I was a lot more confident going into this race this year- then I started to worry I was too confident. It turns out I was both right- I’d forgotten how insanely hard the race is, but I am also a much more experienced runner.
I attended a funeral on Friday morning, picked my wife up from work at about midday and drove to the mountains. We had a burger at Plucked and arrived at the Fairmont just before 2:30pm. A fantastic number of my Facebook friends were already there and it was great to finally meet some crazies that I’d been swapping stories with all year. That was the last bit of peace I had all weekend, from then on it was all go!
Helped Sarah show off the new Petzl Nao headlamp, then as soon as registration opened I was off! 3rd in line for my paperwork and managed to be first through the gear check. Very nervous about getting my teeny weeny torches through because Tom the Race Director was standing right behind my gear checker! Everything was fine- we found out later that people had been trying to get strapping tape through as a compression bandage, and one guy turned up with 2 iPhones and said they were his main and backup light!
I hung around for a few more hours talking to people and then it was time for dinner. The pasta buffet at the Fairmont was better than last year and as I was getting a large piece of pavlova one of the employees remarked ‘that’s 4 of those pavlovas we’ve gone through tonight’. They were massive, and delicious.
Back to the room for a final gear check and laying out of clothes and in bed by 10pm. As you’d expect, I didn’t have a great sleep, but that’s pretty standard the night before a big race. Up at 5am, breakfast loaded with chia seeds, black coffee and grabbed a Powerade to sip before the start. We arrived at the Fairmont to organised chaos and quiet desperation. We all filed into the hall for the competitor briefing, which as usual went late, so by the time that finished and we raced outside to the start I only stood around for a few seconds before the gun went off!
The first few km are around the streets and are meant to allow the runners to spread out- unfortunately the event has become so popular that the only wave without major holdups this year was wave 1, the fasties. It was here that both my best and worst fears were realised. I figured that it wasn’t possible to hit a sub 14 hour time with the times we were getting in these first km, so I relaxed and went with the flow. In truth, I was never in a position to go sub 14, so this saved me from doing anything (more) stupid.
After passing the Scenic Railway I was opening a gel and fell flat on my arse- the gel squirted a long way! No major damage and I got into checkpoint 1 in 2:42 (sub 14 hour time for this section is 2:10). Grabbed 2 pieces of watermelon, filled my bottle, drank, filled again, picked up a mandarin and placed in my pocket and I was off. The run down Narrowneck was fantastic as usual and I had a great chat to several people- many of whom I would be constantly swapping places with during the day. Annalisa Meryment took off after a quick chat looking like she was doing it easy, then we hit a choke point at Tarro’s Ladder. A volunteer was sending people along a 400m diversion to bypass the ladders, but I decided it was more important for me to rest, eat and talk. The weather here was lovely, last year people were pulling out thermals, it was bloody freezing. I pulled out my mandarin and ate that, finished my bottle of Endura and did a quick gear check. Down the ladders, up a couple of evil spurs and then back on to some fire trail which we follow in to checkpoint 2. Lots more familiar faces at cp2, but a mandatory gear check slowed me down as hey asked to see our maps! How bloody rude, that’s the one item I KNOW I won’t use during this race as the course is so well marked. Of course they were at the bottom of my pack. I had written out my checklist on my iPhone so I consulted that, checked in with Facebook, grabbed a fruit bun and headed out to the dreaded Ironpot Ridge.
I could probably get a bit better at racecraft here-I couldn’t go faster than a walk as I was eating the bun, but the bun wouldn’t go down fast enough- too dry. So I had to bite, take a drink, wet the bread then get it down. It took me too long to work this out, lesson learned. I paused at the bottom of Ironpot Ridge to have a gel and another runner passed me saying ‘I thought you were having a spliff and I was about to ask for some’. Now I’ve seen and heard some pretty odd things while running, and that’s right up there. Ironpot is a pig of a section- you can’t get in any sort of rhythm, it has big ascents and worse descents, you constantly have to slow or step aside for other runners and as it’s an out-and-back, you don’t even get any real sense of accomplishment from doing it.
A creek crossing, lovely trails past farms, and oh yes, more huge f/ing hills! It was about this time that I started to notice other runners flagging. We’d covered some picturesque but brutal and unforgiving landscape, and hadn’t even reached halfway! As much as possible I tried to make sure everyone was ok but there was clearly a big pain monster stalking the crowds. One guy wearing bright green shorts I’d seen earlier on and asked ‘do you have a volume control for those shorts?’ I passed again and tried to get him to run with me into cp3. ‘Why?’ he said and I replied that I wanted to make sure he was too tired to hit me for the comment about his shorts. I made up 15 places on this leg, then lost 15 places by the time I left, symmetry at work…..
Coming in to cp3 I got a cheer worthy of a real runner, it was awesome! I’m not sure what everyone else thought about a middle of pack runner getting such a rousing reception. I’d been looking forward to cp3 because this is where my first real stop would be. I came in, drank 2 cups of Endura, filled my bottle grabbed my checkpoint bag and went to sit down with Sarah. I ate a boiled egg, and got stuck into some macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately I ate too much and had too much fun talking- I spent 18 minutes in this checkpoint! Quickly shoving down a Newman’s Ginger Treat bar, I left and headed up the Six Foot Track for my date with Nellie. I think it’s worth mentioning here that I had published my nutrition plan for comment and most people said I didn’t have enough real food on the plan, so I’d added the fruit bun and probably ate more of the Mac N Cheese than I should have. It’s nobody’s fault but my own, however I will be careful in the future- the commenters were right that I didn’t have enough ‘real’ food but I was wrong thinking I could fit it in! I’d eaten so much I couldn’t run properly, I was probably nervous because it was going up Nellie’s Glen last year that I had my low point, I had decided to pull out and it was only the care of my wife that got me through..
