Southern Highlands Challenge 50km 2014

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I love races in the southern highlands because we get to go and visit our friends Alison and Paul Hilliard and son Jamie. Staying with them for the weekend was amazing, however I generally drink too much which isn’t good for my performance…….

So it was kind of fortuitous that coach had said ‘don’t run this one too hard, just use it as a training run’ which may or may not have meant ‘fill your boots, you borderline alcoholic’. Ahem.

This meant that turning up on Friday night we got to say ‘Moet? I suppose it’ll do…’

A nice sleep in on Saturday (which is VERY rare) then a trip into Bowral for pies and a look around was fun, then home delivered pasta for dinner and well, cider, red, white and more champagne.

Larapinta Reunion- 2 weeks later!

Larapinta Reunion- 2 weeks later!

So you can guess I wasn’t overly impressed when the alarm went off at 4:50am, however I had pre organised all of my stuff and we had plenty of time to get to the start. On arriving we saw how impeccably well everything was set up. I shouldn’t have been surprised with April Palmerlee and Keith Hong  involved.

It was getting close to start time so we all assembled at the start for the race briefing, then we set off on the first of 2x 25km loops. I hadn’t paid much attention to the course description but I expected to be running a lot of fire trail. In reality there was heaps of single track all built for mountain bikes.

Jeez those bike people have it good! Luxury! When I was a lad we had to fight our way through undergrowth on indistinct trail and wade through knee high water. Oh No- these trails had gentle downs and climbs, loads of switchbacks and I was only slapped in the face by vegetation once- OK twice because it was the same plant on the second lap. I’d been a bit worried when April said we had a 7 hour cutoff however my first lap was over in 2:33 at an indicated 23.4km, so I could relax as I had heaps of time for lap 2. I don’t know how the course ws measured but I’d speculate that if it was accurately measured the difference would be because our Garmins did not measure some of the switchbacks due to the dense forest.

Here comes the dirt surfer

Here comes the dirt surfer

While it’s true that I wanted to quietly die in the first few km, my hangover quickly took a back seat to the lovely surrounds, it really was very pretty in parts. I got to have a quick chat to John Fan who had been pushing hard last weekend at Bilpin- I was certain he would beat me at SHC because I was simply enjoying myself and yes, slightly hungover. I met another runner named Adam (dude those calf guards need a volume control) and everyone was having fun. I’d seen Lise Lafferty towards the end of the first lap- she was having a difficult day and it was a privilege to help in a small way.

I came in to the start/ finish chute to the sound of Sarah and Alex ringing a cowbell- had a quick snog and went out for my next lap. I hadn’t had much fluid on the first lap so it didn’t matter much that the aid station wasn’t very visible to me as I came through. Really the race was very well provisioned but I missed the middle aid station on the first lap too! Not sure how this happened.

I settled in for the second lap, and was by myself for some time making sure I followed the ribbon. But all of a sudden a runner came along from a completely different direction so I slowed down to discuss. Neither of us could figure out who had gone the wrong way but our Garmins gave virtually the same distance so we agreed not to worry about it. I cruised around running some mental  calculations about finish time and realised I had slowed down by about 20% and was heading for a 5:30ish finish. For a little while I wondered if I should try to shave off a few minutes and go sub 5:30 hover that’s just a number, it was far more important to finish happy and uninjured.

I think the timing mat must have been dirty

I think the timing mat must have been dirty

Sure enough my final time of 5:35 was a bit better than expected but certainly not spectacular- I was in the top 30% of the field at Bilpin last week but bottom 30% at SHC! Oh well, the big one is in a few weeks (GNW), that’s more important…….

One of the best moments of the day was hanging around the Summit Sisters tent and chatting to Jo Brischetto and Brendan Davies- who made me all modest by mentioning the sponsorship deal with Northside Runners. Mate that beard is getting a bit wild, but it doesn’t seem to affect your running, best of luck in Doha!

As it turns out there was a whole bunch of NRG’ers at the race and I didn’t see any of them because they turned up after the 50km race started, did the 22km race and left before I finished!

Here’s a couple of photos from the 1km for kids- I think this is Alex’s first official race, and I’m very proud of him…..

 

Chris Johnson with kid

Chris Johnson, running dad

Alex 1km medal Alex 1km kids

Toenail Death Count

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Event                          Gone Black                     Fallen Off

North Face 100                  4
Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour          1
In Between Runs                                                      1
Larapinta                                                                  1
Bilpin Bush Run                                                        1

Bilpin Bush Run 2014

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I was lucky to get a lift up to Bilpin with Doug Richardson, Gillian Russel and her flatmate Wayne. Arriving around 8am we got out of the car to be greeted by progressively more and more NRG’ers! There were only about 4 on the start list in the newsletter (and I wasn’t one of them) but it looked like someone had ‘put the band back together’ and we ended up making up about 20% of the entire field. I wandered around talking to people, had a couple of nervous wees and then we casually gathered around the start line for the race briefing and tun we were off!

