did not want Clif bars especially towards the end, but I forced myself to eat them.

Cheesymite was an experiment – I think I will make my own without cheese as there were a couple of times where my stomach was not happy. But a couple of big burps sorted me out.

Need to mix the electrolyte powders better in the bladder as it was very strong for the first few sips!

Would not wear the North Face visor again as it reflected the sun into my eyes and I had a headache by CP1.  (Its white underneath the visor).

Need to wear  knickers in a colour other than black as when I went to the loo, it was really hard to get things back on when they are all black

I chose not to wear my Garmin and I think it was a good choice. My phone was in easy reach to check the time for nutrition – which I did once. And then I just kept nibbling every 15 mins or so.

The Nathan pack was good, but I need to sit down and work out where things go – I broke the rule about not doing /using anything new on race day.

UPDATE: THANKS!!

How could I forget to thank the volunteers who gave up their time, to watch us crazy people run! And to AROC for such a wonderful event – thanks Tom and Alina! Jo and Gretel from the Summit Sisters for looking after all of us pre and post event , all my friends who supported us through the day and some new ones met along the way ! This event is very special and made more so by the people who organise, crew, support, run, volunteer,  sweep and photograph . THANKS !!

Adam and I the day after …. (photo credit David Brown)

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Coast to Kosci 2013- Guest Blog- Kirrily Dear

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(Adam) Well Kirrily promised a 15 page post and it turned into an 18 page epic. Always over delivering, you should read this for a great insight into the mind of a determined woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. I couldn’t make it look as nicely designed as this, so it’s provided as a PDF- 7.1MB download. Great report-

 

Kirrily Dear C2K_Report_2013

Coast to Kosci 2013- Guest Blog Joe Ward

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(Adam) Those who know Joe are very lucky- they can call a happy, tough and thoughtful bloke a friend. And now a certified legend thanks to conquering GNW100m, GNW250k and C2K. Read on……

 

Joe’s C2K Race Report

December 2013’s C2K adventure started for me in December 2011.

As many C2K finishers have done before me, the first step before you enter the C2K is to get a taste of the race by volunteering to be part of an athletes support crew. Duties of a support crew member can consist of some running (but you don’t have to run to be in a support crew !!), handing out food to the athlete, keeping them hydrated, taking care of navigation, offering words of encouragement and generally keeping them moving forward.

I felt honoured to be asked to crew for an amazing man and now my great friend Kieron Blackmore. Kieron and I had met during the GNW 100 miler in November 2010 and e had instantly connected (translation – I couldn’t run faster enough to get rid of him). We had completed several training runs together and on one of these runs he discussed a 240km race in December called the C2K or Coast to Kosciusko. This was interesting to me because I’d never heard of this race before. All runners discuss their favourite races and you will often hear races like The North Face 100, Six Foot Track, Marathon Des Sables, Comrades and the GNW being spoken about almost as if they are mythical pilgrimages but I’d never heard of the C2K. Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of it was because this is a race you cannot simply enter. The Race Directors of the C2K (two beautiful and amazing people, Paul and Diane) are very protective of their event and of the events competitors and rightly so, because they recognise the level of difficulty of the course. The race runs 240kms (149.1 miles) from Boydtown Beach in Eden to the top of Mount Kosciusko, the highest point in Australia. Runners are often subject to electrical storms, high winds, heavy rain, extreme heat, deep snow, blizzards altitude, flies, snake bites and potential dehydration or hypothermia issues. Paul and Diane want all of their participants to finish uninjured and safe, so they only select the best prepared athletes for the start line.

Wow ! So which Ultra Runner doesn’t want to be a part of an event as exclusive as that !! I told Kieron to count me in 🙂

The 2011 C2K was a steep learning curve for me to say the least. At the welcome briefing I was star struck to be surrounded by so many accomplished ultra runners. I was in a room full of my ultra running heroes and I left the event having learnt so much about being an endurance athlete just from speaking to them and getting a sense of their character. Sometimes when you speak to someone who is a tough mofo you don’t need to ask them if they are a tough mofo, you just know.

I made some amazing new friends and did my best to be there for Kieron throughout the 2 days he was running. Yes, that’s right, 2 days of running non stop !!

I was in awe of Kieron’s achievement when he finished. He pushed through barriers I had never seen anyone come close to before, it was real Forest Gump stuff. Kieron taught me that when you think you’ve given everything there’s still a little bit more left to give. He also taught me that even when you feel like crap and you’re at your absolute lowest you can still be a charming, cheeky SOB, good onya mate.

