I’ve never done a shoe review before, so please excuse me if some of this doesn’t sound ‘right’. I do however hope it is all ‘correct’!
The shoes were kindly supplied by Northside Runners, they didn’t ask me to write a review but I thought it would be cool since they’ve been so nice to me. Also just because I have a wall full of Hokas don’t think I’m incapable of being brutally honest- I’m really just trying to be impartial, and yes some of it may be uncomplimentary.
But not this time!
The Great North Walk 100s held on the weekend of 13-14 September this year are billed as ‘Australia’s toughest trail races’ and I don’t know if that is true, but the 100km (actually 104km) and the 100 miler (actually 108 miles or about 175km) are pretty damn tough. The trail goes through some beautiful but very unforgiving country, and towards the end there’s lots of sandstone rocks which can shred shoes and the sheer distance can make mincemeat out of your feet.
It had rained a fair bit before this race and I knew that I needed loads of grip as the trail was likely to be very muddy in parts. As I contemplated the shoe wall I realised that both pairs of Stinsons were getting a bit flat on the bottom and the Mafate 2’s that I had bought cheap last year were just a touch too small for such a long distance race (I’d worn them on the Larapinta and had lasted 3 days before switching to the Stinsons). Obviously the answer was more shoes (as Imelda herself would say)!
I spoke with Michael Delgarno and suggested the Mafate Speeds or the Altra Olympus as I really like a wide toe box, but his advice was to go with the Hokas because the Altra is a zero drop shoe and would require a bit of adaption. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I suggested I wanted to wear brand new shoes for a 108 mile run, good man. It also meant that I would be safe from Roger Hanneys voodoo dolls, at least for a while…….
They ordered in a size 11 and size 11.5, and when I went in to collect them it was immediately obvious that the 11.5 were the winner. Nice and roomy down front and possibly a little less wide than I would like, but these are currently the widest shoe in the Hoka range. I also treated myself to a new pair of Injinji Trail 2.0 socks for the adventure.
So, how did they go? They felt awesome. I’ve never had so much confidence flying down muddy tracks or climbing up ascents with dodgy grip. More than once I was saved from getting wet feet simply because the foam is so high- as I sank into the mud the water couldn’t get into the upper!
Hoka Mafate Speed- slightly used by one old lady on a Saturday and late into Sunday
They did bleed a bit of colour on to my feet, I looked like I had bruised feet after the run. And it took me a couple of goes to get the tongue settled on top of my left foot- it had a crease in it. However this is probably just a symptom of being a new shoe.
And yes, I did have to stop and tape up my little toe, which was bashing against the side of the shoe. Relief came immediately but I’m not marking the shoes down because of that- if I’d been sensible I would have taped the little toes before wearing them for such a long race. There is such a thing as being TOO cocky!
The ride is a lot harder than the Bondi’s, somewhat surprising for a shoe that unashamedly rocks the maximal look. But with a good pair of socks they feel like weapons ready to go to war with the trail. I wanted to compare with something different so I strapped on a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3’s and headed out for a little run this morning. The tongue felt enormous and it took my feet a little while to get used to them however I’d definitely put it like this- Speedcross is a good alternative for any fast gnarly run under about 45km, and the Mafates for anything else.
At the end of the race they still looked 7/10, which is better than I could say for the rest of my body. They have a small hole in the top of the left shoe- I must have dragged it on some rocks. A bit disappointing however not a big deal. They look great for shoes that are nearly 30% through their working life after one race, I think they will last really well. The grip is extraordinary, I think I might be the only runner who didn’t come close to falling over in this race, yes there were some epic spills! OK smartarse, I’m aware that 7/10 and ‘30% of their working life’ doesn’t really inspire confidence, however if I would wash the shoes (or at least rub the dirt and sand off) they’d be an 8/10. Humph.
Now if you think I’m being a bit down on these shoes, let’s take a step back and look at the facts- they had enough cushioning to enable me to complete a 175km run with very few issues. The only blisters I got were in places where I forgot to lube my feet. Yeah, I’m that dumb. They stopped me from sliding around like 90% of the field and prevented me from getting wet feet more than once. They didn’t get too hot, and the terrain didn’t chew them up as much as expected. I’m a fan.
These are not perfect- I would still like 1-2mm more width in the toe box, and perhaps a more hole resistant toe cover, but they get very close. If you need some gnarly trail shoes, you should consider these. I’m actually looking forward to using them at Hume & Hovell.
I know it sounds stupid to most people but I wasn’t worried about running 175km, I was worried about the sleep monsters.
I CAN RUN FOREVER*
*as long as I keep eating, drinking and moving forward there’s no problem. When I’ve helped out people like Joe Ward, Kirrily Dear and Jane Trumper I’ve typically taken the night shift and I’m quite happy run/walking through the bush at night and telling silly stories. These are the things that great adventures are built on. But some people get an extra buzz when the sun comes up and a new day starts. Not me, I get sleepy. So I had to consider the prime directive-
FINISH THE RACE
After the disaster of last year I had to take a long look at strategy and give myself the best chance of a finish. One of the reasons I do these long races is because you never know what is going to happen- a finish is never guaranteed. I am comfortable with a DNF, but I was pretty motivated to not collect another one this year. This year I have big plans. Yes kids, that means C2K. As far as I can tell, there are a couple of official requirements and a couple of unofficial ones. Officially you need to do 180km on road or a 100 mile trail race. Now I’ve done both this year. Unofficially you need to have crewed and have completed the GNW100 miler. Tick!
Normally I run with a head full of caffeine and breeze through the race. The major problem with doing this is my vocal filter (which isn’t very good to start) falls off completely. This means I say some fairly outrageous things but luckily I can usually get forgiveness from my friends! This strategy wasn’t going to work for this race. Even a 30 hour finish would mean kissing the post at midday- 6 or so hours after daybreak. I needed to be very conservative, assume I was going to just make the cut off at 6pm and try to make sure my caffeine intake didn’t spike too early or I was going to be spazzy with tiredness too early.
I do think that my subconscious was trying to destroy my plans though. by the week before the race I had not organised-
1. Transport to a hotel near the start
2. Getting to Warners for the pre race meal
3. Accommodation on Friday night
4. Transport to the start on Saturday morning
Australia’s toughest trail race? So, let’s see what we can do to make this a little bit more difficult….. how about we do it with no crew and have your pacer pull out with injury 3 days before the race? Now that’s a proper challenge!
I was gutted for my pacer as her injury has proven to be tough to shake, it was a little disconcerting when she dropped of a charging cable to hear her knee grinding as she moved it. Recover well!
I really wasn’t concerned about doing the race without crew, and the lack of a pacer isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes it’s great if you don’t know the way, and you kind of need someone around in case you totally lose your shit, but I knew I could either pick up a pacer whose runner had pulled out or simply run with another runner for the last few sections. I know the way fairly well. Or so I thought…….
Massive thanks to Rob Mattingly who offered to share his room at Pippi’s. Luckily this was very close to the start. Unluckily it was Friday night and there were several bands playing. That’s ok, I don’t need sleep. Oh wait, yes I bloody do!
A Note from my coach. He expressed it a little differently……
I also carried with me a note from my coach Andy DuBois. he said- ‘Believe a finish is possible until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it isnt – ie you have missed a cutoff or have been told not to continue – if neither of those things happen then keep putting one foot in front of the other’. Wise words.
We woke at 4:10am, ate and dressed for a big day out. I slipped on my new Hoka One One Mafate Speeds (review coming soon) and we ventured off into the night. Brand new shoes for a 108 mile run? Yes, I’ve done 2 or 3x 100km runs in new Hokas and never regretted it. Michael Delgarno from Northside Runners didn’t even bat an eyelid at this stupidity. Thanks!
David, Marty & Adam at the start
It’s amazing to be around the start. We collected our t shirts, got our wristbands and were weighed in, and waited for Dave Byrnes to do the race briefing at 5:30am. It was a very different feeling for me this year- last year we had a huge group but this year we were missing Rocco Smit, Adam Darwin and Jennie Sharland- Riggs. Although Jen would be with many of us during the race doing support, and getting to hang around for a while speaking to my mates and running heroes before the race is amazing.
At 6am I didn’t hear Dave give the go signal (as usual) but suddenly everyone started moving forward and we were off…..