I hadn’t looked very closely at the profile but it looked like an out and back run. These things normally aren’t very accurate the first time they are run so I was interested to see how far to the turn around……

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In the first km there was a big descent and the worry started to make itself felt ‘what if it’s all like this? I was hoping for a fast 32-34km run, don’t want to kill myself with 3 races in the next 4 weeks…’ and honestly it was a lot more hilly than I had expected, I just settled in and walked the hills, catching up many of the people who passed me on the flats. One thing that has improved in the last few weeks is my fast hiking up hills, a very good thing as this has been a major weakness in my trail running. If I had to call out the guys I would measure myself against in this race it would be Leigh Reynolds, Chris Johnson, David Madden and Chris Dawe. I also expected Steve Bruggemen to glide by at some stage…… Leigh has so much guts and determination and works so hard, he’s been on fire recently, Chris Johnson will typically pass me about half way through a race and I won’t see him again, David has youth (and natural talent) on his side. And the only way I ever finish in front of Chris Dawe is if he is injured. I thought I’d be able to pick him off today because he had run with the slower group on Thursday, and I had been blasting out some quick ones with a faster group. But maybe we’ll come back to that mistake later……

By 6km in I was having a good chat with Chris Johnson and we were passing each other regularly. I figured eventually one or other of us would get tired and let the other one go but I was having so much fun, Leigh called out from a turn a few hundred meters ahead and I thought he was gone for the day. At about 10km we caught up with David Madden and had a quick chat but he didn’t seem keen to come with us, and slowly but surely Chris J and I started reeling in Leigh. The three of us leapfrogged each other for a while and we were counting down the k’s to the halfway mark. Just before the turn around the front runners started coming past- a couple of guys I didn’t know then Beth Cardelli in 3rd outright, Jess Baker not too far back and our own Doug Richardson caning it along the back half.

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I caught up to Justine Medin along the fire trail and had a quick chat, and 400m before the turn around point we saw Gillian Russel and Chris Dawe coming the other way. This meant that I wasn’t too far behind but Gillian looked like she was about to bust a valve and Chris didn’t look too comfortable so I vowed on the spot not to try to catch them……The turn around point was at 17.25km by my Garmin so it looked like we might be in for a 34.5km run instead of the advertised 32.xkm, however I did later discover that the return route was slightly different and it was very accurate. Justine is remarkable because she actually runs all of the hills, so she slowly but surely started making a lot of extra progress on me. I put my earbuds in and punched up a John ’00’ Fleming podcast and prepared to knock out a few km and not worry about my position, just to enjoy the day. I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, and I was punching the air and dancing along to a particularly good song when The Man In Black came past- this was a guy who had been struggling earlier and I assumed he would fade away but he came back stronger tun ever and finished well ahead. I only picked up a couple of places in the back half, and I had lost a few more than that so it wasn’t my finest race. Going back through the last few aid stations, there was a sign that said ‘4.7km to go’ and I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it- they’ve been wrong before!

Then with about 4km to go I had another nightmare- another bloke coming up fast from behind in the distance! I decided if he got close I would let him go- as mentioned before I have a couple more races this month and can’t afford to do anything stupid. Then I thought ‘no, let’s not be defeatist. You have plenty of gap now, just push a little harder on the hills and you can hold your position’. I did this and the benefit was I started to gain on Justine. But it wasn’t early enough and she had me by about 200m at the end. A very well run race from her. I crossed the line at 3:24:57, 27th across the line and 20th male, which means I was only chicked 7 times. 10th in my age group is a nice surprise, you have no idea how demoralising it can be to be a middle aged male in these races, competing with all the other mildly crusty old coffin dodgers.

I swear it says 3:24:57!

I swear it says 3:24:57!

Although it’s a different course, I was about 17 minutes faster than 2011 so very happy. Congratulations to Doug, 4th overall first in age class and 3rd male, a podium!

The volunteers and marshals were all absolutely brilliant, happy to have a chat and a joke, really enthusiastic and the entire day was heaps of fun. You should come next year…..

Thanks to Tony Sharpe and Lucinda Rigby for the photos

White Ribbon Campaign

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White-Ribbon-Day1

I’ve run a bit with Kirrily Dear in recent months and I hope you’ve been following her campaign and preparations for running 860km to support an end to violence against women. I used to think I didn’t have anything to say on the subject except ‘don’t f@cking do it’ however she’s brought up a couple of points that I can speak about, one that makes me look bad, so let’s (reluctantly) go…….