I witnessed more suffering, guts, determination and awesomeness at that race than I had ever witnessed in my life. As a support crew member you get a front row ticket to all of the mental toughness, the highs, the lows as well as a few of the not so pleasant aspects of ultra running (what happens out there, stays out there) and at the time I thought, why would people do this to themselves ?? This is INSANE !!

In 2011, I honestly didn’t think it was a sensible event, let alone something I was capable of completing. The athletes pushed their bodies to levels that it was hard for me to understand. This was a race where running through the night non stop without sleep, losing toe nails and vomiting was considered all part of the journey. WHAA ??

I completed a couple of 100 mile events in 2012. My first was the Glasshouse 100 in September 2012 and then the GNW 100 miles in 2012. Both were extremely rewarding but before running either of these events, I was already starting to think about C2K during my training. I ran looong training runs including a couple of all night runs and I fell in love with running through the night till sunrise. Nothing feels more amazing than running with a friend and watching the sun pop up over the horizon. The wildlife comes to life and suddenly you feel awake and your legs are filled with more running. If you’ve never experienced running through the night please please please take my word for it. It is beautiful 🙂

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I changed careers. I was inspired by these happy, motivated people that loved to run and share the joy of running. It was time to follow my heart and become what I have always wanted to be, ever since I ran my first marathon in 2006, a marathon coach. I started my own business coaching running, boxing, kickboxing, kids kickboxing and personal training. I was training everyday, getting fitter and stronger and loving it !!

I can’t remember if Kieron asked me to join him again in December 2012 for his next C2K or if I volunteered before he asked me but before I knew it I was back there with him, running beside him on the course and once again we summitted the top of Mount Kosci and took the obligatory photo from the top of Australia.

This time was a very different experience for me. Of course I had to make sure I did my best job to look after Kieron but the whole time I was crewing for him I was planning and strategizing. Could I enter this race ? Is it possible ? What nutrition strategy would I have ? How would I get to Dalgety and still feel fresh ? What’s the best way to take on these hills ?

Again, I was struck by Kieron’s determination, courage, spirit and character. He is still to this day, the best man I know. But could I do this ? I wanted to be like these incredible ultra runners but there was a lot of experience there. Maybe if I couldn’t be like them then I could at least share the same start line, that would be a good start.

Kieron achieved the impossible again in 2012 and at the awards ceremony after the event on Sunday morning, I listened to inspiring stories of strength and mind over matter. I told my then girlfriend Emma that I wanted to do this race one day and she said “You will !” … I had the bosses permission. I discussed a 2013 attempt at the GNW 250 Fatass (unofficial event) with a few friends after the awards ceremony. This run would be a way to prove to myself and to Paul and Diane, that I was ready.

GNW 250 in July 2013 was tough. 276 ish kms in 69 hours and 28 minutes. It was a hard slog but it was a respectable time and would hopefully give me the chance of being accepted when entries opened. I was right and my entrance was accepted and confirmed in October/November 2013.

THE RACE – Friday 5.30am

“5    4    3    2    1   GO !!”

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I barely had time to hug my Kimberley and Simpson desert running heroes Jane Trumper and Andy Bowen before we were off. I settled in just behind them and tried to relax. This was going to be a looooong day … no wait a looooooong TWO days !!

Superstar runner (and eventual winner/record holder) Jess Baker ran with us for a minute as we hit the first trail section and before I knew it she was gone. What an incredible lady she is ! Smiley and friendly on the outside but a warrior to the core. I was already feeling like running this race was a good idea. Just to be around these people is such an honour.

I kept just behind Jane and Andy and soon we were greeted by Mat Grills aka tattoorunner, an ultra runner from Queensland. We immediately struck up a conversation which lasted around 24kms.

What a legend Mat is ! A fellow vegan ultra runner that used to play in a hardcore band, he has some awesome tattoos all over his body. He looks a bit like a Japanese Yakuza except he’s not Japanese and much friendlier. He has a rule that if it’s above 13 degrees then it’s time to take his tee shirt off. He carries as little weight as possible, even wearing sandals on his feet instead of trainers. It’s amazing, whenever I think I’ve found a really difficult challenge there’s always someone raising the level of difficulty even higher. Go Mat !!

The first 24kms went so quick it was almost like they didn’t happen. A mixture of adrenalin, great conversation and a feeling amongst all the runners that the race really wouldn’t begin till the next day early Saturday morning.

