UTMB Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc 2017 Russell Evans

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Sooooo,

UTMB 2017, the loop again, where to start?

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

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

 

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

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

I knew what had to be done.

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

 

AND

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

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

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

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

Beginners guide to surviving Chamonix before UTMB:

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Questions and answers

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

Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat

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

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

Mon: Nothing

Tue: (morn) Strength (night) Tempo run

Wed: (Morn) Stairs

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

Fri: Nothing

Sat: Long run

Sun: recovery run

 

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

 

What would I change?

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Vale Esteban

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I lost a good friend over the long weekend- Monday 2nd October 2017. It sounds terrible to follow that by saying that I hadn’t seen him in over 15 years, but nevertheless he was a good friend.

Was he a guy who could bail me out any time of the day or night? Maybe If I’d had his contact details (I didn’t), but lately it seemed more likely I’d have to bail him out…… although to be honest he appeared to have his life back on track, a plan for the future- and while I was hassling to get him to lunch with me, I wasn’t trying too hard as it seemed we had all the time in the world. Wrong again.

So how do I rate the ‘goodness’ of the friendship? Mostly by the ease with which we fell back into conversations after such a huge break. I don’t need someone to say ‘got your back’ to be a good friend, in the end you just know.

I really looked up to Esteban, he was smarter than me, more creative, more interesting, kinder and more compassionate. I have a number of male friends who never seem to age, and he was one. But you just couldn’t be jealous as he was just so chill about everything.

He also worked incredibly hard, and one day after being friends for many years I found out why. That ‘why’ seems to have finally killed him.

None of us are perfect, and I have plenty of flaws. Este didn’t appear to have many, but I guess sometimes one is enough to fuck you up good.

I have no idea what type of music he liked, but we met at a dance party. So I hope he’ll forgive me for my choice despite the lack of doof.
Rest in peace my friend.

 

UTMB 100 Miles 2017 Bruce Craven -Guest Post

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

Gear / nutrition / suggestions?

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Badwater 135 Miles 2017

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Contains many words, some of them a bit sweary. Grabbing success from the bits left over from my mistakes…….

Firstly, I have a lot of people to thank- while I may be the one wearing out shoes, there’s no way this would have been possible without these people-

  • Mum & Dad- they had no idea why I wanted to do this, but supported me anyway
  • Wife & Son- Sarah understands, doesn’t particularly like it, and supports me anyway. Is this a pattern?
  • Mile 27 & Andy DuBois- He’s managed to get a grumpy old bugger across the line of some epic runs. I don’t know how he does it, but I’m impressed
  • WTFitness & Dominic Cadden- Dom has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about strength training. He’s quietly spoken and has a will of steel- great guy to have on your side
  • Jen Carman-Chart & Enliven Fitness– Massage- who felt my calves and said ‘er, how long have we got?’
  • Chris Kostman- I would not have been financially able to do the other races in your stable, and thanks for recognising that normal runners should get a chance….
  • Lauren Dustin & Sarah C Smith who both helped with US arrangements
  • My crew Damon Roberts, Neill Webb and Jon Luff who all gave up their time and sacrificed a lot to help me realise a dream. Thank you a million times over, then a million more

Super Crew- often a bit blurry

Although I was the only Aussie living in Australia who ran this year (Grant Maughan seems to lead an adventurers life- never sure where he is although it’s usually somewhere on the edge of sanity), I am far from the only Aussie who has done this race. Have a look at these names- I want to acknowledge the amazing people who stepped into the unknown and tackled this race in years gone by, what a list!

Ian Adamson
Jonathan Blake
Adam Connor
David Eadie
Dave Graham
Susannah Harvey-Jamieson
Jan Herrmann
Glenn Lockwood
Kelvin Marshall
Brendan Mason
Grant Maughan
Pam Muston
Ross Parker
Jason Rita
Jim Schroeder
Sandy Suckling
Mick Thwaites
Catherine Todd
Sam Weir
Nikki Wynd

I’m proud to say that I’ve met many of the people on this list and even prouder to be on it. So that makes me the 19th Australian to finish (there is a DNF on that list- pity we are 1 off a perfect finishing record!)
Will you be number 20?
BTW- there is no order to the list- that’s how it came out of the database.

Shaggin’ Wagon. Soon renamed to ‘Fartmobile’

Now on to the race-

Badwater Basin to Furnace Creek- 17 miles

It’s raining. How the fuck can it be raining? It’s like 40 degrees and we’re in the middle of the freaking desert. It CAN’T rain. I’ve been gleefully telling people for months that I chose one of the only races on earth where I didn’t have to take wet weather gear…..

Luckily it’s only a few spots, but unluckily isn’t actually wet enough to take any of the sting out of the heat. It’s 8:30pm at night and hot as balls, maybe 40 degrees . There’s about 30 people in my wave (the middle wave) and most of them have taken off like they’ve got somewhere they’d rather be. I’m trying to keep my heart rate down, knowing that the start of the race is likely to make it spike, but no speed decrease is making my heart go under 152bpm. I’ll just have to ignore it and let it fix itself.

I’m running Badwater baby! It’s one of those races you think is just dumb when you first hear about it. Many people never get beyond that, but I was lucky enough to crew last year, so I’ve made the transition to ‘maybe I could do this….’ and then subsequently finished with ‘hell yes, let’s do this!’

Simply getting in to the race is a big thing, and I was super lucky to make it on my first attempt. I trained my arse off to make the race easier to cope with, and to be truthful I was pretty relaxed about the race as the start time got closer and closer. Perhaps relaxed is an understatement- I made so many rookie mistakes it’s a wonder I got far off the start line. I’d hate to put down my success to luck, but I’ll take anything when the chips are down. The only unknown factor is the heat, and I’d done as much as I could to mitigate that (er, apart from actually acclimatising. The science calls for 4 weeks of heat acclimatisation in a sauna, I got 2.5 weeks. Another stamp of ‘can do better’. But back to the start….

Neil, Furnace Creek, the day of the race….

After 16km the rain had stopped and been replaced with a vicious wind that changed direction at will. We were being pushed around like a fan forced rotisserie with the added benefit of a bit of sandblasting. First and second challenge for the crew- we both had different ideas about how to prepare the ice filled Buffs, and had not sorted this out before the race- they had to change on the run. Then I asked for my sunglasses with clear lenses to combat the sand. And at 16km a magical thing happened- I finally started feeling like a runner again. I’d had a long taper and been unable to fit even short runs in before the race, it was nice to get some flow back into my legs. I started passing people, having a little chat as I went past- Joel Livesy the type 1 diabetic, Keith Straw the guy who runs in a pink tutu, the German couple who decided they wanted to be known as Swiss. Constantly wondering if I should be slowing down, but knowing that it would be pointless. I wasn’t spending much energy running, to slow down would cost me more.

The first turn is at Furnace Creek, approximately 17 miles where I had a short chat to Bulgaria (Krasimir Nicolaev Gueorgiev) – lovely bloke who I later tried to friend on FaceBook, but FB told me he already has 5000 friends!

Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells 25 miles Total 42 miles

The next big goal is Stovepipe Wells at 42 miles, so we settled in to kill some distance. I kept on reeling in people in front, so much so that I was worried I was eating into the people in the wave before me.

This turned out to be true as I said a few words to a guy I was passing and it turned out to be MARSHALL ULRICH. Holy shit I got to meet him in the middle of the desert with no one around and shook his hand! I could have peed myself I was so excited, but then I’d have to report the colour of my pee, so perhaps not in front of such a legend.
I was massively upset to hear that he had retired at Panamint Springs but he had stated that he just wanted to be anonymous during this race, so I guess he had a lot on his mind. I can’t even imagine the pressure you’d have on yourself after starting this race for the 20th time. I also caught Catra Corbett during the early twilight- you should follow her, she has an interesting life. Before the race I’d decided if I had any competitive spirit I’d try to beat Catra because we appeared to be around the same pace. I don’t know who I’m kidding- I don’t have any competitive spirit, but hey after a while it’s all mind games right?And around dawn I spent a bit of time with Amy Stratton Costa and Bulgaria, but they were pushing a bit hard for me so I let them go.

Yeah though we walk through the Valley of Death, we will fear no mans gas

I found this race odd for one reason- no one talks to each other! I was trying to pump Keith for some tips but he was very conscious of the rule that we are meant to run single file. I kept having to fight my natural inclination to slow down beside him or speed up to chat. I’m sure this is a National Parks rule but it does stifle the conversation somewhat. I wonder if others were unwilling to chat because of this but I didn’t find the race as ‘friendly’ as expected. Or perhaps I’m just expecting too much of my fellow runners- or maybe I’m an incorrigible chatterbox. Oh, yes I am!
*edit- I didn’t mean this to sound like people were rude- they definitely weren’t! I had added some Facebook people who were doing and crewing the race but didn’t get to chat to any of them, it is just one of those weird observations.

As mentioned I made loads of mistakes in this race and in some ways it’s a miracle that I made the end, but none of the mistakes were earth shattering, and mostly not worth correcting- but I’m going to write this report as though you want to do the race, and not make the mistakes that I did. Here’s a few-

I hate carrying a bottle, it makes me feel uneven and slows me down, but my thirst was ferocious- for the first 6 hours or so I was drinking a 600ml bottle of Staminade (with ice) every 2 miles- that’s 3.2km. Then I was drinking that 600ml bottle AND a 250ml bottle of iced water over the same distance. Because of the ice content I wasn’t really drinking 850ml of fluid every 30 minutes but it wouldn’t have been far off. Because I hate running with a bottle I was coming up to the car and drinking the whole thing essentially in one go. But I had to stop to do this, which meant that other runners would get past. I tried to walk with the bottle and drink quickly, but under the rules my ‘bottle supplier’ isn’t meant to be pacing me until the 42 mile mark. This meant that my crew were very nervous about following me or walking with me to take the empty bottles, even though I feel the rules do cover this action. This meant that I was generally stationary while fuelling up and I think overall this could have made a difference of at least 30 minutes. This is NOT a criticism of my crew- if anything it’s something I should have sorted out. I am still super happy with the way things worked out, but if you were doing the race, you might do it differently.

I also failed to get my race nutrition right. I often tell people that I eat cheap muesli bars and party mix lollies during ultra marathons, but I also supplement with Accelerade and Perpetuem. Unfortunately I didn’t have either for my trip as I was concentrating on other things, which was very dumb. I was lucky I had the Staminade in the cupboard and that started my race off nicely. But it only makes 9 litres so I polished it off pretty quickly. My appetite for real food was quite poor during this race so I should have planned to have most of my calories from liquid. After the Staminade was gone we moved on to Orange/ Vanilla flavoured Perpetuem- it’s as odd tasting as it sounds. I’d supplement that with a BCAA mix that also tasted odd, and seemed to give me the most ferocious wet farts you’ve ever encountered. This was ok for about 15 hours, and kind of funny, but after that they turned noxious and seemed to follow me like a black cloud coming up the mountain- deadly to wildlife and small children. And perhaps crew. If there had been any vegetation you could have seen it turn black after I passed….

I hadn’t been past this point yet. You can tell because the vegetation isn’t black

Tiredness and sleep- I failed here too. It’s relatively easy to go from Aus to USA and deal with the ~18 hour time difference. But I hadn’t told my crew about how I NEED around 10 hours of sleep per night. I seemed to be dealing pretty well with 7-8 hours and the attendant hangovers from being in Vegas. But one day I got back to my room at 3:46am and had the vague thought that I’d really better sleep a bit more, but by then it was getting a bit close to the race. It’s really obvious from the photos and video taken outside Furnace Creek how tired I was. I can’t overstate how dumb this was and how much it affected me during the race. In Coast to Kosci I’ve never needed more than 1x 15 minute nap each race. This race I had at least 3-4 naps longer than that, and I’d estimate maybe 2-3 hours in total asleep. Was I subconsciously trying to sabotage myself? Well it worked, I could have easily gone under 40 hours if I hadn’t needed that sleep.

On the other hand (and you’ll hear this a lot) my primary goal was to get to the end- ‘whatever it takes’ so having a sleep was ok as long as it got me going again. I slept way too much during this race. Another factor was that I’d only discovered about 6 weeks before the race that I only have one kidney. I refused to get any direct advice from a specialist about the race in case they told me not to do it, but it seems reasonable in a race where the temperature goes from 32-52 degrees, there will be a fair strain on your kidney. It also meant I could not touch any NSAIDS- no Ibuprofen, nothing. This meant that I had to ALWAYS err on the side of caution and keep my promise to Sarah to come home healthy. Every little thing that came up in the race simply made me go slower. Frustrating, but to finish first, first you have to finish. Er, I’ll never finish first!

Just before sunrise I noticed that I seemed to have a rash coming up on my legs. The only explanation was the radiant heat from the tarmac. I had not put on suncream because it was night, but I guess night had other ideas. I stopped to put on my calf guards and we sprayed the gap between them and my shorts with SPF50 and hoped it wouldn’t get worse. It did.

OK so we got to Stovepipe Wells and this is the first point in the race where you can have pacers. We had briefly discussed the pacing strategy and I’d told the guys I wasn’t worried and to work it out themselves. There was a significant queue for the petrol pumps here so they sent me on my way with a bottle and waited to fill up. Another mistake- If I’d been more awake I would have asked them to have someone come with me, and leave when the car caught up. Again, not a big deal but it cost me a bit of running time while I was still capable. The boys had apparently decided to start pacing around the 100km mark until the end, giving the 2 runners on the crew around 50km of pacing each. That’s a nice do-able amount and I think they made the right call.

Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs 30.7 miles Total 72.7 miles

The next section out of Stovepipe is a big climb out of Death Valley into Panamint Valley. Somewhere around there I’ll make 62 miles and my first 100km. The plan for the race was pretty simple- don’t go under 14 hours for the first 100km, don’t go over 40 hours for the entire 217km. It’s morning now, but not too hot because we are climbing, the tough bit is going to be descending into the Panamint Valley with the full sun.

yes that says 53 degrees. I’ll post the one that says 59c if I find it- just for laughs, I know it isn’t right…..

And so it turns out- running a mild downhill should be an easy, low energy stroll but the sun is vicious and unrelenting. We’ve got a device that shows the temperature Gaffa taped to the wing mirror and it shows up to 59 degrees celsius- it stops working at 60. That’s obviously not correct- the highest temperature ever recorded on earth was about 56 degrees in the valley we just left, but it means I can’t do anything but walk the downhill when I should be able to run. I lost a lot of places here to people who seemed to be able to glide down the hill, just like I couldn’t. Oh, and I needed to occasionally duck into the van when I overheat. I really feel like I’m risking heatstroke here, so I get extra careful. Then suddenly near the valley floor I need to poo, so the guys make a mad scramble for the Biffy Bags.

You’re required to carry 2 Biffy Bags per crew member, but they had a special offer on lots of 10. I’d never seen anyone use one before, and you guessed it- had not read the instructions. So I’m sure it was highly comical watching me drop my daks in the middle of the desert and try to hold up this ridiculous bag, then squat and poo, all the while wondering if I’d be able to get out of the squat because my legs hurt. Anyway, moving on- let me just say the Biffy Bags are a really good design- they include toilet paper, antibac hand wash, stuff to treat the waste and a heavy bag to contain it all. Neill gave me an extra dose of hand wash and I deposited the nuclear waste bag in the van with a deep ‘thunk’ sound. Lucky boys, they get to drive the next few hours with that in the van.

The long, long road to Panamint Springs

Unfortunately dropping about 5 kg did not help my running and I was holding on to the hope that once things flattened out in the valley I might be able to run again. Well that was a highly optimistic and not very smart thought. I have lots of those. It was brutally hot in the valley, and while I could see Panamint through the heat haze, it just didn’t seem to get any closer.

Sometime along here I saw my first 100km come up, and at almost exactly 15 hours I still felt I was on track despite all of the dumb things I’d done.

Panamint from the other direction- just after Father Crowley

Panamint Springs is a deeply odd place. It’s like someone can’t stop themselves from buying discounted building materials on eBay, and the place is basically a collection of unfinished sheds. This year however there was the addition of a massive marquee that didn’t seem to fit any purpose. However Badwater is a big deal for the 5 or 6 people who live in this deeply inhospitable place and they make a big effort to help out- thank you!

I was feeling tired again and the crew seemed to be having the usual problems of a huge queue of cars trying to get supplies so they agreed to let me have a sleep. they took me to the medical room and I was assigned the upper bunk- unfortunately I didn’t have the presence of mind to take off my sun gear and the next thing I knew I was trying to rip my shirt and arm sleeves off as I was lying next to the stifling hot ceiling trying to breathe. Sleep didn’t last long so I got up and sat with Marie Boyd, an Australian living in the areas who helps out each year fixing blisters etc. It’s great to hear an Australian accent!

I got a bit bored watching Marie slice and dice some poor blokes feet and kept looking at my watch wondering what was happening with my crew. What I didn’t know is that Panamint had run out of ice and their petrol bowsers were broken. This has sent them into a bit of a tailspin, wondering whether they should go back to Stovepipe to get more ice or push on. They were trying to keep this ‘disastrous’ information away from me but again I had made the mistake of not running through this before the race. If they had told me about the problem I would have said to push on- we can survive without ice but we cannot survive without water. They came to the same conclusion, bought as much cold water as they could, and we pushed on. Again, this cost us a lot of time because I had not prepared us for the problem. But again, my primary goal was to finish, and being careful about your supplies is a good thing- ultimately it helped me get there, so I’m cool with spending the time to do it. I’d be more organised if I ever got to have another go at this race. No Sarah, I didn’t just say that.

Sadly, we couldn’t get this lost puppy into the van

Panamint Springs to Lone Pine 50miles Total 122.7 miles

By now it was afternoon again and we were heading into the second night. I’d pretty much given up hope of a good time, although I had made good progress up to this point I just couldn’t push my body on any more than it was doing. In keeping with the prime directive I needed to do it easy and let shit happen around me. No pushing, no breaking down, no getting soft. That meant I was pretty much confined to walking. This section is an incredibly harsh lesson in mental anguish. You can sometimes see Mt Whitney and it doesn’t get any closer. You can sometimes see the lights of Lone Pine and it doesn’t get any closer. There’s very little to look forward to- even the biggest feature of this section- the town of Keeler- is like a bug bite on the arse of the universe. I made my 100 miles in 28 hours. That’s ok considering the incredible amount of time we had wasted, and I knew that the difference between surviving and getting a good time depended on me keeping my shit together and simply putting one foot in front of the other. I didn’t have any excuses for sobbing and rolling into a foetal position, I’d studied Mick Thwaites on video absolutely cranking his walking and demolishing his competition into a podium position. I had mentally prepared myself for this section and it still got the better of me. It just never ends.

BodyGlide- oh sweet relief

I suppose the thing that killed me a bit here was my Garmin. I’m really good at setting little targets and making them happen when I can do little bits of mental arithmetic based on what my Garmin says. I’d used this Fenix 3 previously for several long runs and it works well simply attaching a USB battery pack to the charging cable and charging the device a couple of times during the run. This time was different- even when the battery pack was connected, the Garmin charge would only go up by 1% every 30 minutes or so. I actually had the battery pack connected (and was holding it) for about 9 hours as it went from 9% to about 53%. Even swapping the battery pack did nothing. Eventually a crew member took it off me and I resigned myself to doing the rest of the race without data- a horrifying thought for me! I worked out later what must have been happening. I had been squirting water down my sleeves to keep my arms cool, and it looks as though a bit of water had seeped into the charging cable- evidenced by the rust accumulated at the connector.

This led to my next mistake- I’d been getting tired again and told the crew I would have a nap at Keeler. Then I managed to make the town of Keeler magically appear -as far as I can tell now, we were still about 20km away from the actual town! When I woke from my nap I was properly energised, but that all disappeared in the grey sunrise when the real town of Keeler appeared. Bugger.

We had also been warned about flash flooding in this area- in fact some runners who had chosen to stay in Lone Pine were worried about getting to the start line because of this issue- I think the road was washed out or at least impassable, but the local authorities got it open in plenty of time. The other unusual problem was that the unexpected water had created a heaven for little flying insects, which started to bite us before Keeler and well on the road towards Lone Pine. Annoying, but again I’d have to say Australia is worse for that kind of crap.