I’ve never directly experienced domestic violence, and I have pretty much the same attitude as you- any type of violence towards women should be eliminated. But to achieve this we’ve got to have the conversation. I mentioned to Kirrily that for some unknown reason the whole subject makes me feel uncomfortable, but her reply was that the only way we can fix these things is to expose them, bring them out into the light and get people to reason with themselves about their actions and those of their mates. YOU need to be involved.

Uncomfortable topic 1- I’d like to think that no woman who has slept with me has regretted it. OK I can think of one, but the feeling is pretty mutual, and that has nothing to do with sex and much more about screaming at each other constantly. There’s a very fine line where your pleading or forcefulness could become assault, and it’s not you who determines that. As a married man I could pretend that doesn’t affect me anymore but that negotiating phase never disappears. Got it? Good.

Uncomfortable topic 2- How many times does a man need to be told that his behaviour is unacceptable?

Once

I challenged Kirrily on this one and she said something like ‘we imagine a lot of abusers to be poor and from the western suburbs but reality is that they are from all over and their behaviour is predicated on the fact that they don’t get called out for it. A huge proportion of these abusers can and will change their ways when they see that their mates and the rest of society are outraged by their behaviour’

I immediately thought of a personal example- not very flattering but here goes- about 10 years ago I was organising bike rides on the weekend and wanted to convince people not to pull out if the weather was bad. I said something like ‘don’t be a poof and pike out’. My good friend Jaycen Fletcher replied ‘and what’s bad about being a poof?’ and you know what? He was right, I was being an idiot.

So I sent around an apology and I’ve tried very hard ever since not to use these kinds of derogatory terms. I was called out in a very simple way, and that one email made me change my ways- hopefully forever. Those who know me also know that I swear like a sailor, so sometimes it’s really hard not to rely on cheap attempts at humour but I’m trying.

So there we go- I’ve avoided writing this for a month or two, but I do hope you’ll read it and have the conversation with your partner or mates. I also hope it’s more helpful than one of my female family members who recently called for all males over the age of 35 to die. I’ve changed the end of this story, it was originally a snipe at that family member. It wasn’t very nice and I do think that she’s quite smart but just comes to the wrong conclusions sometimes. We all should have a bit of leeway occasionally so I’ll sign off with a message of hope. Even with all the terrible things happening worldwide, we can all make a difference by doing very simple and repeatable actions. Make a difference. Have the conversation.

You can also support this campaign by buying some shoelaces here or a T-Shirt here, or use these resources to seek help

 

Larapinta Trail

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The End- Just near the Old Telegraph Station

The End-  near the Old Telegraph Station


The Plan
To walk/ run across the 223km (plus some side trips) Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory in 6 days. This is normally a 12-24 day walk according to the NT government.

The Players
Garry & Janet Tapper and grand daughter Tia- Our hosts for the week. These guys transported our gear, cooked our food and didn’t mention how much we stank.

Jane Trumper (Small)- Needs no introduction, but it was Jane who invited a few friends to share the adventure

Andy Bowen (Mumbles)- The man in the red lycra did much of the logistics, and photobombed us at every opportunity

Andy Hewat (Whippet)- Amongst many records, Andy has the fastest unsupported traverse of the ~1200km Bibbulmun Track.

Andy Hooten (Hoots)- Now do you see why we have nicknames? 3 Andy’s became quite confusing. Hoots is a workmate of Jane’s and this was to be his (and my) first expedition of this type. We hope it won’t be our last.

Kieron Blackmore (KB)- Another man with impressive running credentials, KB brought a soft Irish lilt to balance the noisy Aussies.

Dave Graham (Dark Horse Dave)- A well known ultra runner, adventurer and all round over achiever, DH Dave could tell you what he does for work, but then he’d have to kill you…..

Wayne Gregory (Blue Dog)- Blue Dog injects the fun into every situation despite having some seriously impressive running credentials. Believe me, you want this guy on your team every time.

….. and little old me, so now you can see why I was a bit worried that my middle of the pack, never runs very fast habits might get me into trouble during this trip. I should probably have been more worried about cirrhosis of the liver…….

KB, Mumbles, Hoots, Small, Dark Horse, Whippet, Kaos, Blue Dog

Kieron, Mumbles, Hoots, Small, Dark Horse, Whippet, Kaos, Blue Dog

Day Minus 1- (Friday)

I arrived at 12:30pm intending to have a look around Alice Springs and sleep in a hotel before meeting the others for Day 1. Instead Jane met me with out host Garry and we went into town to get some supplies, and then out to the Big 4 Caravan Park just outside town. We went out to dinner at the Outback Steakhouse and I met Janet, Garry’s partner and Tia her grand daughter both of whom would be accompanying us on the trip.