Start to CP1 Watagan State Forest (28.6km)
The first few km are on the road and we were all very careful to go easy, and I drifted along chatting to Kurt Topper and Damon Roberts, both of whom I had met through the Unofficial TNF training group. I had drunk 600ml of sports drink before the start and had 2x 750ml bottles on the front of my pack containing electrolyte. By the time we got to Heaton Gap service station at about 15km I didn’t need to fill up but I went and had a pee, this being the last real toilet for some time…..
As I was crossing the road Martyn Dawson caught up, and the last I saw of him until the end was his bum disappearing up the monstrous climb.
It was right here that I was reminded of a couple of things-
1. Having a massage before the race is absolutely necessary, and I had absolutely not done it. Having run the 240km Larapinta last month and had 3 races in 4 weeks this month, I REALLY needed a massage. Time had conspired against me and it didn’t happen, so my legs started to complain on the first big climb. Bugger.
2. I really do have something wrong with my lungs/ heart/ body/ whatever. I was running comfortably until that first big climb but I lost about 35 places in 800m. I was gasping for air, sweating bullets and needed to stop constantly. It was really obviously a problem, and something I’m looking forward to working out. Why on earth do I enter races with so much vertical ascent?
As we came close to the rainforest section I tried to get a group of us together because of the difficult navigation. We did go a little bit wrong however Billy Bridle managed to show us the correct way!
I came into CP1 a bit behind David Brown but honestly the competition here was in my head, not with other runners. I had planned to go easy on the caffeine for as long s possible but I had a cup of Coke there, grabbed a bottle of gel and a pack of dried bananas and took off.
Time in CP: 12 minutes
This was dangerous, because average time for a 36 hour finisher was 4:55, meaning I was dicing with the cutoffs and it was only checkpoint 1!
Kurt & Adam at CP1
Annabel Hepworth before Golden Compass award
CP1-CP2 Congewai Public School (24km, total 52km)
Luckily Kurt Topper came with me and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting. He’s a lovely bloke, quiet and considerate. Did I just hear you say he’s the complete opposite of me? Harsh but fair. I pulled my dried bananas out of my pocket and suddenly realised why these aren’t sold in supermarkets any more. They look like poo. It’s pretty much impossible to make them look like anything else except dried turds. But yummy turds, and great ultra food!
This stage is significant because it looks fairly flat in profile. But that’s a damn lie. Although it does have a few km of fairly pleasant groomed road as you come into the checkpoint. Except that you arrive at that point in the middle of the day and there isn’t any shade over much of the road. Coming into Congewai was a very different beast to last year- there was a bit of a celebratory atmosphere rather than the last rites of the previous year. No bodies on the ground, very few people needing medical attention and loads of smiling vollies.
Another cup of Coke, and Jennie was there to help me, as well as Zoe Howard and Jill Saker. Thanks ladies! I also ate a can of dolmades, the Greek rice wrapped in vine leaves. This worked well last year, and I’m pleased to say the same this year. It’s very difficult to get a product with a decent amount of protein in a non refrigerated drop bag but this seems to work nicely.
Time in CP: 24 minutes
A long checkpoint because I ate and fixed a blister, could have been much faster. A 36 hour finisher would do this in about 3:36- I wasn’t making up much time!
Joe Ward at CP2. he would go on to make 12th overall and 10th male!
Kieron Blackmore at CP2. Another cracking run by a lovely bloke
CP2 to CP3 (the Basin Campground (29km, total 82km) Kurt came with me and we battled up the communications tower climb and used the downhills after that for the occasional trot. We crossed the farm with the little stream as the sun was fading and climbed up to the first unmanned water stop where a few people were having a well deserved top up. The fresh water was delicious! We got out our headlamps and at almost exactly 6pm switched them on. I have a new headlamp and I’d forgotten to program the output and burn time, so I was very worried that it would burn out too quickly on the factory settings. oh well, at least I had a spare battery. And also a spare torch. And spare batteries for the torch…… in the end it lasted until almost exactly 4am, so 10 hours burn time and very bright is really very good!
Shortly afterwards we had a couple of guys come back towards us complaining that they had gone the wrong way. After arguing with them for a while I accepted that they were right so we headed back and found a turn off that we had missed. Then there was a tree across the trail causing a bit of a back up, but great conditions for a bit of running after. I noticed Kurt falling further and further behind and he finally admitted that an old war injury was playing up. I was a bit rude to him in the hope it wasn’t serious and he’d snap out of it, but it wasn’t to be. So I continued by myself which isn’t so bad because the last few km of this section you have people coming back out to head over the hill for the next CP. I got to see a few people who were in front of me but not Martyn, so he must have been flying!
I sat down in the CP and the lovely vollies brought me several cups of soup and some Coke. I dumped some of the food I’d been carrying since the start and hadn’t eaten and picked up a gel flask and a Coke to take away. I picked up my battery pack and cables and started charging. When you charge the Garmin 910xt on the run it keeps recording but does not display any stats. Charging it to 100% just before CP4 gave me enough juice to record the entire 35 hour journey. Sweet.
Time in CP: 11 minutes
Made up some time here, a 36 hour finisher would be 6:24. Also this is the only checkpoint I did without waiting for anyone. Seemed slow to me, but 11 minutes is ok!
Brad and Martyn
CP3- CP4 Yarramalong Public School (24km, total 103km)
There’s a massive climb out of the Basin and I didn’t really know the way so I was determined that I should have someone with me to share the navigation. Well, hopefully tell me where to go, in a nice way. So I dragged a lovely bloke called Pat along and we managed to have our first disagreement at the top of the hill. Something gave me the powerful urge to make my mark on the trail, so a few minutes later I came out of the bush pulling my pants up only to surprise one of the international runners, a Cuban lady called Nahila Hernandez who is doing the 5 continents challenge. This race is the 4th of the year with only Israel to go in 5 weeks. She was understandably a bit reluctant to shake my hand but I did assure her that the other runners were ‘just down this way. Yes, into the creepy dark bushland….’
We caught up with Pat and after abut half an hour of her following us we started up a conversation. She’s obviously a very tough woman, having completed Badwater in 58 degree heat last year, but when we asked her what the hardest challenge of the 5 continents was, she didn’t hesitate ‘this one!’
There’s about 10km of road into CP4 and yeah, I thought it would never end. But we eventually got to CP4 which is the end of the race for the 100km runners. I had 2 sausage sandwiches (they’d run out of soup) another cup of Coke and grabbed some stuff from my drop bag. I’d made a deal while on the way into the CP that we would leave together, but we’d lost the Cuban runner, she was having nasty foot trouble.
Time in CP: 25 minutes
Actually lost a couple of positions here because I spent too long in the CP. It was a bit of a disaster because I lost Pat for a while in the CP and when I found him he still had lots to do. Not his fault but I should have been more on top of things. 36 hour finish time for this section is 4:30.
CP4 to CP5 ( Somersby, 29km, total 132km)
Pat and I left Yarramalong and headed up Bumble Hill Rd towards the GNW track head. We were quickly caught up by Sarah Highfield and her pacer. They were going at a fairly quick (walking) pace and I advised Pat that we should try to stick with them because we were about to hit the infamous Dead Horse Creek section and it’s navigation challenges. This turned out to be a great idea because her pacer had the notes out and was reading and understanding them, unlike us. We managed to contribute a little bit by pointing the right way a couple of times, but my power of speech wasn’t all that great. Thanks for getting us through that section guys! We surged past before 40 Acre Farm, but they decided to run when we got out to the road and we didn’t see them for the rest of the race. I should mention that I’d pretty much given up running before CP3. Why? Because I could! I’d gone from being behind the time needed to finish before the cut, to well in front simply by having a fast walk. I really needed to finish this race so the choice was to take it easy and deal with the sleep monsters, or speed up, risk bonking and still deal with the sleep monsters. Under almost any other circumstances I’d probably be trying to catch up to Martyn Dawson, but not this time…….
Doing some sums, I knew that last year I had arrived at Somersby at 9am, and I had 9 hours to do the last 42km, which was ok, but not a lot of time. I was pretty keen to beat that to give us a bit of a buffer- late in the race, the key target is to make the last unmanned water stop by 3pm. Whilst it is unmanned for most of the race, there is someone there who will DNF you after 3pm on Sunday. If you make it by 3pm, you have 3 hours to do the last 12km.