Ernie, our team mascot. And some bloke with a ridiculous hat

And of course it got hotter and hotter as the sun rose- and the roads go dead straight into the far distance. Again I should have been able to get up an easy shuffle, but my attempts during the night had been almost comical- I’d get about 100-150m before my heart rate went up too much and I’d have to walk again. This must have been incredibly frustrating for the crew (well it was for me!) but nothing else could be done. I was super fit and should have been able to do more, but it just wouldn’t work. With a little less at stake I may have been able to push through, but perhaps I would have blown up too? I’ll never know- this was my one shot at this race and I can only be happy about the way it went, second guessing myself now isn’t going to help.

Lone Pine couldn’t really be seen until you got to the end of a massive straight (one where we’d seen an actual real rattlesnake, but I was much more interested in why the bloody town was hiding from me). Finally crossing the bridge and turning into the main street I decided I needed to have another look at my burnt legs. The pus filled blisters were getting quite large now and I felt bad for anyone who may be in the firing line if one of them decided to blow, it could be like the head twisting scene from The Exorcist with gore everywhere. We stopped and the crew fixed me up with some safety pins holding Buffs over the exposed skin. It was nice not to be a pus filled time bomb, and people could safely walk beside me again. The boys found The Grill cafe and asked me if I wanted any breakfast, but I rudely shouted

‘NO, I WANT MY FUCKING BUCKLE’

Apologies for that, but I’m sure they’ll have the last laugh, because I think they got that on video….. Anyway, we passed the Dow Villa Motel checkpoint (not sure what happened in Lone Pine but I remember getting antsy because it was taking too long- if I’d known what was ahead I wouldn’t have been so keen to leave!) and then we headed up Whitney Portal Rd for a bit more torture…..

Lone Pine to Mt Whitney Portal 13 miles Total 135 miles

Going up the Portal Rd there’s several distinct environments. you start out in the baking sun, then move into various other areas of baking sun, with differences in vegetation and incline just to keep you on your toes. Did I mention the baking sun? I made the first 2-3 miles ok, but the sun got so hot I had to retreat to the car again. And promptly fell asleep. Five minutes later Damon said ‘you’ve had 5 minutes, do you need more?’
My reply was pretty rude, but boiled down to ‘yes I need more than 5 bloody minutes’ but I dutifully got out of the car and started shuffling again, and Catra Corbett turned up. I thought she’d be well ahead by now, but I was glad of the company even if she was trying to mow me down. It was like a snail race, everything happening in slow motion, until she brought out her secret weapon- her pacer had a speaker playing Skrillex. I had no answer to that and she drifted off the front, and I drifted back into the car. At that point I was happy to let her have the win, all of my competitiveness having buggered off hours ago.

Anyway, the next time I got out of the car, something had changed. I knew I was just being dumb continually getting into the car to cool down, I needed to find some way of making progress and keeping cool without stopping all the time. The answer turned out to be logical- getting my back sprayed with water. It kept me cool enough to stop me getting in the car constantly and allowed me to make painfully slow progress up the mighty big hill.

Yes- we came from down there!

And it was painful- I’d lost my Garmin to the battery Gods hours ago, and because my mind had fucked off as well, there was very little glue holding me to reality. I knew I was just making shit up as far as my progress went, but I couldn’t help it. I kept asking ‘how much further?’ which is exactly as annoying as you’d expect from a toddler. Except I was the toddler and my crew had been putting up with my tantrums and dirty nappies for over 40 hours. Still- there are times when the training kicks in. OK where Neil’s training kicked in- he remembered me asking to be always told the truth- ‘don’t simply make shit up if you think it’s what I want to hear’, so he jumped in the car, drove to the top and back down and told me to the nearest 50m how far I had to go. My mind went ‘I’m not even mad, that’s amazing’, and I trudged along even though the answer was not one that made me happy. Skip (a local friend) turned up in his monster truck, and I felt bad that I couldn’t put on a burst of speed and finish this thing.

Eventually we came to the trees and things started to look familiar- big picnic areas and parking spots. I still couldn’t see the shop, and I knew the finish was near the shop- then Marie Boyd came down the hill in a car and cheerfully told me ‘it’s not more than a kilometre from here’, and ‘there’s only a few nasty switchbacks to the end’

Well fuck, there goes my last piece of hope. It was totally the right thing to say, but it’s like finding a rat in your bar of chocolate. He’s alive, hungry, and wants you to die so he can eat your chocolate. I hate poles, but I soooo wanted some poles to help me up this last bastard set of curves (they are banned in this race). I’ve since spoken to people from home who cheerfully told me that they estimated my pace and realised they could attend a meeting or two before I finished. It’s true, empires rose and fell, glaciers spat out dinosaurs and solar systems experienced heat death while I swung my legs one way and then the other, occasionally leaning on my legs and groaning about my own lack of progress.

And there it was- I heard something say ‘runner coming’ (without a trace of irony) and a whole bunch of hikers got in my way, but I could see a finish line. I had a little think- ‘how do you feel?’ are you going to cry? And the answer came back- no, I just feel satisfied. This is the culmination of a long held dream, it’s been as epic as promised, I feel good, satisfied. Not emotional, not wanting to scream, just fulfilled, content.

And then I saw Alex running towards me, and I knew Sarah would be there too and I burst into tears. Every bit of numbness was washed away and the tears flowed freely. Until Sarah yelled ‘hurry up and finish the bloody race!’, so I wiped them down a bit and trudged to the finish with my amazing crew- running was out of the question.

One of the people in this photo was unexpected, and it isn’t me!

We all got in the finish photos and the buckle photos which is totally appropriate- to get to share the event with those 3 guys in particular was very special. I hope Damon gets in next year, and I hope the universe rewards all of them for the selfless job they have done for me. Crewing is a great experience if you have great crew members (and makes being the runner easier), and these guys got along like a oil refinery fire.

Sarah noticed the Buffs tied over my knees and asked to have a look, but I wouldn’t show her in case she went into nurse mode. I’m glad she didn’t push the issue, but I had to concede some ground when Neil looked me in the eye and said ‘we need to get medical attention for that’. So back at the Dow Villa I popped into the medical room as they were packing up and put on a blister show. Luckily they agreed with my wild guesses and told me I’d be fine. Because well, I’d kind of forgotten to get extra medical cover for the race.

Lone Pine beer and meat coma- so good

So how was it? I worked my arse off to get into, and get fit for ‘the worlds toughest footrace’- and in that context it wasn’t too bad. If I had unlocked a bit of pace in the middle section (which should have been possible) I wouldn’t have been ascending the final climb in the hottest part of the day- that should have had a knock on effect on my time. Badwater is a (slightly) shorter race with less vertical than Coast to Kosci, but the heat makes a big difference. Despite making huge mistakes and lots of them, I still managed to finish and by the last checkpoint I was 8 hours in front of the cut. Sadly 20 runners didn’t make it this year- there were 95 starters out of a possible field of 100, and 75 finishers. Speculation is that the unseemly amount of moisture in the air may have claimed a few scalps- it’s usually about 2% humidity and the rain made it over 28% humidity. This is discussed further here, seems the humidity did affect some runners quite badly. Truthfully I didn’t even notice as it’s been pretty wet in Sydney, but the amount of mucous I produced during that trip shouldn’t really be discussed- but I will. I have a new asthma medication which reduces the amount of snot, but it seemed to go into reverse as soon as we hit dry weather- I truly felt my head would collapse when some of those boogers came out.
If I was to do the race again I would spend less time on figuring out how to get cellphone reception in the desert and more time going through the race. Me not being organised  really did cost a lot of time, and I was lucky to get away with it. Would I do it again? Yes, I do feel I have unfinished business, so apart from the eye watering cost I’d love to have another crack.
However- this was a one shot deal- I got to cross of a bucket list item that very few people will get to do, so I am super happy with what I’ve done. Like the tattoo says ‘no ragrets’.