For those unfamiliar, Nellie’s Glen is a bunch of stairs going up towards civilisation- more than 500 of them. They’re uneven, often wet and slippery and it seems like they never end. This year I let a couple of people past so I could concentrate on keeping some sort of rhythm. It didn’t work very well, but I had one major advantage- last year the light fell just as I was at the bottom- this year I made it all the way to the Aquatic Centre (Checkpoint 4) before light fell. I really feel this section cost me about 30 minutes- if I’d had a 10 minute transition at cp3 instead of 18, and been able to run a bit more I could have done much better. Coming into CP4 I saw Martyn Dawson who had run despite an awful cold. He’d had to pull out at CP2, but don’t forget that’s 38km and harder than a road marathon! He came along to cp4 to support other runner- thanks Martyn! Into the sports centre I had a quick cup of noodles, some Endura, filled my bottle and had some Coca Cola. That was the best tasting Coke I’ve had in my life, and the noodles were obviously some form of ambrosia. Back out into the (now) night, and about 300m from the cp I remembered something- sh@t- I’d forgotten to fill my bladder. I hadn’t been drinking much water as I’d been supplementing with the collapsible bottle, but I’d just left for the longest section in the whole run without checking a basic requirement. This could spell real trouble. I’d been playing leapfrog with David Madden all day and found him again on Federal Pass getting a bar out of his bag. We had a great chat, and I was making him run little bits (probably should have made him eat his energy bar, that would have been more help) and we met another runner called Scott (I think).
Then behold! It was Adam Darwin finally catching us after 80km, his tardiness caused by a toilet stop at the start! The four of us crossed Leura creek, then Jamison creek together and began the long slog up Kedumba walls. Just after I’d told everybody not to stop at the campfire halfway up, we came to it and discovered a mandatory gear check. I got my stuff checked in double quick time and just as I was leaving Adam D yelled that they had water! I came back and filled my bottle then yelled for Adam, intending to continue with the others. Hearing no reply I looked ahead and thought I saw him climbing the next hill so I took off in pursuit. It wasn’t Adam D but by then I was too far ahead and made the decision to bust my boiler and finish strong. I should have made that decision 80km earlier at the start, but I’m a bit timid sometimes.
A quick note about the Petzl Nao headlamp- I was lucky enough to have one for this race, a few months before they are available to normal people! It behaved flawlessly after I read the manual properly and got my minor niggles worked out. You can read more on this review. I kept the headlamp on the lower regulated setting, putting out about 80 lumens which was nice and bright, and lasted the entire race with some battery left over! One of the guys I was running with up Kedumba muttered to himself ‘oh my lamp does work’ after I got ahead- he’d thought his wasn’t working because mine was so bright!
Another rousing cheer when I came into checkpoint 5, and I decided not to fill my bladder for the last 11km, I would take a bottle of Powerade and one of Endura. My quickest cp at only 5 minutes, ate a gel on the way out and hooked on to another runner for the ride home. Pretty uneventful until Conservation Hut cafe where I had my last gel, then the massive ups and downs past Lillian’s Glen and up beside the golf course for a strong finish. At the ‘1km to go’ sign I looked at my watch and figured out that if I could do a 9 minute km for the last km I would come under 16:30. I can’t even list how many things are wrong with this logic, but let’s just say I was wrong. My final time of 16:33:58 was more than 2 hours under last years time, and a big relief. Even more fantastic was that David Madden and Adam Darwin both finished in under 17 hours! This time is significant because it means you finish before midnight i.e. on the same day you started. A sub 20 hour finish also means you get a bronze belt buckle. This is a great achievement as the stats show- 990 solo entries sold, 634 total finishers = 356 DNF and DNS. 1x Gold buckle to Ryan Sandes for winning, 111x Silver buckle for under 14hours, 419 Bronze buckles for sub 20 hour finishers.
When we got back to the hotel room I had a shower and read for a while. My wife turned off the light and I suddenly remembered I’d forgotten to eat! She caught me rummaging around in my checkpoint bags looking for uneaten food. Next morning I got up early and went to the hotel dining room. Pretty sure they regret including breakfast in the room rate because I had 3 breakfasts and then went back with my wife later for more……
How bashed around am I? Well I came through with no blisters, and only mild muscle pain in most areas. I went for a short run on Monday night and it loosened up my legs nicely, they were very sore! I’ve had 2 nights sleep of 12 hours or more and I’m starting to feel human again.
So what worked? Having the collapsible bottle and taking it full of Endura worked really well. Also the removable arm warmers from my cycling kit were great- it meant I did not have to remove my pack and go looking for extra clothing several times during the event. Swapping sunglasses at CP4 with a pair with clear lenses means I didn’t have to worry about getting hit in the face by branches at night.
What didn’t work? I took a lot of food that wasn’t used, I ate too much at CP3, I forgot to fill up my bladder at CP4, forgot to have the final growling dog bar- must read the checkpoint instructions!
Congratulations to all runners, whether you made it to the end or didn’t make it to the start, we’ve all had a life altering experience. Or at least stomach altering.