I’d noticed that Pat was taking a while in the checkpoints and so we had a little chat ‘you know mate, those checkpoints aren’t an oasis of food and rest, they are a fierce dragon that sucks time out of your race and destroys your chances of finishing’. I’m sure he silently called me names after that little speech but we agreed that the next checkpoint would be only 10 minutes. Poor guy was starting to suffer too, this probably did not come at a good time. We arrived at 7:34am and my family was there! It was lovely to see them but in all of the photos I look really cranky because I was trying to concentrate on my tasks to get ready for the next section. It’s only 18km to the next CP, so I dropped a heap of useless crap and re packed my bag. We got out at 7:48am and now had over an hour buffer on last year! Yay!
Time in CP: 14
This section would take a 36 hour finisher apx 6:50 so we were comfortably ahead. not competing anymore with the 100km runners made us jump many places too. Could have shaved a bit off this CP time, but not much.
CP5 to CP6 ( Mooney Mooney 18km, total 150km)
Not much to tell here, I assured Pat that I still wanted to finish with him, despite me being a bit of a prick about time in checkpoints. the terrain and navigation isn’t particularly challenging which is nice. There’s some rolling fire trail before we walk/ run beside Mooney Mooney Creek and we caught up to David Brown and his pacer Bruce Craven. I think it’s a good thing having someone with you who is capable of thought, so we spent a bit of time with them. Bruce is taller than me and called out a low hanging branch. However I had lost the ability to bend down so I smacked my head right into it and landed flat on my arse. It was a pretty big smack and there was some blood spilled, but overall pretty funny. Except when I tried to stand up again, which was quite a challenge. Around this time David was having a bit of a low point and we got slightly ahead. I wasn’t expecting this, David has been training the house down and had been in front for something like 28 hours, but I figured if he wanted the position he’d come back and take it!
My wife Sarah was at Mooney Mooney and Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges turned up too! Adam is one of the 31 tough people who finished last year and Joe was his pacer. It was lovely to see them but quite unexpected. I felt very relieved to get into CP6 as I knew we absolutely had it in the bag. We arrived at 11:01am, meaning that we had 4 hours to get to the unmanned water stop, only 12.7km away.
Time in CP: 6 minutes
Average 36 hour time is 3:36 so we made up a bit. Luckily this CP is small, boring and there is only one stage to the end, which equals a fast transition time. They should all be like this!
Martyn at CP6
Rob, Ross and Martyn
CP6 to Finish (Patonga 25.5km, total 175km)
There’s no getting around it- the last section is beautiful, but brutal in so many ways. We rolled on for the first few km, then I think Pat decided that our progress was not fast enough, and he put on a spurt. I wasn’t 100% happy, but I realised that our progress had slowed considerably due to the terrain. It was taking ages to cover each km, and it wasn’t because we could smell the finish. In fact we couldn’t even smell Woy Woy rubbish tip because that was still 10km away……
We finally reached the unmanned water stop at 1:40pm- nearly 90 minutes to spare! A few swigs of cold water was just bliss as it was very exposed out on the rocks, and Pat sat down for a couple of minutes to rest his knees. I wasn’t concerned because I knew that unless I had an accident I was going to get my long desired finish.
The last 12km seemed to go on forever. Pat asked me what the sequence was, and because I know the area really well I could name all of the landmarks. But he kept saying them back to me in a much more abbreviated form- leaving bits out in the hope that the end would come sooner! I had a lot of sympathy for that attitude but yeah, it doesn’t work like that.
In the last 2 hours we probably lost 4 places but I was happy just chugging along. On one hand if I’d been by myself I might have gone faster, but I was so grateful to have someone to share the experience with, even if neither of us could talk much. I think having a fresh pacer would help a lot, but remember the prime directive- finish!
We got up to the final road crossing and there was Sarah, Alex (my son), Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges again. Alex started to run towards me like he was going to jump into my arms and I screamed out ‘don’t touch me!’ I was terrified that I would fall over and be unable to get up! I’d also spent quite a while reminding myself not to take any outside assistance- i.e.. don’t hand your wife any rubbish etc if it’s outside a checkpoint.
We crossed the road, walked the single track, and even had a bit of a trot down the fire trail towards the car park at Warrah Trig point. I said to Pat we should finish together but as it was about 34:40 into the race we shouldn’t try for sub 35 as it seemed too difficult. He replied that his knees were giving him grief and I should go down the final descent without him. I wasn’t altogether cool with this but I thought I should do what he asked in case he needed to experience the moment by himself.
So I bombed down the vicious final descent (how often do you hear that at the end of a 175km race report?) and arrived at the beach only seconds after another runner. I had no intention of beating him but I realised I could actually go under 35 hours if I hustled. I ran up to the car park and an old man in a beat up car said ‘the trail is along the beach’ and I replied ‘mate have a look at the gate I just came through, there is a GNW symbol on it- the correct path is through the car park’ so he just shut up and drove off……
Back on to the beach at the next GNW sign and Alex ran towards me for the big finish and I was running quite well- feeling fresh and in control (might not have looked that way) I blew a kiss to the finish post just before the next runner and gratefully accepted the finishers medal from Dave Byrne. total time 34:57:51
Pat came in about 3 minutes later and promptly disappeared. All I can say is thanks for your company for the last 100km my friend!
Time in CP: N/A
6:07 for a 36 hour finisher, so we just beat that!
Rob & Marty- age group podium!
This photo shows me finishing in front of the guy who was pronounced equal 49th, but he appears in the results above me. Complain? Not me!
Adam & Alex finishing
attempting to bend down and accept the medal
I reckon there’s easily 90 minutes to be taken off this time, perhaps a couple of hours if I concentrate. Sub 30 hours? That would assume I’m doing it again….. I think I’ll wait for the swelling to go down first thanks!
Now I have 2 qualifiers for Coast to Kosci, but I could not have done any of this without-
1. My wife. Thank you Sarah for letting me get in the stupid hours of training
2. My coach. Andy DuBois, for helping me to race smart
3. Northside Runners. For providing the shoes, sponsorship, and more reason not to DNF!
3. My friends. I wouldn’t run if it wasn’t for you
Great stories- Rumour is that Martyn Dawson had to flag down a cyclist and borrow a knife so he could cut a hole in his shoe to relive the pressure from his blisters. He still managed to finish equal third in his age group with Rob Mattingly. Amazing effort guys! Nahila the Cuban runner got out of CP4 barely 2 minutes before the cutoff and still finished the race- 2 minutes before the 36 hour cut!
Thanks to Jill Saker, Jen Sharland- Riggs and Sarah Connor for the photos, and thanks to Joe Ward and MBRC for the video!
UPDATE 18.9.14- get the raw results, and everybody’s progress times.
Final statistics for the miler-
More stats for me-
Runner number 31
Starting weight 74.1kg
Weight at CP2 73.2kg
Weight at CP4 73.1kg
Weight at CP6 72.9kg
I love races in the southern highlands because we get to go and visit our friends Alison and Paul Hilliard and son Jamie. Staying with them for the weekend was amazing, however I generally drink too much which isn’t good for my performance…….
So it was kind of fortuitous that coach had said ‘don’t run this one too hard, just use it as a training run’ which may or may not have meant ‘fill your boots, you borderline alcoholic’. Ahem.
This meant that turning up on Friday night we got to say ‘Moet? I suppose it’ll do…’
A nice sleep in on Saturday (which is VERY rare) then a trip into Bowral for pies and a look around was fun, then home delivered pasta for dinner and well, cider, red, white and more champagne.
Larapinta Reunion- 2 weeks later!
So you can guess I wasn’t overly impressed when the alarm went off at 4:50am, however I had pre organised all of my stuff and we had plenty of time to get to the start. On arriving we saw how impeccably well everything was set up. I shouldn’t have been surprised with April Palmerlee and Keith Hong involved.
It was getting close to start time so we all assembled at the start for the race briefing, then we set off on the first of 2x 25km loops. I hadn’t paid much attention to the course description but I expected to be running a lot of fire trail. In reality there was heaps of single track all built for mountain bikes.
Jeez those bike people have it good! Luxury! When I was a lad we had to fight our way through undergrowth on indistinct trail and wade through knee high water. Oh No- these trails had gentle downs and climbs, loads of switchbacks and I was only slapped in the face by vegetation once- OK twice because it was the same plant on the second lap. I’d been a bit worried when April said we had a 7 hour cutoff however my first lap was over in 2:33 at an indicated 23.4km, so I could relax as I had heaps of time for lap 2. I don’t know how the course ws measured but I’d speculate that if it was accurately measured the difference would be because our Garmins did not measure some of the switchbacks due to the dense forest.