I didn’t have as tough a time as I could, and I think this was partially driven by my mental attitude. I had no intention of ever giving up. There was no possible scenario in which I could see myself stopping, and I think that helped a lot. We were there to suffer, we had a time limit and there was nothing more to worry about. Apart from me mis-reading one of the cutoffs, there was never a point at which we felt we wouldn’t make it.

And there’s how you finish a race at a blistering 1.75mph

Interesting- this year we had rain, driving winds, flash floods, bugs and humidity to contend with. It did seem to affect the field. For instance the winning time was a couple of hours slower than last years course record, and Dave’s time last year which gained him 14th place, this year would have been well into the top 10 in 7th position! We also appeared to have 50% more DNF’s than last year- 20 vs 13. I can’t blame these things, but I was slower than expected because of being a dumbarse rather than being able to blame external influences. I ‘beat’ Catra by a whole 47 seconds but because she was in the wave in front of me she actually finished about an hour and a half before me. Sorry Catra.

Recovery
I’m kind of ashamed to admit that apart from the ugly blisters, I was walking OK the next day, and NOT walking like a gay cowboy* within about 48 hours. I guess this means I could have gone harder, but I did get good value out of my entry fee…..
(*nothing wrong with being a gay cowboy, I’m just providing the mental images)

So here’s the motivational part of the post, the bit where I ask you to ask yourself if you could do something like this. I already know the answer- of course you could!
I deal with the cons of having small lungs, no running talent and one kidney by simply having a crack. I’ve gone further than I ever thought possible because my friends have redefined possible.

Sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to get there, but I’m glad I tried. And I’m super glad of the people who rallied around me to help. It’s not an individual achievement, it belongs to the team who made it possible. Thank you.

Gear
Kathmandu shorts with liner
Nathan Hi Vis vest with lights
Injinji socks (inner layer)
Wright socks (outer layer)
Hoka One One Clifton 3 shoes
Outdoor Research Legionnaires cap
Serfas sunglasses
BodyGlide. Lots of BodyGlide
*in case you’re interested, I didn’t change shoes or socks during the race

Photo credits- Jon Luff, Neil Webb, Damon Roberts and Sarah Connor- thanks!

The Road to Badwater Part 1

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You were meant to be reading this about 9 weeks ago, but don’t worry- it’s not you, it’s me.
I messaged Kirrily Dear and asked her if I could raise some money for Run Against Violence, and part of that was writing a couple of blog posts in the lead up to the race. She was pretty keen- I mean who doesn’t like free money- especially a charity? But I failed in that commitment- every week I had more things to do pulling me away from doing the things I had promised. I’m also late on 2 shoe reviews. Those may take a few years as I learn to use phrases like mid sole rocker stability and upper flange gasket peak pressure normalisation. I’m sure you’re gagging for me to make up 500 words about shoes. For now I’m writing this on a plane to LA…….

But anyhoo- let me talk about Kirrily’s thing for a sec. Kirrily has quite literally put her body on the line for this charity- she has run over 800km across NSW to raise awareness (and possibly a bit of cash). I hope you’ve seen the documentary about the run, it’s hard, emotional and brilliant story. This year she’s going even further, planning to run over 1300km to raise awareness of family violence, focussing on kids stories. And this time there will be a way for everyone to participate, as there is a ‘Virtual Challenge’ that you can sign up and run yourself.

So go to the website and hit the ‘Donate’ button. I’ll wait

https://www.runagainstviolence.com

That first run was brutally hot and I’ve had to lean on Kirrily’s crew for advice on how to deal with the heat of Death Valley. Brad Smithers and Sally Dean (as well as Kirrily herself) have given me some invaluable advice about running in extreme heat. See the segue? Brilliant hey?

So how did I get into this race? It’s one of those races you hear about even as a non runner- and laugh at the utter stupidity of running not only across a flaming hot desert, but from the bottom to the top of a whole continent.

I’d never even considered something like this but after dedicating a fair amount of time running, I discovered 2 things-

1. I’ll never be fast
2. I can go slowly for a long time

Number 2 is a consequence of hanging around with the right (or perhaps wrong) crowd. As I grew more and more amazed at the humility and capability of these incredible athletes, I began entering some of the same races and learning their craft. It’s simple and complex all at once- an eating competition with a bit of running sure, but tiny mistakes can take you out brutally.

Fast forward to last year and I’d done a couple of long and tough runs (still hadn’t finished the ‘long course’ at Coast to Kosci) and we went on holiday in the USA. We’d designed the trip around meeting some of Sarah’s friends and a few natural wonders along the way. It was a 10th wedding anniversary trip that started with renewing our vows in front of Elvis in Las Vegas, and went through Death Valley and Tahoe amongst other places. While in Vegas a friend announced on FaceBook that he had been accepted into Badwater. Maybe 30 seconds later (ok it could have been less) I asked Sarah if I could crew for him.

Understandably she wasn’t keen as we had blown our travel budget but I must have had that slightly pursed lip look of determination and she got that slightly pursed pissed off look, and we had a deal. I emailed Cpt Nemo and he accepted. Later in that trip I got to fulfil a lifelong dream of running in Death Valley. It was horrible. I’d brought some running gear and we had planned to let me out and have me run to the next town or whatever but it got to late-ish afternoon and so I jumped out of the car with my water bottle and took off. I only made it 6km as we were pressed for time, but honestly I was very happy to get back in the car. I’d taken a black water bottle. The outside temp was ‘only’ 32 degrees but within minutes my water was like drinking warm tea and the reflected heat from the tarmac was worse than from overhead.

Actually going back to Death Valley a few months to crew was fantastic. I had Gavin and Bec Markey as well as Matthew Holland to keep me company while Nemo suffered outside the car. But yeah, it was totally a recce run for me- to see if normal people could do this race. And maybe to see if me in particular could do the race. I wasn’t sure even a few months after crewing.

After being a bit aimless in my running for months I finally started to regain some fitness, Great North Walk was tremendously painful but I got it done. And while it was a real battle for me to finish Coast to Kosci, I was heartened by the fact that a lot of things went right. I’d had a plan to get to Dalgety at 148km and executed that perfectly. It’s a great shame I hadn’t considered what to do for the last 90km……

Anyway it came time to apply for Badwater in early February, and I had decent qualifiers- 2x C2K and a stint as Crew Chief for Badwater, I felt I had a pretty decent chance of getting in. We were actually in New Zealand for the Tarawera Ultra when Race Director Chris Kostman was doing a FaceBook Live stream of reading out the names. I was eating breakfast while Sarah packed the car and screaming at the laptop because Chris was taking so long to get the names read out- he adjusted his Gumby, showed the latest branded Badwater gear, talked about the sponsors- it was making me nuts because we only had 2 hours of free WiFi at the hotel!