 

Day 0 (Saturday)

The plan was to arrive at the beginning of the trail and go up to Mt Sonder to watch the sunset. Unfortunately the transport gods conspired against us.

 

Dark Horse Dave makes ascending mountains look easy

Dark Horse Dave makes ascending mountains look easy

Dave who was coming from Canberra had joined his flight on time and circled Sydney but unfortunately couldn’t land because of fog. So he landed back in Canberra. So frustrating. The others also joined their flight on time but a piece metal fell from their plane causing them to be stuck on the tarmac for some time while an engineers report was done- very encouraging! It mustn’t have been an important piece of metal because they all landed in Alice Springs an hour late, so we were only ready around 4:30pm. The only takers for the trip up to Mt Sonder were all the fast guys so I declined, particularly as I didn’t think they would make the summit by sundown! This put me 20km behind my expected distance before we even started, so I had to evaluate whether I really wanted to attempt to do 300km in the week as planned…..

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I kind of imagined running through the desert to be kind of featureless. And kind of flat. Epic fail on both counts

Jane couldn’t go as she was suffering from some sort of food poisoning, earning her the nickname Ebola Jane. So for days I had this song going through my head.

 

Day 1 – Redbank to Ormiston Gorge (Sunday)

After a fairly easy first few km, running through lots of dry creek beds, fairly big rise, running through valleys and across a small billabong – these things must be raging torrents when there is loads of water! About 5km from the end, Dave Graham came running the other way- poetry in motion! After flying back to Canberra, the plane was refueled, and then back to Sydney. He’s missed the flight to Alice Springs by a few hours. Qantas paid for his accommodation at the Airport, then on Sunday he was routed back to Melbourne then on to Alice Springs- how is that for complicated!

Howling at the moon did not make the hills smaller

Arriving Ormiston Gorge at about 3pm we set up our tents and discovered that there was a kiosk, hot showers! We celebrated by ordering $250 worth of pizzas from the kiosk and had a great meal with some great friends. Apparently Nick from the Ormiston gorge Café makes the best iced coffee in the world…… After dinner Janet came across and said that she’d just found the contents of her purse strewn all over the ground- we raced back to the campsite thinking that there had been a thief. The truth was stranger- while we’d been enjoying our pizza a dingo had come into camp looking for food. It had found the licorice bullets in Janets bag and taken off with them! Even worse, in the morning we discovered that the little buggers had taken the hot chocolate. This was a disaster for some of the runners and crew!

 

Day 2 Ormiston Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam (Monday)

I got up, fed, watered and headed out on the Pound Trail with Jane and Blue Dog. We had an epic run on a circular track around Ormiston Gorge, getting wet towards the end when we had to wade through some freezing cold, black brackish water. Then it was off into the 28km stage into Serpentine Chalet Dam. What an amazing mixture of easy trail, epic climbs, death defying descents, lush valleys. It’s just amazing to be in a steep gorge, clambering over boulders and marveling at the power and majesty of nature. At one stage we arrived at nearly 1000m and ran along the spine of a massive hill, the views were epic in every direction

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The camp at Serpentine Chalet Dam. We did not see a dam, or a chalet, nor anything resembling a serpentine….

It was quite rough after that, loads of gnarly river beds, ankle snapping rocks and undulating hills, clambering through the saddles between valleys etc.

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Day 3 Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ellery Creek (Tuesday)

We rose early and started at first light. 1.5km from the campsite was a toilet, so I made good use of it because it actually had paper and a manual flush system. Had I gone that far off the grid that toilet paper was a sign of luxury? In a word, yes. It was an easy day- 28-30km so I was looking forward to finishing early and doing nothing for a few hours. Of course this meant that we were making great time until the halfway fill up point and Serpentine Canyon. What a beautiful place- and then we came to a series of decent climbs. No big problem, except the high iron content meant that other bits would erode away, leaving extremely sharp, gnarly rocks to clamber over. You really felt you could not safely use your hand to help you over the climbs. Progress slowed to a crawl, and luckily the sun wasn’t too hot. However it was starting to sting the sunburn that I’d developed on day 1. Dave was bombing a descent and scared some tourists, looks like they scared him back because he turned his ankle. Whippet also had a stack and got a face full of spinifex grass needles

We got into camp at about 1:30pm and straight down to Ellery Creek, another superb waterhole- with freezing cold water!

Tents up, gear packed for the next day and burritos for dinner, just tired enough and deeply happy. That was a great day.