Here comes the dirt surfer
While it’s true that I wanted to quietly die in the first few km, my hangover quickly took a back seat to the lovely surrounds, it really was very pretty in parts. I got to have a quick chat to John Fan who had been pushing hard last weekend at Bilpin- I was certain he would beat me at SHC because I was simply enjoying myself and yes, slightly hungover. I met another runner named Adam (dude those calf guards need a volume control) and everyone was having fun. I’d seen Lise Lafferty towards the end of the first lap- she was having a difficult day and it was a privilege to help in a small way.
I came in to the start/ finish chute to the sound of Sarah and Alex ringing a cowbell- had a quick snog and went out for my next lap. I hadn’t had much fluid on the first lap so it didn’t matter much that the aid station wasn’t very visible to me as I came through. Really the race was very well provisioned but I missed the middle aid station on the first lap too! Not sure how this happened.
I settled in for the second lap, and was by myself for some time making sure I followed the ribbon. But all of a sudden a runner came along from a completely different direction so I slowed down to discuss. Neither of us could figure out who had gone the wrong way but our Garmins gave virtually the same distance so we agreed not to worry about it. I cruised around running some mental calculations about finish time and realised I had slowed down by about 20% and was heading for a 5:30ish finish. For a little while I wondered if I should try to shave off a few minutes and go sub 5:30 hover that’s just a number, it was far more important to finish happy and uninjured.
I think the timing mat must have been dirty
Sure enough my final time of 5:35 was a bit better than expected but certainly not spectacular- I was in the top 30% of the field at Bilpin last week but bottom 30% at SHC! Oh well, the big one is in a few weeks (GNW), that’s more important…….
One of the best moments of the day was hanging around the Summit Sisters tent and chatting to Jo Brischetto and Brendan Davies- who made me all modest by mentioning the sponsorship deal with Northside Runners. Mate that beard is getting a bit wild, but it doesn’t seem to affect your running, best of luck in Doha!
As it turns out there was a whole bunch of NRG’ers at the race and I didn’t see any of them because they turned up after the 50km race started, did the 22km race and left before I finished!
Here’s a couple of photos from the 1km for kids- I think this is Alex’s first official race, and I’m very proud of him…..
I was lucky to get a lift up to Bilpin with Doug Richardson, Gillian Russel and her flatmate Wayne. Arriving around 8am we got out of the car to be greeted by progressively more and more NRG’ers! There were only about 4 on the start list in the newsletter (and I wasn’t one of them) but it looked like someone had ‘put the band back together’ and we ended up making up about 20% of the entire field. I wandered around talking to people, had a couple of nervous wees and then we casually gathered around the start line for the race briefing and tun we were off!
I hadn’t looked very closely at the profile but it looked like an out and back run. These things normally aren’t very accurate the first time they are run so I was interested to see how far to the turn around……
In the first km there was a big descent and the worry started to make itself felt ‘what if it’s all like this? I was hoping for a fast 32-34km run, don’t want to kill myself with 3 races in the next 4 weeks…’ and honestly it was a lot more hilly than I had expected, I just settled in and walked the hills, catching up many of the people who passed me on the flats. One thing that has improved in the last few weeks is my fast hiking up hills, a very good thing as this has been a major weakness in my trail running. If I had to call out the guys I would measure myself against in this race it would be Leigh Reynolds, Chris Johnson, David Madden and Chris Dawe. I also expected Steve Bruggemen to glide by at some stage…… Leigh has so much guts and determination and works so hard, he’s been on fire recently, Chris Johnson will typically pass me about half way through a race and I won’t see him again, David has youth (and natural talent) on his side. And the only way I ever finish in front of Chris Dawe is if he is injured. I thought I’d be able to pick him off today because he had run with the slower group on Thursday, and I had been blasting out some quick ones with a faster group. But maybe we’ll come back to that mistake later……
By 6km in I was having a good chat with Chris Johnson and we were passing each other regularly. I figured eventually one or other of us would get tired and let the other one go but I was having so much fun, Leigh called out from a turn a few hundred meters ahead and I thought he was gone for the day. At about 10km we caught up with David Madden and had a quick chat but he didn’t seem keen to come with us, and slowly but surely Chris J and I started reeling in Leigh. The three of us leapfrogged each other for a while and we were counting down the k’s to the halfway mark. Just before the turn around the front runners started coming past- a couple of guys I didn’t know then Beth Cardelli in 3rd outright, Jess Baker not too far back and our own Doug Richardson caning it along the back half.
I caught up to Justine Medin along the fire trail and had a quick chat, and 400m before the turn around point we saw Gillian Russel and Chris Dawe coming the other way. This meant that I wasn’t too far behind but Gillian looked like she was about to bust a valve and Chris didn’t look too comfortable so I vowed on the spot not to try to catch them……The turn around point was at 17.25km by my Garmin so it looked like we might be in for a 34.5km run instead of the advertised 32.xkm, however I did later discover that the return route was slightly different and it was very accurate. Justine is remarkable because she actually runs all of the hills, so she slowly but surely started making a lot of extra progress on me. I put my earbuds in and punched up a John ’00’ Fleming podcast and prepared to knock out a few km and not worry about my position, just to enjoy the day. I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, and I was punching the air and dancing along to a particularly good song when The Man In Black came past- this was a guy who had been struggling earlier and I assumed he would fade away but he came back stronger tun ever and finished well ahead. I only picked up a couple of places in the back half, and I had lost a few more than that so it wasn’t my finest race. Going back through the last few aid stations, there was a sign that said ‘4.7km to go’ and I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it- they’ve been wrong before!
Then with about 4km to go I had another nightmare- another bloke coming up fast from behind in the distance! I decided if he got close I would let him go- as mentioned before I have a couple more races this month and can’t afford to do anything stupid. Then I thought ‘no, let’s not be defeatist. You have plenty of gap now, just push a little harder on the hills and you can hold your position’. I did this and the benefit was I started to gain on Justine. But it wasn’t early enough and she had me by about 200m at the end. A very well run race from her. I crossed the line at 3:24:57, 27th across the line and 20th male, which means I was only chicked 7 times. 10th in my age group is a nice surprise, you have no idea how demoralising it can be to be a middle aged male in these races, competing with all the other mildly crusty old coffin dodgers.
I swear it says 3:24:57!
Although it’s a different course, I was about 17 minutes faster than 2011 so very happy. Congratulations to Doug, 4th overall first in age class and 3rd male, a podium!
The volunteers and marshals were all absolutely brilliant, happy to have a chat and a joke, really enthusiastic and the entire day was heaps of fun. You should come next year…..
Thanks to Tony Sharpe and Lucinda Rigby for the photos
I’ve run a bit with Kirrily Dear in recent months and I hope you’ve been following her campaign and preparations for running 860km to support an end to violence against women. I used to think I didn’t have anything to say on the subject except ‘don’t f@cking do it’ however she’s brought up a couple of points that I can speak about, one that makes me look bad, so let’s (reluctantly) go…….
I’ve never directly experienced domestic violence, and I have pretty much the same attitude as you- any type of violence towards women should be eliminated. But to achieve this we’ve got to have the conversation. I mentioned to Kirrily that for some unknown reason the whole subject makes me feel uncomfortable, but her reply was that the only way we can fix these things is to expose them, bring them out into the light and get people to reason with themselves about their actions and those of their mates. YOU need to be involved.
Uncomfortable topic 1- I’d like to think that no woman who has slept with me has regretted it. OK I can think of one, but the feeling is pretty mutual, and that has nothing to do with sex and much more about screaming at each other constantly. There’s a very fine line where your pleading or forcefulness could become assault, and it’s not you who determines that. As a married man I could pretend that doesn’t affect me anymore but that negotiating phase never disappears. Got it? Good.
Uncomfortable topic 2- How many times does a man need to be told that his behaviour is unacceptable?
I challenged Kirrily on this one and she said something like ‘we imagine a lot of abusers to be poor and from the western suburbs but reality is that they are from all over and their behaviour is predicated on the fact that they don’t get called out for it. A huge proportion of these abusers can and will change their ways when they see that their mates and the rest of society are outraged by their behaviour’
I immediately thought of a personal example- not very flattering but here goes- about 10 years ago I was organising bike rides on the weekend and wanted to convince people not to pull out if the weather was bad. I said something like ‘don’t be a poof and pike out’. My good friend Jaycen Fletcher replied ‘and what’s bad about being a poof?’ and you know what? He was right, I was being an idiot.