He finally started reading the list, and I got chills just hearing the names of all these legendary runners participating, but as he went deeper and deeper I realised that I am totally outclassed by these people. I mean not even in the same stratosphere- and I started getting depressed. Sarah wanted to pack up and go, and as the list got towards the end I wondered if I should even listen to the rest, but we did and all of a sudden we heard ‘and all the way from Greenwich Australia, Adam Connor’

I jumped and screamed- I’d gone from confident to destroyed to elated in the space of a few minutes! my name was somewhere around 94th to 97th. Sorry I can’t remember exactly as my head nearly exploded from excitement. I reckon I can do a bit better than that in the race, gulp.

So I’m doing this race hoping to benefit Run Against Violence.
(And on a completely different topic)
But I’m also running this race in honour of my sister. She’s much stronger than she knows. Don’t bother asking me any more about this, it really is as simple as that statement. She’s great company, very smart, caring and wants the world to be a better place. I just want the best for her too.

Next post will be about the training, and the last one about the race itself

Badwater 135 Tracking

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This is a direct copy/pasta from an email received this morning from the race director (apart from my tracking link)

Track Adam directly here-
https://styrlabsbadwater135.maprogress.com/?id=10938

**The race starts at 1pm Tuesday July 11 Sydney time (this is 8pm July 10 Nevada time). Adams wave starts at 9:30pm which will be 2:30pm Sydney time on Tuesday. Grant Maughan’s wave (the fasties!) will start at 11pm local or 4pm Sydney time.

Hello 2017 STYR Labs Badwater 135 competitors and crew members!

There will be lots of ways to follow all the race action at the world’s toughest foot race, so please bookmark these pages, follow our various social media feeds, and spread the word to your family, friends, and running clubs!

Follow the 2017 webcast (including real-time GPS tracking of all runners; see information about that below):

http://www.badwater.com/2017-styr-labs-badwater-135-webcast/

Follow the 2017 time splits and results:

http://dbase.adventurecorps.com/results.php?bw_eid=83&bwr=Go

Follow the race on Twitter (@Badwater):

http://twitter.com/badwater

Official Hashtag: #Badwater135 (Please use this in all your social media posts!)

Follow the race staff’s live photostream on Instagram (@BadwaterHQ)

http://instagram.com/badwaterHQ

Follow the race director’s live photostream on Instagram (@ChrisKostman):

http://instagram.com/chriskostman

Follow the race staff’s photostream archive on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adventurecorps/

Follow the race director’s photostream archive on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chriskostman/

Join the Facebook conversation:

http://www.facebook.com/badwater135

Download the July 2017 issue of BADWATER Magazine:

http://www.adventurecorps.com/downloads/bw/2017July.pdf

Follow the 2017 webcast:

http://www.badwater.com/2017-styr-labs-badwater-135-webcast/

TRACKLEADERS GPS TRACKING

I’m excited to announce that we will be using MAProgress.com to track each runner in the 2017 STYR Labs Badwater 135. It’s an amazing system for live-tracking racers using a very small GPS unit. Just a little box about 2.5×2.5x.75″, it mounts most easily to the top of the shoulder strap on an hydration pack, and can also can be worn with an elastic strap around the upper arm. This system was used at Badwater Salton Sea in May and they were simple and unobtrusive. You can “replay” the entire race again here to see how great this system is:

http://www.badwater.com/2017-badwater-salton-sea-webcast/

Family, friends, and fans back home will be able to track the progress of each runner in the race. The MAProgress map will be embedded in our Live Webcast page:

http://www.badwater.com/2017-styr-labs-badwater-135-webcast/

Ultra Trail Australia 100km UTA100 2017

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So my race prep was easy, training went well and everything was perfect for race day…..

Pigs arse!
It actually went more like this-
Had a cold 3 weeks ago- still trained but didn’t really make progress
Started strength training 2 weeks ago, made great progress but missed a box jump a week ago and my ribs hurt like a bastard.
Because of the ribs I hadn’t really tapered as much as just stopped running.
Focussing on Badwater meant that I had done ZERO stair training and had run mostly on road, except when I ignored Coach’s plan and snuck out.
An ultrasound on Monday before the race seemed to show I was missing a kidney. WTF?
And on the morning of the race I locked the house keys in the house, meaning we may not have anywhere to sleep after ~20 hours of running.

All good then.

 

The morning of the race came, and the weather was expected to be ‘challenging’. in fact it pissed down when we left the rented house in the dark and my mood was nearly as black. Then a funny thing happened when we got to Scenic World- the weather lifted. Pity my mood didn’t!

The gun went off and we settled in for the first few km of road. I should have been happy and fast here, but everyone in start group 3 seemed to be running up the hills and determined to kill themselves before we hit the bush. I ran with Jen and Martyn and had a great chat, it was a bit like old times! Good to see them both coming back from injury. Not much to report until we hit the landslide- there was a huge conga line. I reckon to go sub 14 hours you really need to be in group 2 or 1 to have a good chance at hitting your goals on section 1.

I had no particular goal except not to hurt myself, so I was happy to let people go- as soon as we hit single track gain people were pushing past quite aggressively. I’ve complained about this before, but we really need some documentation about trail etiquette- it’s very simple people- if you want to go past yell ‘passing left’ ‘passing right’ or ‘passing when safe’ and the person in front can decide which side to let you go. Although this might be difficult- there were a lot of international runners and they seem to have a different system- they simply wait for the person in front to indicate a side to pass, nothing is said.

Going up Golden Stairs was a bit of revelation- it’s the FIRST TIME IN 7 YEARS that I haven’t needed to stop at least once (and usually multiple times) to let people past. I cannot emphasise how important this is- it’s massive for me. I don’t know how much each thing has contributed but a combination of weight, my new asthma drug and strength training has definitely brought this result. I was still puffed, and still hitting quite a high heart rate, but often in this race I will lose 30-60 places just going up these stairs……

The fart jokes started early this year, one guy wondering who as ‘cropdusting’ going up the concrete climb just after Golden Stairs. I wouldn’t say the name, but his initials are Martyn Dawson….. later there was much regretsy about biological functions, but I digress.

Anyway I got to CP1 in about 1:42 I think, meaning I was looking at a 19 hour finish time- ouch! Can’t worry too much about that so early on, so I filled up my bottles and headed out on to Narrowneck. Again, I should have been fairly fast along here but I just felt really out of sorts- not sick, just a bit of general malaise. This isn’t uncommon for me in races, I can ignore it and risk going to those dark places again, or I can try to ride it out. It was going to be a loooong day. Thankfully I had hooked up with Damon Roberts and Neil Webb- 2 of my Badwater crew, and it was fantastic to run with them. Also a tiny bit stressful- I am aware that it’s possible to tell too many poo jokes- what if I turned them off coming to the USA?