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Old naked men hanging around a pool- be very afraid

Day 4 Ellery Creek to Hugh Gorge (Wednesday)

A few people were disturbed overnight by a crying baby in a camper ‘where’s a dingo when you need one?’

Up little bit later this morning because it is an easy day. Funny how quickly you can get to thinking that a 31km, 6 hour run is easy….. however we knew that this section was not technical, and sure enough we were spoiled with some great running. I spent most of the day running by myself, which gave me a lot of time to think. About nothing really, and it was truly great fun. The trail was well marked, and as we get closer to Alice Springs there’s a bit more foot traffic. OK we saw 5 people today- that’s not heaps, but in the past few days we would come across valleys where we could see for tens of kilometres and know that we were the only ones there. It really does make you feel quite insignificant, but also very grateful to be able to experience it. Getting into camp before 1pm was a bonus, I even got an afternoon nap! Dave had another stack today, lost some skin on his knee and hand, that might slow him down a bit! Dinner was sweet and sour chicken followed by damper with dried fruit- Lots of excited talk around the campfire at night- apparently there is a kiosk at the next stop- with showers!

We’ll probably miss the kiosk opening hours because we will be doing 2 sections marked as ‘very hard’ (walkers estimated time is 19 hours), but I am starting to smell, and not in a good way.

Saddle up boys (and girl) for tomorrow we bathe!

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Day 5- Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm (Thursday)

We knew today would be challenging so we rose early and planned to leave by 6:30am. Blue Dog and Jane set of at 6:30am on the dot and I managed to finish faffing about a few minutes later and left with Dark Horse Dave. He’s a very easy guy to talk to and we passed a pleasant hour or so bombing through chasms on the creek bed until we ran into Blue Dog and Jane. I was thinking at this stage that Dave would run off into the distance and the other two would be too strong for me however we all spent the rest of the day together. What a day. There was only a couple of km of running in the whole day- loads of creek beds, some with huge boulders to scramble over. If you’d shown me the climbs and descents we’d have to make beforehand I would have freaked out, so I guess it’s kind of lucky that I hadn’t spent too much time looking at the trail beforehand. Massive climbs up to extremely sharp ridgelines which we would run across with freezing wind trying to blow us off. We pretty much followed the highest ridges and then crossed saddles until it was time to climb down into Standley Chasm. Walkers were expected to take 19 hours to complete these 2 sections and we had a fairly easy time doing it in 7:47. And the kiosk was still open when we arrived!

 

We all had a wood fired hot shower, bought some cold drinks. I may have accidentally inhaled a pie and a sausage roll before dinner, which was a lovely pasta dish with curry. The cafe kindly put out a whole heap of firewood so we spent a pleasant few hours after dinner on the patio of the closed café with a big roaring fire.

 

Day 6 Ellery Creek to Simpsons Gap (Friday)

Today had an option to go the high or low road. Naturally because we lack a full set of brain cells we chose the high road. The result was me wanting to cry because my legs hurt so much from the previous days, and on all fours trying to ascend to a ridgeline in icy wind while planning some more self harm. Yes more. The second stage of 25km was a very pleasant surprise, mostly flattish and undulating. I walked most of it with Blue Dog because my legs were rudely reminding me of overreaching my ability. We spent a pleasant few hours in each others company, not much conversation except our bums having an interesting conversation, and subsequent scores out of ten. Don’t judge me, you’ve done it too…..

Unfortunately we were unable to camp at Simpsons Gap so we were all ferried in to the caravan park in Alice Springs. You know when that means- showers! We may also have diverted via the bottle shop for some essential supplies. And yes, our campsite looked like the scene of an alcoholic festival the next morning. Ah, hangover, my old friend

 

Of course we stashed all the empties outside Hoot's tent.....

Of course we stashed all the empties outside Hoot’s tent…..

 

Day 7 Simpsons Gap to Telegraph Station (Saturday- finish)

For the final 25km we went back out to Simpsons Gap and started at 7:30, expecting to take about 4 hours for the final push into town. I was very lucky and was able to run the whole thing with Jane, Andy Bowen, Dave and Blue Dog. I let them go a few times, intending to just run by myself and enjoy the trail, but somehow always found myself at the back of their pack again. Halfway through we met Kay Haarsma, a family friend and former orienteering coach of my wife’s. She is a great adventurer, in fact the last time I saw her was close to Charlotte Pass when I was pacing Jane for Coast to Kosci. I was so tired then I could barely speak, and of course this time I didn’t recognize her- it’s kind of disconcerting to meet someone you actually know in the middle of nowhere- let alone twice! At the end we went into the kiosk for food and drink and waited for the final 2 runners, then it was over. A quick trip back to camp and then to the pub! Several schooners later we went to pick up our race packs for the marathon on Sunday and then off to dinner at the camp ground courtesy of Dominos delivery…. And yes, once again the campground looked like a bunch of alcoholic unsupervised teenagers had taken up residence.