So I sent around an apology and I’ve tried very hard ever since not to use these kinds of derogatory terms. I was called out in a very simple way, and that one email made me change my ways- hopefully forever. Those who know me also know that I swear like a sailor, so sometimes it’s really hard not to rely on cheap attempts at humour but I’m trying.
So there we go- I’ve avoided writing this for a month or two, but I do hope you’ll read it and have the conversation with your partner or mates. I also hope it’s more helpful than one of my female family members who recently called for all males over the age of 35 to die. I’ve changed the end of this story, it was originally a snipe at that family member. It wasn’t very nice and I do think that she’s quite smart but just comes to the wrong conclusions sometimes. We all should have a bit of leeway occasionally so I’ll sign off with a message of hope. Even with all the terrible things happening worldwide, we can all make a difference by doing very simple and repeatable actions. Make a difference. Have the conversation.
You can also support this campaign by buying some shoelaces here or a T-Shirt here, or use these resources to seek help
To walk/ run across the 223km (plus some side trips) Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory in 6 days. This is normally a 12-24 day walk according to the NT government.
Garry & Janet Tapper and grand daughter Tia- Our hosts for the week. These guys transported our gear, cooked our food and didn’t mention how much we stank.
Jane Trumper (Small)- Needs no introduction, but it was Jane who invited a few friends to share the adventure
Andy Bowen (Mumbles)- The man in the red lycra did much of the logistics, and photobombed us at every opportunity
Andy Hooten (Hoots)- Now do you see why we have nicknames? 3 Andy’s became quite confusing. Hoots is a workmate of Jane’s and this was to be his (and my) first expedition of this type. We hope it won’t be our last.
Kieron Blackmore (KB)- Another man with impressive running credentials, KB brought a soft Irish lilt to balance the noisy Aussies.
Dave Graham (Dark Horse Dave)- A well known ultra runner, adventurer and all round over achiever, DH Dave could tell you what he does for work, but then he’d have to kill you…..
Wayne Gregory (Blue Dog)- Blue Dog injects the fun into every situation despite having some seriously impressive running credentials. Believe me, you want this guy on your team every time.
….. and little old me, so now you can see why I was a bit worried that my middle of the pack, never runs very fast habits might get me into trouble during this trip. I should probably have been more worried about cirrhosis of the liver…….
Kieron, Mumbles, Hoots, Small, Dark Horse, Whippet, Kaos, Blue Dog
Day Minus 1- (Friday)
I arrived at 12:30pm intending to have a look around Alice Springs and sleep in a hotel before meeting the others for Day 1. Instead Jane met me with out host Garry and we went into town to get some supplies, and then out to the Big 4 Caravan Park just outside town. We went out to dinner at the Outback Steakhouse and I met Janet, Garry’s partner and Tia her grand daughter both of whom would be accompanying us on the trip.
Day 0 (Saturday)
The plan was to arrive at the beginning of the trail and go up to Mt Sonder to watch the sunset. Unfortunately the transport gods conspired against us.
Dark Horse Dave makes ascending mountains look easy
Dave who was coming from Canberra had joined his flight on time and circled Sydney but unfortunately couldn’t land because of fog. So he landed back in Canberra. So frustrating. The others also joined their flight on time but a piece metal fell from their plane causing them to be stuck on the tarmac for some time while an engineers report was done- very encouraging! It mustn’t have been an important piece of metal because they all landed in Alice Springs an hour late, so we were only ready around 4:30pm. The only takers for the trip up to Mt Sonder were all the fast guys so I declined, particularly as I didn’t think they would make the summit by sundown! This put me 20km behind my expected distance before we even started, so I had to evaluate whether I really wanted to attempt to do 300km in the week as planned…..
I kind of imagined running through the desert to be kind of featureless. And kind of flat. Epic fail on both counts
Jane couldn’t go as she was suffering from some sort of food poisoning, earning her the nickname Ebola Jane. So for days I had this song going through my head.
Day 1 – Redbank to Ormiston Gorge (Sunday)
After a fairly easy first few km, running through lots of dry creek beds, fairly big rise, running through valleys and across a small billabong – these things must be raging torrents when there is loads of water! About 5km from the end, Dave Graham came running the other way- poetry in motion! After flying back to Canberra, the plane was refueled, and then back to Sydney. He’s missed the flight to Alice Springs by a few hours. Qantas paid for his accommodation at the Airport, then on Sunday he was routed back to Melbourne then on to Alice Springs- how is that for complicated!
Howling at the moon did not make the hills smaller
Arriving Ormiston Gorge at about 3pm we set up our tents and discovered that there was a kiosk, hot showers! We celebrated by ordering $250 worth of pizzas from the kiosk and had a great meal with some great friends. Apparently Nick from the Ormiston gorge Café makes the best iced coffee in the world…… After dinner Janet came across and said that she’d just found the contents of her purse strewn all over the ground- we raced back to the campsite thinking that there had been a thief. The truth was stranger- while we’d been enjoying our pizza a dingo had come into camp looking for food. It had found the licorice bullets in Janets bag and taken off with them! Even worse, in the morning we discovered that the little buggers had taken the hot chocolate. This was a disaster for some of the runners and crew!
Day 2 Ormiston Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam (Monday)
I got up, fed, watered and headed out on the Pound Trail with Jane and Blue Dog. We had an epic run on a circular track around Ormiston Gorge, getting wet towards the end when we had to wade through some freezing cold, black brackish water. Then it was off into the 28km stage into Serpentine Chalet Dam. What an amazing mixture of easy trail, epic climbs, death defying descents, lush valleys. It’s just amazing to be in a steep gorge, clambering over boulders and marveling at the power and majesty of nature. At one stage we arrived at nearly 1000m and ran along the spine of a massive hill, the views were epic in every direction
The camp at Serpentine Chalet Dam. We did not see a dam, or a chalet, nor anything resembling a serpentine….
It was quite rough after that, loads of gnarly river beds, ankle snapping rocks and undulating hills, clambering through the saddles between valleys etc.
Day 3 Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ellery Creek (Tuesday)
We rose early and started at first light. 1.5km from the campsite was a toilet, so I made good use of it because it actually had paper and a manual flush system. Had I gone that far off the grid that toilet paper was a sign of luxury? In a word, yes. It was an easy day- 28-30km so I was looking forward to finishing early and doing nothing for a few hours. Of course this meant that we were making great time until the halfway fill up point and Serpentine Canyon. What a beautiful place- and then we came to a series of decent climbs. No big problem, except the high iron content meant that other bits would erode away, leaving extremely sharp, gnarly rocks to clamber over. You really felt you could not safely use your hand to help you over the climbs. Progress slowed to a crawl, and luckily the sun wasn’t too hot. However it was starting to sting the sunburn that I’d developed on day 1. Dave was bombing a descent and scared some tourists, looks like they scared him back because he turned his ankle. Whippet also had a stack and got a face full of spinifex grass needles
We got into camp at about 1:30pm and straight down to Ellery Creek, another superb waterhole- with freezing cold water!
Tents up, gear packed for the next day and burritos for dinner, just tired enough and deeply happy. That was a great day.
Old naked men hanging around a pool- be very afraid
Day 4 Ellery Creek to Hugh Gorge (Wednesday)
A few people were disturbed overnight by a crying baby in a camper ‘where’s a dingo when you need one?’
Up little bit later this morning because it is an easy day. Funny how quickly you can get to thinking that a 31km, 6 hour run is easy….. however we knew that this section was not technical, and sure enough we were spoiled with some great running. I spent most of the day running by myself, which gave me a lot of time to think. About nothing really, and it was truly great fun. The trail was well marked, and as we get closer to Alice Springs there’s a bit more foot traffic. OK we saw 5 people today- that’s not heaps, but in the past few days we would come across valleys where we could see for tens of kilometres and know that we were the only ones there. It really does make you feel quite insignificant, but also very grateful to be able to experience it. Getting into camp before 1pm was a bonus, I even got an afternoon nap! Dave had another stack today, lost some skin on his knee and hand, that might slow him down a bit! Dinner was sweet and sour chicken followed by damper with dried fruit- Lots of excited talk around the campfire at night- apparently there is a kiosk at the next stop- with showers!
We’ll probably miss the kiosk opening hours because we will be doing 2 sections marked as ‘very hard’ (walkers estimated time is 19 hours), but I am starting to smell, and not in a good way.