Thanks to Hailey for this pic

There was another long-ish queue for Tarro’s Ladder, but I was happy to have a break and not worry about time. I heard someone call out ‘Leah!’ around there and wondered if it was my friend having a great run bitch was going to beat me again.

Going up Mount Debert I thought about Michael Milton- he was doing the 50km race- with one leg! The last minute course changes meant that he was going to be coming this way without preparing for it. It’s rough country, hard enough with 2 legs that (mostly) work. Doing it with crutches was going to suck and blow. Massive props to you Michael, what a bloody legend.

We hit CP2 with no major issues and I got out of there hoping that the rumours were true- no Ironpot Ridge this year! We headed out in the same direction and as we got closer and closer I was afraid the rumours weren’t true- but then we hit the spot where you would normally start climbing and there was tape across the course. I was quite relieved even though I could have compared my ascent with previous years to see if my performance really had improved as much as it seemed up the stairs. But of course this now meant that we were several km short, and suddenly we didn’t really know where we were vs expectations.

Coach Andy DuBois had sent out an email communication the night before asking us not to worry or even use pace charts etc. But I really can’t help it, I love information. I decided that we were about 4km short and that this was about 1 hour. Made it easy. Wrong? Probably, but I wasn’t really racing either…….

The ascent up Megalong Valley Rd wasn’t pleasant, but again I didn’t lose as many spots as I might have in other years. My mind still wasn’t happy and when we got to the flat I felt I should have been able to push harder, but I didn’t really want to answer that question- would I feel better, or feel worse? If I felt better, that might commit me to racing the rest of the course, and I was specifically NOT supposed to do that. If I felt worse, well, there’s no benefit in that is there!?

I ran with Damon again and occasionally Neil would appear out of the bushes pulling his pants up. Not sure what was so interesting in there but he was pretty keen on the experience. Or so it seemed. We arrived at CP3, did a gear check and all went our seperate ways. I put some music on and shimmied up towards Six Foot Track in a good mood- I was finally feeling mentally better, but still no explanation of why.

Several km up Six foot Track I felt a disturbance in the Force. I could hear one runner behind me but the ones up front were too far away, so I ripped off a baby killing fart of planet busting proportions. I hadn’t looked around to see who was behind, because well- what are the chances of it being someone I knew?

‘Hi DJ ADAM!’
And yes it was Kath Carty on her way to an amazing result in the 50km race. Kath, I apologise for the attempted murder.

Going up Nellie’s Glen I was able to impress/ disgust a few runners with my knowledge. ‘How many more of these f@cking stairs are there?’ Someone exclaimed in frustration. ‘Only 350 more!’ I was able to reply confidently. Lucky there were no sharp knives around.

Getting to CP4 is always great, and even better with 4km less in your legs and (perhaps) an hour earlier in the day. I’d forgotten to bring my charge cable for my Fenix 3, and I knew it would run out of battery within the next few hours- luckily Damon had one and was prepared to lend it to me while we ran together until he needed it. So I was happy to take a few minutes extra and rest until his wife had gone through his CP checklist. I got to go to a real toilet, and it’s the last time you can do stuff while it’s light, and it’s warm and inside- bliss!

Somewhere in section 4 I ran a bit with Dr Alex, a lovely bloke I’d first met last year during GNW. He’s a GP from Tamworth (er, possibly?) and we had such a good time chatting at GNW that we happily went off piste quite substantially. Anyway I promised I wouldn’t ask him any more medical questions but I did mention the kidney issue and his first response was ‘no NSAIDS for you!’ (These are frowned upon in races anyway so I won’t have any trouble avoiding them…….

Thanks to Akiko Akashi for this pic

Heading out of CP4 we didn’t have to cross the swamp this year, and course changes meant it wasn’t straight down the Giant Staircase. I don’t really know how much vert was taken out of this section, but it’s still pretty soul destroying to head down the valley so many times- Gordon Falls, Wentworth Falls, etc. It’s also kind of difficult to get any running rhythm going. We’d left CP4 at almost exactly 3pm and knew that if we could get to CP5 and out by 7pm we wouldn’t have to carry our fleeces. It doesn’t really matter, but it was a goal to focus on. Pace chart said a 14 hour runner could do it in 3.5 hours and a 19 hour runner in 4.5 hours, so we had a chance…..

Oh, no we didn’t! Remember the bit we missed at Ironpot Ridge? The Race Directors decided to make us run past CP5, down to the Water Board Gate and back again, making that section 3km longer. We ran past CP5 at 7:03pm so it didn’t really matter anyway, but some people found this bit utter torture. I felt it was pretty fair- there were plenty of other places the could have made us go that were much more horrible.

I’d developed a rough plan to run the rest of the way with Damon (and hadn’t told him) but I was ready to leave the CP pretty quickly and in order to not annoy him I went over to the other tent- there are tents on either side of the CP, one for runners and their support crew and another for unsupported runners.

We were in good spirits heading out of CP5 and back down on Rocket Point track I got to see Sarah! After a quick hug and a kiss we shuffled off and Damon said ‘you could have been more concerned about her’ (paraphrasing, can’t remember exactly) and I said ‘Pfft, she’s tougher than me’ then a lady in front replied ‘I was just about to suggest that….’ and thus started the Legend of the Kellys. It turns out that both ladies in front are from Newcastle and called Kelly. We passed a fun few hours running through the bush and talking, they were exactly the pace I needed to go- just gently running the flats and making good time up the stairs. Of course my mind was getting a bit loose by then and I was terrified of saying something truly offensive, but I think I managed to pretend to be relatively normal for long enough. One of the surprising things was my ability to go up stairs- I managed to keep my place without getting puffed out and at one stage even led a group up from Wentworth Falls without much difficulty. Somewhere around there we lost Damon- I called out to him and didn’t get a reply. I was a bit gutted but it would be dumb to wait for him and I knew that if I started to falter he would catch up without problems.

At the Fairmont I started explaining to the Kellys that the race used to finish there, and I could just see myself walking into the bar with the tall glass windows and having a cocktail while watching runners come in. But it was all fantasy- we still had a few hours to go! The Kellys stopped to top up and I went on. Getting back on the road was good for me- I got more upright, swung my arms and improved my cadence and passed heaps of people- a few were looking pretty despondent!

Throughout the whole day my mind hadn’t been cooperating but my body had been ok. Later my mind came to the party and things started to click, but at about the 91km mark my mind fucked off again and my body started to feel the effects of the day. I truly felt like if I’d stopped at 80-90km I would have been able to run again the next day. It was like all of the damage was in the last bit! I suppose it always is….