24kms was the runner/crew rendezvous point. From this point onwards I would have my amazing support crew to cater to my every need and whim. Now it’s important to point out here that there are support crews and their are AWESOME SUPPORT CREWS. A support crew will help their runner run but an awesome support crew can make or break a race. If you have the right crew it can really make all the difference.

I had two of the best support crewers with me. Ultra Runner Toni-Anne Lee from Manly Beach Running Club. She has run 3 marathons, including a 50km and crewed for me during my 276km run. I also had my fellow hobbit and Ultra Runner Brad Smithers. Both are super positive, incredibly experienced and wonderful people. We said a quick hi, I told them all was well, we swapped over some electrolytes and gear and agreed to check in another 5kms down the road.

My support crew met me every 5kms or so to give me a banana, couple of dates, fresh electrolytes and anything else I needed. At 42kms, my support crew and I shared a couple of high fives. The running was well underway and the nerves were starting to disappear.

I still had a bit of dicky stomach from being ill on Wednesday night but that was slowly fading and the food I was eating was staying down so everything was going to plan.

At 50kms we hit Rocky Hall and reached the first Mandatory Checkpoint. My support crew sent a text message to let the Race Director know my time of arrival. Brad said I was on track and running at a good pace. I was comfortable and running at a pace that was still near my 36 hour A Target pace.

A few kms later we reached the first big climb at Big Jack mountain. A long 7km climb to the top. Brad walked with me up here asking me how I was going and sharing his yoda-like wisdom. When life is an uphill battle then Brad is the man you want by your side. Unwaveringly positive with a bottomless bag of motivating stories.

Several runners overtook me up Big Jack and offered words of encouragement and smiles and I was starting to settle into my own race and worrying less about my position. When I reached the top of Big Jack I had a quick sit down and massage from gorgeous Sarah-Jane. I’m always happy to see SJ, she is so full of energy and positivity, just what a grumpy ultra runner that doesn’t like climbing hills needs 🙂

At this point I had such a long way to go that the maths was starting to mess my head up. So I’ve run 65kms but I’ve still got 175kms to go !!! … That’s over 100 miles !!!

Brad kept telling me not to think about it and leave the maths calculations to the support crew. I agreed but it’s difficult when there’s such a massive distance ahead, you can’t help but think about it and try to break it down somehow.

So 175kms, that’s 7 x 25km runs. Wait, that’s no good. Okay 175kms is around 4 marathons to go. Wait that sucks !!

After a 5 minute sit down and a watermelon refuel I was back up and running and 5kms down the road I arrived in Cathcart for the second Checkpoint.

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I had some cold lemonade and pressed on. Note to self, cold lemonade during a long run is awesome !!

I was worrying less about time now and just ticking off the landmarks that I recognised from crewing in previous years. One big landmark was the dead tree at 102kms which I knew was coming up soon. I watch a lot of Lord of the Rings and as every good hobbit knows, the dead tree is a good place to be. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be the King of Gondor ??

Just before the dead tree I was greeted by the other three members of my support crew. Beautiful Sally Dean, kickass Jodie Hermit and Superman Robin Yates. Three more warriors to add to the fellowship of Mount Kosci. I was feeling very positive and a little dehydrated. I greeted them and slurred my words quite badly. So much so that I decided it might be time to ditch the beanie that was causing my head to overheat.

Once the orange Can Too beanie (Go Can Too !!) was handed over I managed to remember everyones name (including my own) I headed toward the dead tree (of Gondor).

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived there ahead of schedule. My amazing support crew celebrated by letting off some party poppers and taking a few photos. I was finally in 3 figures !! Not quite half way but I’d made a real dent in the race and moved past the 100km mark so that felt fantastic.

Onwards to Snowy River Way !! (it really does sound like the Lord of the Rings Middle Earth doesn’t it ! – or maybe that’s just me)

It was around 8pm and starting to get dark so the head torches had to come out. This was a positive thing for me. The cool air of the night is always a welcome relief from the heat of the day and there’s something nice about running in the night when nobody can see you. It’s almost as if you are invisible and the pain can’t find you.

At the intersection Brad sat me down and told me that he was heading 40km down the road to Dalgetty and Team Silver car support crew were taking over for the next 5 or 6 hours. He told me to stop worrying about the time and focus on running. He assured me I was way ahead of schedule so there really was nothing to worry about.

The next section was 40kms to Dalgety and I was hoping to get there for 1.30am ish if everything went according to plan but I knew that I already had 100kms in my legs so anything could happen.