Random meeting with Kay Haarsma

Random meeting with Kay Haarsma

So how was the experience? I learned a lot. It was bloody freezing every night, and a couple of times I did not tighten the valve on my Thermarest enough, so I’d wake up in the middle of the night cold, uncomfortable and with my bum on the ground. I learned that I can do without things, even FaceBook. I learned that running by yourself can be very Zen.

No shit, Sherlock

No shit Sherlock

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Statistics

8558m of climbing on the trail

97m of climbing on the marathon

282.4km total for the week

3 showers

Before run
74.1kg, 8.9% body fat

One day after run
73.6kg, 7.3% body fat

Two days after run
73.0kg, 6.8% body fat

Three days after run
72.6kg, 7% body fat

Yes, there was a sting in the tail- some lovely person discovered that the day we were meant to leave was the Alice Springs Running Festival, so most of us did the marathon before hopping on a plane home. Story here

Alice Springs Marathon 2014

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We rose at about 5am for the 6:30am start of the marathon. Breakfast and coffee and we all bundled into the cars for the short trip to Lasseters Casino which is the start/ finish. We set off while it was still dark, and the whole field (about 50 of us) started slowly drifting apart in the first few km. Of course I started to feel the need for a wee, and because I had read the briefing document I knew there was a toilet around the 6km mark. Unfortunately the drink stop people at 6km didn’t know where this might be- luckily it was just around the corner, a little sign directing us into someone’s front yard to use the dunny attached to their laundry……er thanks.

After 240km of running in the past 6 days, I was a bit worried about my ability to back up for another 42.2km in a decent time, so I’d pretty much decided to just beat the cutoff which was 5 hours, and with a vague target of 4:30. I set out at a pace I felt was comfortable and managed some fairly consistent 5:40 ish km. Of course pretty soon I wondered if I could keep this up for the half and go under 2 hours before fading. Turns out this was not too hard, I hit the half in 1:58. The next challenge was how long to keep this up for? I’d decided that I’d be happy with 4:30 meaning I could relax by about 25% and still make my target, but as the km started disappearing I wasn’t slowing down much, getting to about 6:06/km.

I figured if I was within a few seconds of a 4 hour finish by the time I hit 36km, I would pump out a few quick ones to go under that mark. This was also a bit stupid, because I have the Great North Walk 100s coming up in a couple of weeks and can’t really afford to kill myself chasing a time. Oh well, it wasn’t to be- I was pretty sure Jane Trumper would come breezing past me, and sure enough she did at around 37km. I was happy to have held her off for that long and watched her move off into the distance, and she’d mentioned that she was running 3rd female and could podium if she kept going. Well of course she was going to keep going!

I caught a couple of guys who were flagging badly in the last few km and encouraged them to come with me. Neither could, but strangely this gave me a big boost and I started putting on a bit of a dash- my final km of 5:16 means I probably could have gone under 4 hours for the marathon, however I’m still very happy with the result of 4:04:56.

Janet and Garry got us to the airport and I raced off to the Qantas Club for a shower and some food, (I hope they didn’t count how many rum & cokes I had) and we had our hugs and got on the plane for the ride home.

As it happened, Jess Baker and Meredith Quinlan were on our flight too- they’d just finished running the Larapinta Trail as well and had gone 21 minutes under the record for a time of 59 hours something. Which just goes to prove that no matter how crazy you are, there’s always someone crazier.

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Thanks to Lisa Hatzimihail for the photo

Seretide- Drugs in Sport!

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I’ve been trying to figure out what might be wrong with me for a while (no, not mentally). Whenever I run up a hill, there comes a point at which my whole body gives up and I start gasping and heaving. Yeah, OK smartarse, you think this is normal- but I’m famous within the club for sounding like a freight train when running. Do you know 100 people who can tell when you’re behind them just from the sound of your desperate breaths? I do.

I’ve spoken to coaches, doctors etc and nobody could tell me why I suffer so much when compared to others in my age, weight and fitness range. The problem is that most people think you’re either unfit or simply whinging and looking for a quick fix. Almost nobody accepts that there is a real problem, and no one takes it seriously…….

Then one night I got to the top of a hill, and while I was begging the oxygen Gods to gift me with gas a voice behind me said ‘I used to be like that!’