Vacuum packing gear worked well

I started to hope that the course was a few km short, but things just don’t work that way. With 4km to go I gave up and started walking, counting the people getting past me. I’d had a good day, slowly passing plenty of people but now 4-5 people got past. At 2km to go I heard a familiar voice and turned around to see Rob Mattingly- it was terrific to see him, and almost gave me back some fighting spirit. Almost!

Finally getting to Furber (Fubar!) Stairs I started to count my way up, but my new found energy for getting up vertical had gone. I lost another 6-8 places in the 20 minute climb. I count the stairs down- there’s 935 stairs if you only count the ‘up’ ones. Near the top I heard another familiar voice and I abandoned counting at step number 865 because it was Damon! He’d caught me and we decided to finish together. I found out later that the Kellys had gone past me on the stairs too, but fair play to them, they looked strong the whole time. Rob had beaten me by nearly 10 minutes in the last 2km- nice one Rob!

I’ve never been able to walk so well at the finish of this race- I wouldn’t say I was unaffected but a combination of strength training and the low/ easy effort meant my body was in better shape than most times I’d finished.

I looked at the UTA app and found that Sarah had passed the Fairmont at exactly the same time I finished, meaning she was only 13km away. So I relaxed, had a couple of shandies and talked rubbish to anyone who would listen. Roger Hanney came past holding his phone out, so Annabel and I decided to do a race report filled with expletives- he went a bit quiet (unusual I know) and said ‘this is being live streamed!’ so I guess I owe apologies to anyone watching that too….

Unfortunately the last 13km took Sarah about 4 hours, so by 4:10am things were getting a bit loose. Someone had come across the line and their runner profile said ‘one day I want to run a marathon naked’. Apparently the person who did their entry thought it would be a bit of fun, and that started a downhill slide of bum jokes and requests for the RD’s to draw dicks in the wet windows of the organising shed.

Luckily Roger was distracted by Sarah reaching the Furber Stairs, and when she reached the top there was a huge reaction as you can see here-

A very emotional and well deserved finish. Congratulations honey!

Nutrition
This is a pic of all of the solid food I ate during the race-

No beer?

Not a lot is it? However it was enough- I never felt hungry, and my energy levels were fine until the last 4km. There is one thing missing- I had an SIS liquid protein gel like thing at CP3. I’d been sent 2 of these as sample, tried one, liked it and tried to order more. SIS said they weren’t bringing them in anymore as by the time they arrive their use-by date was too close. I remembered that when I was squeezing the tube into my mouth and it was all lumpy. Oh well, I figured that I wouldn’t get sick during the race so it would be ok……

Race Analysis
Not much to report here except- try to get into Wave 2 if you want a sub 14 hour time. Slowdowns at the Landslide and Tarro’s Ladders weren’t a problem for me, but would seriously impact your pace early on if that’s your goal. This year I didn’t spit the dummy like last year at the Fairmont, which is lucky because I didn’t have Jane to yell at me (is that lucky?)
I felt like I had someone standing on the left side of my chest all day from the bruised ribs, so that may have had a small impact on pace, but overall I’m very happy to have completed a difficult race without specific training in a halfway decent time. if you can read the pic below, you can see that I improved my place from 849 at the 3km mark to 439 at CP1 (update- it seems that the CP1 timing was not working for either Wave 1, Wave 2 or both- that would explain the weird numbers). Then most of those people got past me again before Little Cedar Gap where I was placed 787. This reflects a couple of things- I suspect that the holdup at Tarro’s meant that a lot of people went around when I was happy to have a break, and I also think that many people who were held up tried to make up a lot of places on Narrowneck. I was pretty slow and not feeling good there so they did, but you can also see that some went out too fast there- as I made back 200 of the 400 places I’d lost by the end……(ok maybe I didn’t based on the above)

Health
You may have noticed above I mentioned the possibility I have only one kidney- how did that come about? My Doctor insists on a blood test every year. I hate blood tests so I put it off as long as I can….anyway I’ve had 3 tests in a row with elevated liver enzymes. In medical terms that’s chronic. I am absolutely convinced that it’s due to my endurance running, but Dr isn’t happy and wants answers, so he sends me off for an ultrasound. They would be looking for signs of liver damage, fatty liver disease, lumps etc.

While they didn’t find any problems with my liver, the ultrasound tech could not find my left kidney. So the Dr called me up and asked me to have another test- a CT scan with dye. I’m not keen on needles but they injected me with some Iodine based dye and took pictures of my guts on the Monday after the race. Anyway, apparently I was born with only one kidney. This is somewhat of a surprise to find out when I’m nearly 50 years old……

I had another shock a few weeks back too- an online test said I am highly autistic. I haven’t fully absorbed what that might mean, but in a lot of ways I don’t care. I could use it as an excuse for being brusque or a bit in your face. But I never want to do that- I’d prefer if you just thought I was a bit of a dickhead, that’s fine. On one hand this could give me more freedom to express myself, but I’ve already grabbed that- I am happy to be judged in the same way as everyone else- and also happy if you point out that I’ve crossed a line.

So if I’ve ever beaten you in a race, you’ve been overtaken by a previously fat, old autistic man with tiny lungs, asthma and one kidney- how does that feel?

Actually it’s hilarious, I’ll try not to mention it again but to finish on a positive note- how good could we all be if we ignored our limitations?

 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Andy DuBois from Mile27 for Coaching
And Dominic Cadden from WTFitness for Strength Training
Thank you!

UTA100 2017 Guest Report- Sarah Connor

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#UTA2017 Race Report.

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

It was very fucking hard. The end..

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

 

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

 

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

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

Start to CP 1 – just went with the flow –

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

CP1 – CP2

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

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

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

CP2 – CP3

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

CP 3 was a good quick transition.

CP3 – CP4

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

 

CP4 – CP5

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Mile27

Garry Luke of Muscle Therapy Australia – best masseuse ever!

Muscle Therapy Australia

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

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

Spine and Health Crows Nest

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

 

Julie – my running partner and therapist.

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

Summit Sisters community – you all rock!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What I wore

Summit Sisters t-shirt

Moving comfort bra

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

Zensah calf guards

Feetures socks

Hoka Stinson 3 ATR’s

Patagonia cap

Buff’s of varying different styles

Patagonia R1 fleece jacket

Salmon Bonatti waterproof jacket

Nathan Vapour wrap pack

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

 

What I ate from my pack

Carmen’s muesli bars – mostly the more nutty ones

Chicken in a biscuit

BBQ shapes

Clif bar

Chips

Farex pre-made baby food

 

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

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

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

 

Recovery (so far its 24 hours in)

2 magnesium tablets before the race

Soup and chocolate milk at the finish

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

Shower as soon as possible

Sleep for an hour – gentle rolling with the stick

Trying to move normally rather than the ultra lurch

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

Warm Epsom salt bath and then icing the knee

More good food and some chocolate

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

 

Thames Path 100 Miles- Guest Post- Taras Mencinsky

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Thames Path 100 – Race Report by Taras Mencinsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding New Music- Guest Post- DJ Dan Rowntree

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

Take it away Dan-

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

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

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