Saddle up boys (and girl) for tomorrow we bathe!
Day 5- Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm (Thursday)
We knew today would be challenging so we rose early and planned to leave by 6:30am. Blue Dog and Jane set of at 6:30am on the dot and I managed to finish faffing about a few minutes later and left with Dark Horse Dave. He’s a very easy guy to talk to and we passed a pleasant hour or so bombing through chasms on the creek bed until we ran into Blue Dog and Jane. I was thinking at this stage that Dave would run off into the distance and the other two would be too strong for me however we all spent the rest of the day together. What a day. There was only a couple of km of running in the whole day- loads of creek beds, some with huge boulders to scramble over. If you’d shown me the climbs and descents we’d have to make beforehand I would have freaked out, so I guess it’s kind of lucky that I hadn’t spent too much time looking at the trail beforehand. Massive climbs up to extremely sharp ridgelines which we would run across with freezing wind trying to blow us off. We pretty much followed the highest ridges and then crossed saddles until it was time to climb down into Standley Chasm. Walkers were expected to take 19 hours to complete these 2 sections and we had a fairly easy time doing it in 7:47. And the kiosk was still open when we arrived!
We all had a wood fired hot shower, bought some cold drinks. I may have accidentally inhaled a pie and a sausage roll before dinner, which was a lovely pasta dish with curry. The cafe kindly put out a whole heap of firewood so we spent a pleasant few hours after dinner on the patio of the closed café with a big roaring fire.
Day 6 Ellery Creek to Simpsons Gap (Friday)
Today had an option to go the high or low road. Naturally because we lack a full set of brain cells we chose the high road. The result was me wanting to cry because my legs hurt so much from the previous days, and on all fours trying to ascend to a ridgeline in icy wind while planning some more self harm. Yes more. The second stage of 25km was a very pleasant surprise, mostly flattish and undulating. I walked most of it with Blue Dog because my legs were rudely reminding me of overreaching my ability. We spent a pleasant few hours in each others company, not much conversation except our bums having an interesting conversation, and subsequent scores out of ten. Don’t judge me, you’ve done it too…..
Unfortunately we were unable to camp at Simpsons Gap so we were all ferried in to the caravan park in Alice Springs. You know when that means- showers! We may also have diverted via the bottle shop for some essential supplies. And yes, our campsite looked like the scene of an alcoholic festival the next morning. Ah, hangover, my old friend
Of course we stashed all the empties outside Hoot’s tent…..
Day 7 Simpsons Gap to Telegraph Station (Saturday- finish)
For the final 25km we went back out to Simpsons Gap and started at 7:30, expecting to take about 4 hours for the final push into town. I was very lucky and was able to run the whole thing with Jane, Andy Bowen, Dave and Blue Dog. I let them go a few times, intending to just run by myself and enjoy the trail, but somehow always found myself at the back of their pack again. Halfway through we met Kay Haarsma, a family friend and former orienteering coach of my wife’s. She is a great adventurer, in fact the last time I saw her was close to Charlotte Pass when I was pacing Jane for Coast to Kosci. I was so tired then I could barely speak, and of course this time I didn’t recognize her- it’s kind of disconcerting to meet someone you actually know in the middle of nowhere- let alone twice! At the end we went into the kiosk for food and drink and waited for the final 2 runners, then it was over. A quick trip back to camp and then to the pub! Several schooners later we went to pick up our race packs for the marathon on Sunday and then off to dinner at the camp ground courtesy of Dominos delivery…. And yes, once again the campground looked like a bunch of alcoholic unsupervised teenagers had taken up residence.
Random meeting with Kay Haarsma
So how was the experience? I learned a lot. It was bloody freezing every night, and a couple of times I did not tighten the valve on my Thermarest enough, so I’d wake up in the middle of the night cold, uncomfortable and with my bum on the ground. I learned that I can do without things, even FaceBook. I learned that running by yourself can be very Zen.
No shit Sherlock
8558m of climbing on the trail
97m of climbing on the marathon
282.4km total for the week
74.1kg, 8.9% body fat
One day after run
73.6kg, 7.3% body fat
Two days after run
73.0kg, 6.8% body fat
Three days after run
72.6kg, 7% body fat
Yes, there was a sting in the tail- some lovely person discovered that the day we were meant to leave was the Alice Springs Running Festival, so most of us did the marathon before hopping on a plane home. Story here
We rose at about 5am for the 6:30am start of the marathon. Breakfast and coffee and we all bundled into the cars for the short trip to Lasseters Casino which is the start/ finish. We set off while it was still dark, and the whole field (about 50 of us) started slowly drifting apart in the first few km. Of course I started to feel the need for a wee, and because I had read the briefing document I knew there was a toilet around the 6km mark. Unfortunately the drink stop people at 6km didn’t know where this might be- luckily it was just around the corner, a little sign directing us into someone’s front yard to use the dunny attached to their laundry……er thanks.
After 240km of running in the past 6 days, I was a bit worried about my ability to back up for another 42.2km in a decent time, so I’d pretty much decided to just beat the cutoff which was 5 hours, and with a vague target of 4:30. I set out at a pace I felt was comfortable and managed some fairly consistent 5:40 ish km. Of course pretty soon I wondered if I could keep this up for the half and go under 2 hours before fading. Turns out this was not too hard, I hit the half in 1:58. The next challenge was how long to keep this up for? I’d decided that I’d be happy with 4:30 meaning I could relax by about 25% and still make my target, but as the km started disappearing I wasn’t slowing down much, getting to about 6:06/km.
I figured if I was within a few seconds of a 4 hour finish by the time I hit 36km, I would pump out a few quick ones to go under that mark. This was also a bit stupid, because I have the Great North Walk 100s coming up in a couple of weeks and can’t really afford to kill myself chasing a time. Oh well, it wasn’t to be- I was pretty sure Jane Trumper would come breezing past me, and sure enough she did at around 37km. I was happy to have held her off for that long and watched her move off into the distance, and she’d mentioned that she was running 3rd female and could podium if she kept going. Well of course she was going to keep going!
I caught a couple of guys who were flagging badly in the last few km and encouraged them to come with me. Neither could, but strangely this gave me a big boost and I started putting on a bit of a dash- my final km of 5:16 means I probably could have gone under 4 hours for the marathon, however I’m still very happy with the result of 4:04:56.
Janet and Garry got us to the airport and I raced off to the Qantas Club for a shower and some food, (I hope they didn’t count how many rum & cokes I had) and we had our hugs and got on the plane for the ride home.
As it happened, Jess Baker and Meredith Quinlan were on our flight too- they’d just finished running the Larapinta Trail as well and had gone 21 minutes under the record for a time of 59 hours something. Which just goes to prove that no matter how crazy you are, there’s always someone crazier.
I’ve been trying to figure out what might be wrong with me for a while (no, not mentally). Whenever I run up a hill, there comes a point at which my whole body gives up and I start gasping and heaving. Yeah, OK smartarse, you think this is normal- but I’m famous within the club for sounding like a freight train when running. Do you know 100 people who can tell when you’re behind them just from the sound of your desperate breaths? I do.
I’ve spoken to coaches, doctors etc and nobody could tell me why I suffer so much when compared to others in my age, weight and fitness range. The problem is that most people think you’re either unfit or simply whinging and looking for a quick fix. Almost nobody accepts that there is a real problem, and no one takes it seriously…….
Then one night I got to the top of a hill, and while I was begging the oxygen Gods to gift me with gas a voice behind me said ‘I used to be like that!’
A couple of hundred metres later (when I could talk again) I was speaking with a new club member, who told me that she had suffered with breathing issues and had been prescribed Seretide for her lungs, and now she had ‘Olympic lungs!’. Sure enough, she’s a great runner. And maybe, just maybe I had an answer to that question that had been bugging me for 4 years.
Decision time. I had to sit down and ask myself
1. Do you want this? You may have to take it every day forever
2. Do you want it because it will help you to run faster?
3. Or do you want it so you can be normal?
Truly I wasn’t convinced that I wanted it, but I knew the answer to the other questions. I’ve not had a bad asthma attack since I was a teenager but I do get EIA- exercise induced asthma, and anything to control that would be a good thing. Do I want it because I want to be the next Lance Armstrong? Nope- I don’t have much competitive drive in running. I do it because of the people, not to win. I WOULD like to be the best I can be without drugs, but I’d also like to be normal. Have a normal VO2 Max, normal lung function, I don’t need or want to compete with the big boys.