A couple of hundred metres later (when I could talk again) I was speaking with a new club member, who told me that she had suffered with breathing issues and had been prescribed Seretide for her lungs, and now she had ‘Olympic lungs!’. Sure enough, she’s a great runner. And maybe, just maybe I had an answer to that question that had been bugging me for 4 years.

Decision time. I had to sit down and ask myself

1. Do you want this? You may have to take it every day forever
2. Do you want it because it will help you to run faster?
3. Or do you want it so you can be normal?

Truly I wasn’t convinced that I wanted it, but I knew the answer to the other questions. I’ve not had a bad asthma attack since I was a teenager but I do get EIA- exercise induced asthma, and anything to control that would be a good thing. Do I want it because I want to be the next Lance Armstrong? Nope- I don’t have much competitive drive in running. I do it because of the people, not to win. I WOULD like to be the best I can be without drugs, but I’d also like to be normal. Have a normal VO2 Max, normal lung function, I don’t need or want to compete with the big boys.

I can run ok on the flat, I’m also ok on downhill. I’ve worked my arse off (literally) to get the fitness I currently have, but the big hole in my ability is in climbing hills. It would be so nice to make the top of a hill without thinking I’m going to bust a valve…….

So I went to a local medical centre, spoke to whoever was on duty, and she flat out refused to even consider giving me the drug. Why? Well, I managed to get fit without dying, and Ventolin adequately controls my EIA so I’m shit outta luck. She described to me the 4 stages of asthma control- Ventolin is stage 1 and Seretide is stage 3, so I needed to be a lot more needy to qualify.

Interestingly she did not give me a peak flow test, but I suppose that might be a bit redundant since I’m now reasonably fit. It’s kind of ironic that all this work I’ve done could somehow have disqualified me from getting a drug that would help!

Now I could ‘game the system’ by getting a script online, but I’m content to let a health professional decide what I should and should not do. Maybe one day I will care enough to seek out a sports doctor to discuss, but right now the answer is going to stay ‘no’. Also I’m not keen to use my body as a pincushion like this cyclist.

But here’s the bottom line- I’m deeply happy that I seem to have found an answer to an old problem. In a lot of ways that’s nearly as good as being prescribed the cure. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a steroid drug for the rest of my life, so I don’t have to make that decision.

It would have been nice to find out if that truly was the answer, but for now I will try to figure out if it’s better to train without Ventolin and race with it, or if I should both train and race with it. If you know please tell me!

UPDATE- After posting this on FaceBook, I had a bunch of responses that added a lot more information and perhaps will allow me to express myself a bit better. Here’s a summary (names removed)-

– I didn’t express this very well. I haven’t had a genuine (non EIA) asthma attack for years, but I was a very sick child. I probably would not have survived childhood if not for Ventolin. I’ve been training without Ventolin and would have a few puffs before a race to stop the tightness in my chest. The doctor who advised against Seretide suggested I should use Ventolin whenever I like and definitely use it during training. I have had it before a couple of training runs but it seems to be losing its effectiveness, or perhaps I am becoming habituated to it, which I really don’t want. When I was a kid using the powdered version I would get immediate relief, not so much now- are the dosages smaller than 30 years ago? Don’t know. Last night I forgot to have Ventolin before a pretty tough session and I was gasping all over the place, it was quite ugly- I was definitely WORSE than normal, but it was quite cold so that could have contributed. So in summary I have more work to do- I need to find out the best way to mange what is happening. I don’t qualify for Seretide which is fine, but managing what is happening with the Ventolin is not working well.

Bottom line- I’m not managing my symptoms very well, and need to develop a better plan

Comments from others- There are a lot more people with asthma than I might have guessed, it was great to get some feedback from them. One brave soul admitted that climbing hills might not have been an asthma problem but an anxiety issue which perhaps could be addressed with cognitive therapy. Very interesting.

A couple of people described the feeling that I have been getting and absolutely nailed it. So it does look like I am finally getting closer to some answers- thank you contributors!

Two people suggested Buteyko therapy which is a training method for breathing said to help asthmatics. I doubt that I’ll be able to do this though because ‘Strictly nasal breathing during physical exercise is another key element of the Buteyko method’. The scientific evidence on this that there is no demonstrable benefit, however someone I very much respect said he had seen it work on someone with quite bad asthma, will investigate. The Wikipedia article also mentioned that this method is good for controlling anxiety and may reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks by reducing stress.

Of those that said they had been prescribed Seretide, almost all said that they did not take it as directed- the fact sheet for the drug says that it is a preventative and thus should be taken every day. And yet most users try not to use it this way because of the side effects of the steroid preparation.