Brad and Toni-Anne went to Dalgety Hall for a sleep and I was left in the very capable hands of Sally Dean, Jodi Hermit and pacer Robin Yates. This was great. I had 3 new friends to chat to and I was looking forward to some night running.

This section is remote farmland with very little light pollution and it had been a beautiful clear sunny day so I knew it would be a good night for star gazing and we were not disappointed. After a few kms running on my own, Robin joined me and the night sky was breathtaking.

A crescent moon with the planet venus hung low in the sky which made the moon look enormous. The milky way seemed to fill with more and more stars when you looked at it and there were shooting stars like bolts of lightning every 15 minutes or so.

I ran well for 10 or 15kms but the sleep monsters (tiredness monsters) were coming for me. I delayed my No Dose (caffeine tablet) for as late as possible and managed to hold out until around 11.30pm. When I took my No Dose caffeine tablet I was able to keep running well for a while and eventually Robin and I arrived at Dalgety Hall checkpoint, a little behind schedule at 3am.

I was weighed and very surprised to find that I was 2.9kms heavier than my start weight but this was probably because I was wearing all my night gear.

I tried to resist the temptation of entering the warmth of Dalgety Hall but it pulled me in like a tractor beam and before I knew it I was inside eating noodles and receiving a massage from ultra running legend and race medic Andy Hewett aka Wippet.

After 15 minutes of refreshments and lots of encouragement from Brado, I was back on my way at 3.15am, crossing Snowy River Bridge.

It was cold. Freezing ! I had seen Kieron suffer here and I was convinced I was going through the same thing. It was encouraging to see my friend Kirrily Dear here looking so strong but I was convinced I wouldn’t feel right again until the sun came up.

My support crew car stopped for me every couple of kms and I felt like my energy was slipping away. I didn’t know if I could make it. My head started doing maths again. I still had almost 100kms to go and most of that was uphill !! … I needed to gain over 2000 metres in altitude and I didn’t know if my body could do it. Brad told me I was still looking good. We walked through the cold of the early morning and eventually around 5am ish the sun came up.

What a beautiful sunrise, incredible. Ok lets run !

I ran the flat and the downhills and eventually made it to the base of a very steep hill. Beloka range, yuck !

8kms up up up ! Even Robin my pacer was tired. Although that could be more to do with the 50kms of running he had done with me already. Congrats on your first ever 50kms Robin !!

At the top of Beloka range we passed a vehicle covered in American flags. It was the American support team. Go America !!!

I met with Brad and he told me that it was around 15kms to Jindabyne. My stops with my support crew were becoming much more frequent by this point so it was a relief that the next major checkpoint in the race was not that far. He said I had to get there before cut off and we agreed to do push a bit harder.

I was eating less and less and couldn’t seem to stomach any food and Brad was increasingly worried about my calorie intake. Half the problem was that my stomach was feeling queezy and I was concerned that if I ate too much it might get worse but I tried to eat as much as I could and bargained with Brad over the number of dates I needed to eat to keep some kind of balance and mitigate the risk of illness.

Onwards to Jindabyne at 182kms !

The sun was well and truly up and it was getting hot. I had to stop a couple of times to jump under some shade. My body was shutting down and I didn’t know what to do. Brad remained positive and was completely convinced that I would finish. I really wasn’t sure.

Eventually I reached Jindabyne where I was greeted by all of my support crew and a couple of familiar faces – Aussie 24hr champ Allison Lilley and Helen, who were both crewing for a Japanese ultra runner.

I was treated like an Emperor at this checkpoint. I was fed hot chips, massaged, put under some shade and generally given the 5 star treatment.

I composed myself, meditated on why I was here and what the point was and decided that this was a massive learning curve that was not supposed to be easy. I had suffered so much but maybe that was what I was here to do. To learn how to suffer and still manage my suffering. I’m sure that sounds crazy but I was surrounded by other athletes that were clearly going through just as much pain but they were still moving forward. I had to learn to just suck it up princess !!

So I did … and Brad and I left after 30 minutes of pampering with a renewed sense of positivity and a feeling that no matter what happens now I WILL FINISH !!

Back out on the road there was a sign that said 38kms to Charlottes Pass. Awesome, I thought. I can do 38kms and then from there it’s only 9kms to the top of Mount Kosci and 9kms back down to the finish. Finally the maths was starting to make sense !!