I can run ok on the flat, I’m also ok on downhill. I’ve worked my arse off (literally) to get the fitness I currently have, but the big hole in my ability is in climbing hills. It would be so nice to make the top of a hill without thinking I’m going to bust a valve…….
So I went to a local medical centre, spoke to whoever was on duty, and she flat out refused to even consider giving me the drug. Why? Well, I managed to get fit without dying, and Ventolin adequately controls my EIA so I’m shit outta luck. She described to me the 4 stages of asthma control- Ventolin is stage 1 and Seretide is stage 3, so I needed to be a lot more needy to qualify.
Interestingly she did not give me a peak flow test, but I suppose that might be a bit redundant since I’m now reasonably fit. It’s kind of ironic that all this work I’ve done could somehow have disqualified me from getting a drug that would help!
Now I could ‘game the system’ by getting a script online, but I’m content to let a health professional decide what I should and should not do. Maybe one day I will care enough to seek out a sports doctor to discuss, but right now the answer is going to stay ‘no’. Also I’m not keen to use my body as a pincushion like this cyclist.
But here’s the bottom line- I’m deeply happy that I seem to have found an answer to an old problem. In a lot of ways that’s nearly as good as being prescribed the cure. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a steroid drug for the rest of my life, so I don’t have to make that decision.
It would have been nice to find out if that truly was the answer, but for now I will try to figure out if it’s better to train without Ventolin and race with it, or if I should both train and race with it. If you know please tell me!
UPDATE- After posting this on FaceBook, I had a bunch of responses that added a lot more information and perhaps will allow me to express myself a bit better. Here’s a summary (names removed)-
– I didn’t express this very well. I haven’t had a genuine (non EIA) asthma attack for years, but I was a very sick child. I probably would not have survived childhood if not for Ventolin. I’ve been training without Ventolin and would have a few puffs before a race to stop the tightness in my chest. The doctor who advised against Seretide suggested I should use Ventolin whenever I like and definitely use it during training. I have had it before a couple of training runs but it seems to be losing its effectiveness, or perhaps I am becoming habituated to it, which I really don’t want. When I was a kid using the powdered version I would get immediate relief, not so much now- are the dosages smaller than 30 years ago? Don’t know. Last night I forgot to have Ventolin before a pretty tough session and I was gasping all over the place, it was quite ugly- I was definitely WORSE than normal, but it was quite cold so that could have contributed. So in summary I have more work to do- I need to find out the best way to mange what is happening. I don’t qualify for Seretide which is fine, but managing what is happening with the Ventolin is not working well.
Bottom line- I’m not managing my symptoms very well, and need to develop a better plan
Comments from others- There are a lot more people with asthma than I might have guessed, it was great to get some feedback from them. One brave soul admitted that climbing hills might not have been an asthma problem but an anxiety issue which perhaps could be addressed with cognitive therapy. Very interesting.
A couple of people described the feeling that I have been getting and absolutely nailed it. So it does look like I am finally getting closer to some answers- thank you contributors!
Two people suggested Buteyko therapy which is a training method for breathing said to help asthmatics. I doubt that I’ll be able to do this though because ‘Strictly nasal breathing during physical exercise is another key element of the Buteyko method’. The scientific evidence on this that there is no demonstrable benefit, however someone I very much respect said he had seen it work on someone with quite bad asthma, will investigate. The Wikipedia article also mentioned that this method is good for controlling anxiety and may reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks by reducing stress.
Of those that said they had been prescribed Seretide, almost all said that they did not take it as directed- the fact sheet for the drug says that it is a preventative and thus should be taken every day. And yet most users try not to use it this way because of the side effects of the steroid preparation.
I found it. The thing that makes even experienced runners give you the hairy eyeball. If I tell someone I’m helping out on a ridiculously long run, or that Jane Trumper is running the 2200km Pilgrim Trail I get adventure eyes, and looks of wistfulness if not envy. People are incredibly supportive.
But the moment you say ‘I’m going to run around an athletics track in Rooty Hill for 24 hours’ the ONLY reaction you get is
Why the hell would you do that?
Won’t you get bored?
Is this some sort of Chinese water torture?
Did you lose a bet?
You have an appointment at the loony bin the next day?
See- Notice all the NORMAL people?
So why do it? Well, the big plan is to qualify for Coast to Kosciouzko in December, and the qualification standards are as follows (from last year)
First-time C2K Runners and Previously Unsuccessful C2K Runners:
Completion of two ultramarathons in 2012/2013, of which one is to be completed 2013.
Primary qualifying race must be of at least 100 miles (161 km) for trail courses or 180km within 24 Hours for track or road circuits.
Secondary qualifying race must be of at least 100 km.
My best chance for making these quals would be to use TNF100 which I’ve done 4 years running and an ‘easy’ 100 miler. There being no such thing as an easy 100 miler, I could do Glasshouse. Problem- Glasshouse is on the same weekend as the Great North Walk 100s, and GNW100 is the only race I’ve DNF’d.
I NEED to get back and finish that race, so taking the ‘easy’ option can’t happen. At least this year.
Soooo, what’s that bit about a track or road circuit? 180km in 24 hours? Oh dear……. and it’s only 4 weeks after The North Face 100.
‘Luckily’ (is this lucky?) I’d had pretty bad cramps at TNF so I hadn’t run too hard, but I could still feel the race in my legs on my last long run. Really lucky was the fact that that Andy DuBois had agreed to take me on as a client (patient?) and he has forgotten more about running than I will ever know. I think he may have blanched a bit (OK a lot) when I said I needed to run 180km in 24 hours only a month after TNF100.
Nevertheless, he knows his stuff, and said ‘well, do you think you can run 100km in 12 hours and then 80km in the last 12 hours?’
To which I replied ‘yeah, cool, no worries’ which means ‘probably not’. The only performances I could compare were 2013 Poor Mans Comrades and Narrabeen All Nighter from January 2014, where my times for 100km would have been apx 13-14 hours and I wanted to die at the end. Do another 80km after that? Sure, no problem!
Andy developed a strategy of
0-12 hours run 55 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Average pace needed 21 laps per hour
12-24 hours run 45 minutes, walk 15 minutes. Average pace needed 17 laps per hour
on the 400m track.
So, now I had a strategy, how did I force my body into submission? I’ll explain that with a drawing-
Caffeine, I think I love you
Let’s look at a few benefits of this type of running-
– Food and drink every 400m
– Toilets every 400m
– No hills
– The best distance for effort you’ll ever get
And the downsides
– Can’t urinate wherever you want (male trail runners specifically)
– Scenery can be a bit ‘samey’. OK, a lot.
Annabel Hepworth carving it up
But I went there to do a job, and I was never truly bored- do you get bored of breathing?
We walked over to the start line, had a few quiet moments of reflection and Martin Fryer (the Race Director) gave a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we were off.
I started slow and got slower, over the course of the first few hours I figured out that a running lap was under 3 minutes and a walking lap was under 4 minutes, meaning that I would only lose a minute or so if I had to walk for a while.
I knew that the hardest bit of the race was going to be from 7-8 hours until the 12 hour mark when I was able to slow down a bit.
Adam Brick and Jade. 2 of these people got on the Podium, and one was a very happy but sore old man. Congratulations guys!
Hour 1 was a bit hard, it takes a while to warm up. Hour 2 spent a bit of time thinking that I was feeling better, hour 3 wondering how long I could put off having some delicious Coca Cola that Gordon (bless him) had put on the table. Hour 5 I started to think I was going to be able to make the 25% time mark without dying and hour 6 just trying to punch out those laps. Here comes the tough bit (or so I thought), I’m keeping an eye on the lap board- I’d started in the middle of the pack which put me in the second column of the results, but as time went on I gained a couple of places and went into the first column. This made me happy because I got my results a bit quicker, here’s how it goes-
On the hour, the timing people print out the current placings and send someone over to update the board. They re arrange the names so the placings are correct then update the number of laps done by each runner. Being in the first column of the results board meant that I got those figures within about 2-3 laps of the hour ticking over. Oh yeah, it also meant that I was in a top 10 placing, which spun me out a bit.