It was 11.30am, almost midday and the sun was beating down on us. Then the flies came. Flies like to try to get into orifices. Ears, mouth, nose was under full attack. To say this was slightly annoying would be like saying Darth Vader was slightly dark. Arrghh ! … I feel bad for being a vegan that hates flies but who doesn’t hate flies ?? … and why do they love ears so much ?? … Bug Spray, Bug Spray, Bug Spray … they are so persistent … One of my support crew Jodi said they couldn’t be that bad. Jodi, you are accompanying me on this section next year.

We ran a lot of the downhill section to Thredbo River at 189kms and managed to reach it 90 minutes ahead of cut off at 1pm.

Then we started the 10km climb (death march) up to the top. This seemed to last forever but Brad kept me moving and my support crew kept me updated with inspiring messages of encouragement and support from family and friends. Thank the running gods for the internet !!

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I also saw running legend Jan Hermann, who passed us going uphill and gave us some incredible encouragement and reassurance. Keep moving he said, if you keep going at this pace you will definitely finish. It was great to hear this from such an experienced athlete and one of my all time heroes. What a legend.

After lots of leg movement (and bowel movement) we eventually made it to 200kms where I had a 15 minute stop before getting back up to press on.

I had locked in the 200km mark and I was so pleased that there was only 40kms left in the race. I had slowed down significantly but I was going to make it and this was an amazing feeling.

Then, a car pulled up.

The support crew said, “There’s bad weather at the top of Mount Kosci so you won’t be able to summit so you’ve only got 22kms to go !”

My heart sank. I felt like everything I had battled for had been snatched from me at the last second. I looked at Brad and didn’t say a word. The car drove on, not realising the gravity of the message they had delivered.

I wanted the full course and chopping the last section off made me feel like I had not completed the full race. Brad reassured me that Paul and Diane would not make a decision like this lightly and the weather at the summit of Mount Kosci must be particularly bad for them to make that decision. He said we should stick to the plan and still keep going for the same time we had decided we would get to Charlottes Pass before the climb.

I was heart broken and angry and a mix of emotions. I felt like quitting there and then. If I finished then it would not be the finish I wanted and if I didn’t finish then would I ever be invited back for another go ?  … probably not. I asked him to give me a few moments and then we talked it through. I was disappointed but this was all part of the sport. When we are set challenges we have to face them. You never know what’s going to happen during a race, the best you can do is be ready for anything. I wasn’t ready for this.

I needed to be a good sportsman. I needed to finish.

Running was out of the question by this point. Whether it was the hills, the heat, lack of calories or the bad news (possibly a combination of all of them), my quads were destroyed and I didn’t have any running in my legs.

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I walked with Brado and was quickly joined by my mate Kieron. We let the support crew know we were finishing at Charlottes Pass at 222kms and they all tried to hide their disappointment.

Brad, Kieron and I marched together towards the snowy mountains. When we finally reached the snow my support crew had snowball fights whilst I pressed on. I just wanted this to be done.

I thought about what I would say when I met the Race Directors Paul and Diane at the finish line. Would I be angry that they stopped my going to the summit ??

Then I realised Paul and Diane had made the decision to protect not just me but all my running friends too and it’s far more important to be safe than to run an extra 18kms.

First world problems ! There are much bigger things in the world to worry about than running 18km at a particular time on a particular day.

After a few hours I finished at Charlottes Pass and thanked Paul and Diane for putting my friends welfare first. We drove home and went straight to bed, satisfied that we had given the race everything we had. Team “Just Done It” had done just that. We had gone out and overcome every battle that was put in front of us and conquered 222kms as a team.

I was proud of my team, proud of myself and proud to be a part of an event that puts people first in a world where people often take second or third place to money and numbers.

We drove home slowly and carefully, weaving between Kangaroos and wombats.

When we woke the next day we had breakfast with the other runners and went to the awards ceremony. When my name was called out and I received my akubra hat and pin, I had to pinch myself. I had finally completed a race I thought was impossible and learnt so much in the process.

At 2pm that afternoon, Brad, Toni-Anne, Jodi and I returned to Charlottes Pass to climb Mount Kosci.

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We climbed to the top and chatted the whole way. It was one of the most perfect climbs up Mount Kosci I have ever experienced. Perfect weather and incredible views from the top.

We met fellow runners, Marina Rob and Cassie on the mountain and discussed the race from the top of Australia.

I had to pinch myself again to check it was all real.

Thanks to my support crew who looked after me so amazingly well. I owe each of you a back massage at the timing of your choice !

To my fellow C2K runners. Thanks for being so crazy. You make me feel sane 🙂 To Paul and Diane, thanks for putting people before numbers and for creating this crazy beast of a race.

Joe 🙂

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