Annabel STILL carving it up
I’d pretty much made 21 laps or better each hour and was comfortably up on my target. I knew that I’d need some of those spare laps at some time so I was pretty happy. I also knew that going from 5 minutes of rest every hour to 15 all in one block was not going to suit me at all- I was having a real slump around the half hour mark of every hour. So I mentally decided to modify Andy’s plan and split my 15 minute break up like this-
Run 25 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 20 minutes, walk 10 minutes. Which translates to- run until 25 past the hour, walk until half past, run until 10 minutes to the next hour, walk until the hour ticks over……
This gave me time to eat, drink and visit the toilet. But where was I? Hour 8- I promised myself that I’d have a coffee at hour 11, just to make sure I blasted my target before I got to rest. At hour 10 I needed a toilet stop and an official came out to ask if I had left the track. I said I had been to the toilet, but the next hour my lap total seemed to be down by about 3 laps. I didn’t really have time to yell out ‘My lap shouldn’t have been more than about 5:40 cos I only had a quick slash’. An hour later I was back on track but not sure if I was running faster or I’d had some laps credited back. By the time I got to hour 11 I’d pre loaded with a few cups of Coke and when Gordon delivered a lovely strong coffee I was ready to fly! That coffee grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and I punched out a couple of 23 lap hours. Coming in to hour 13 I was still feeling good, and decided to keep going on the 0-12 hour strategy for as long as possible in the hope of making up a few extra bonus laps. Needless to say this didn’t last long but I was still about 7 laps up and was starting to think I might actually make my target. By now I’d developed a habit where on my walking laps at 50 minutes into each hour I would stop and have a salt tablet, a perpetuem solid, a swig of sports gel and wash it down with lemonade or coke. Then a swig of gel and a drink on my next walking lap at 25 past the hour. I also made a few extra laps (or was that in my mind?) by convincing myself to keep running when passing the clock if it hadn’t quite got to my walking time yet……
Cunningly, it looks like I am running here….
In a few more hours I’d gone from skipping up the track singing ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ to merely grunting when other runners greeted me. But- I’d kept grinding out the necessary laps. As you may know, I’m not very competitive, so it totally gave me the sh!ts to have to push for such a long time. But it was working……
I was able to give much more than I thought I had to give, and by 4am I’d started making more bonus laps- a 354 lap target was a nice fat 369 actual. I put on the required 17 laps to make 384 by 5am, and at 6am turned over a century to have 401. I stopped having so much caffeine because I was worried about my sanity, and I couldn’t shake the thought that if I kept it up I’d be covered in medics at the end of the race. This of course made me slower, and I calculated that I could walk the rest of the way. After a few pathetic attempts at running, I did. I spent my newly relaxed time recalculating how long it would take me to finish. I knew I couldn’t walk off the course at 450 laps, but I needed at least one more in case there was a muck up in the calculations. Obviously it would be ideal to pump out the laps until the finish sounded but I knew this wouldn’t be possible.
Adam asking Cassie Smith for some tips
When I realised I was going to finish an hour before the cut I got a bit emotional. I’d had a lot of trouble counting my laps during the race, relying on the updates every hour but when I got down to the last 35 laps I had extra motivation to make the count, and make them count!
As we got closer to zero I asked Gordon to help me with the count, we held up fingers to each other (in a nice way) as I passed each time, and on the last one I went out for ‘just one more’. I’d done my 450 laps in 22:58. I followed the white line around for my 451st lap, hit the finish line and signalled to the timing people that I was retiring at 23:03.
Go forth and conquer? Well, in that last hour where I left there track I’d slipped from 7th to 9th place, but I still felt like a champion, having make my target and with time to spare. It did seem quite surreal.
Gordon gave me a big sweaty hug and congratulations and I hid my leaking eyes by requiring help to sit down. A short time later we all decided to pack away and not wait for the official end, everyone was tired and I couldn’t see myself pretending to be normal for much longer- I was sure someone would ask a medic to take me out the back and shoot me.
Sure enough, I could not stand up, and needed 2 blokes to carry me to the car, possibly not my finest hour. I’ve never needed to be carried from the playing field before. I would have been completely screwed if I had tried to pack away myself, I’d probably still be there. While I sat in the car waiting, I could hear the countdown to the end as everyone left in the stadium yelled ’10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…….’ and it was over.
I’d been in 7th place when I quit, only a few laps up on the next guy, but I also knew that Annabel Hepworth could beat me if she just stayed out there…… which she did.
Let’s face it, the fact that I was in front at the 23 hour mark was an illusion. Annabel is a much tougher character, a much faster and consistent runner and I should have been chasing her- however many of the key people who should have eaten up this race had problems. I’d been planning on holding on to Cassie Smith because her 2012 total was 182km, but she had a tough day too. At times I variously saw Jade Crim and Kurt Topper in the gazebo fixing their ills.
This is definitely an event that rewards good running form. Gordon snapped a good photo of me swinging my left foot out as I put it down. You’re going to have a problem if you do that 90,000 times in 24 hours- and so it transpired. It seems to have caused a problem with my ITB bursa. A few times I was reminded to loosen up my shoulders, and it’s true- I do slouch badly when I run. Subsequent injury and a visit to Jason Wheeler showed that I am extremely lucky to do an event like that and not suffer more because of my poor running form.
We also saw history being made out there- Robert Knowles ran BAREFOOT and made over 212km- a new (yet to be ratified) world record!
A note about the volunteers (and the food). Everyone was really helpful, volllies- just in case you don’t already know- you’re enthusiasm really did make a difference. When you yelled encouragement, jumped up and down and waved, it made me stand a bit straighter and go a bit faster, thank you. And while I didn’t get to sample much of the food, what I did have was great. I had seconds of the mashed potato and it was brilliant. The pasta was great too and it looked like someone was cooking up a storm. Excellent.
Browsing the AURA records page, I found that Cliff Young (yes THAT Cliffy) had done this race 10 times, with a best of 235km. Obviously no slouch……
So what else went wrong? This might sound a bit silly since I did so well, but there’s always room for improvement. And if someone (NOT ME) wanted to do this event again, perhaps these things could help. I should have had a better plan for nutrition. I went to the race without a real plan. I had about 6-7 flasks of gel and RAN OUT. I should always buy the expensive lollies because the cheap ones are too hard and difficult to chew. Should have planned my caffeine intake a little more carefully. I also would have run SLOWER- knowing now that I can make the distance, I could have eased off a bit and hopefully gone until the final siren. I am a little bit disappointed that I could not rack up a few more laps, simply because I’d spent everything I had in the first 23 hours. I should have had a bigger container to mix up sports drink, and smaller containers to run with. There’s no reason to have a drink bottle more than 300-350ml because you only have 1x400m lap to drink it. I probably should have planned my food a bit better, eating real food seemed to have a positive effect on my performance.
Massive thanks to the unbeatable crew of Gordon Plunkett and Sarah Jane Marshall. They went above and beyond in keeping us all going- and by all I mean they helped everyone- even the strays I dragged into our gazebo. Outstanding effort and I would not have been able to succeed without your amazing help.
Fashion Sense. I lost mine somewhere…..
But the thing I’m probably most proud of is something that happened after the race- in one of the Facebook posts Martin Fryer actually called me a ‘warrior’. Thanks Martin, that one word will live with me forever, coming from such a legend it really makes my skin tingle.
By the way, did you know that walking 100 miles in less than 24 hours is a thing? If you can do that, you can call yourself a Centurion.
If you’d like to have a look at a short video of the race, and a really great race report by the race director, and also the results– still provisional at this stage. Interestingly it is this race that Yiannis Kouros still holds a world record for- have a look at the 1997 race here, and check out his first marathon time…….
I seem to have moved into this shadowy world where a 100km run is considered ‘middle distance’. It’s inhabited by strange people who say things like this about doing the Beer Mile ‘It is a really fun event I should send you through the details and you can run your own…..I vomit every time…!!!’
But luckily they aren’t all completely crazy- I also read this ‘I lied down in the shower on Sunday night with a bottle of wine.’ Now that would be bliss!
So would I do it again? Don’t know- 24 hours is a long time, but the people were fantastic, the weather was kind, the crew were amazing. Perhaps my memories are clouded by the fact that I had a blinder, but when another competitor private messaged me the next day and said ‘how about 500 laps next year? 200km sounds like a good target, doesn’t it?’
My first reaction was to lose my lunch- but somewhere in there I thought ‘maybe she’s right, maybe I could’. Maybe…..
*Most if not all of the photos here are courtesy of Gordon Plunkett, they’re great aren’t they? If I have accidentally used one of yours and you would like it removed or credited please let me know via the contact page, thank you.