 

Sri Chinmoy 24 hour 2014

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Yes, my support table did include some motivation

Yes, my support table did include some motivation

I found it. The thing that makes even experienced runners give you the hairy eyeball. If I tell someone I’m helping out on a ridiculously long run, or that Jane Trumper is running the 2200km Pilgrim Trail I get adventure eyes, and looks of wistfulness if not envy. People are incredibly supportive.

But the moment you say ‘I’m going to run around an athletics track in Rooty Hill for 24 hours’ the ONLY reaction you get is

You WHAT?
Why the hell would you do that?
Won’t you get bored?
Is this some sort of Chinese water torture?
Did you lose a bet?
You have an appointment at the loony bin the next day?
WTF dude?

See- Notice all the NORMAL people?

See- Notice all the NORMAL people?

So why do it? Well, the big plan is to qualify for Coast to Kosciouzko in December, and the qualification standards are as follows (from last year)

First-time C2K Runners and Previously Unsuccessful C2K Runners:

  •   Completion of two ultramarathons in 2012/2013, of which one is to be completed 2013.
  •   Primary qualifying race must be of at least 100 miles (161 km) for trail courses or 180km within 24 Hours for track or road circuits.
  •   Secondary qualifying race must be of at least 100 km.

My best chance for making these quals would be to use TNF100 which I’ve done 4 years running and an ‘easy’ 100 miler. There being no such thing as an easy 100 miler, I could do Glasshouse. Problem- Glasshouse is on the same weekend as the Great North Walk 100s, and GNW100 is the only race I’ve DNF’d.

I NEED to get back and finish that race, so taking the ‘easy’ option can’t happen. At least this year.

Soooo, what’s that bit about a track or road circuit? 180km in 24 hours? Oh dear……. and it’s only 4 weeks after The North Face 100.

‘Luckily’ (is this lucky?) I’d had pretty bad cramps at TNF so I hadn’t run too hard, but I could still feel the race in my legs on my last long run. Really lucky was the fact that that Andy DuBois had agreed to take me on as a client (patient?) and he has forgotten more about running than I will ever know. I think he may have blanched a bit (OK a lot) when I said I needed to run 180km in 24 hours only a month after TNF100.

Nevertheless, he knows his stuff, and said ‘well, do you think you can run 100km in 12 hours and then 80km in the last 12 hours?’

To which I replied ‘yeah, cool, no worries’ which means ‘probably not’. The only performances I could compare were 2013 Poor Mans Comrades and Narrabeen All Nighter from January 2014, where my times for 100km would have been apx 13-14 hours and I wanted to die at the end. Do another 80km after that? Sure, no problem!

Andy developed a strategy of

0-12 hours run 55 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Average pace needed 21 laps per hour
12-24 hours run 45 minutes, walk 15 minutes. Average pace needed 17 laps per hour

on the 400m track.

So, now I had a strategy, how did I force my body into submission? I’ll explain that with a drawing-

Caffeine, I think I love you

Let’s look at a few benefits of this type of running-
– Food and drink every 400m
– Toilets every 400m
– No hills
– The best distance for effort you’ll ever get

And the downsides
– Can’t urinate wherever you want (male trail runners specifically)
– Scenery can be a bit ‘samey’. OK, a lot.

Annabel Hepworth carving it up

Annabel Hepworth carving it up

But I went there to do a job, and I was never truly bored- do you get bored of breathing?

We walked over to the start line, had a few quiet moments of reflection and Martin Fryer (the Race Director) gave a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we were off.

I started slow and got slower, over the course of the first few hours I figured out that a running lap was under 3 minutes and a walking lap was under 4 minutes, meaning that I would only lose a minute or so if I had to walk for a while.

I knew that the hardest bit of the race was going to be from 7-8 hours until the 12 hour mark when I was able to slow down a bit.

Adam Brick and Jade

Adam Brick and Jade. 2 of these people got on the Podium, and one was a very happy but sore old man. Congratulations guys!

Hour 1 was a bit hard, it takes a while to warm up. Hour 2 spent a bit of time thinking that I was feeling better, hour 3 wondering how long I could put off having some delicious Coca Cola that Gordon (bless him) had put on the table. Hour 5 I started to think I was going to be able to make the 25% time mark without dying and hour 6 just trying to punch out those laps. Here comes the tough bit (or so I thought), I’m keeping an eye on the lap board- I’d started in the middle of the pack which put me in the second column of the results, but as time went on I gained a couple of places and went into the first column. This made me happy because I got my results a bit quicker, here’s how it goes-

On the hour, the timing people print out the current placings and send someone over to update the board. They re arrange the names so the placings are correct then update the number of laps done by each runner. Being in the first column of the results board meant that I got those figures within about 2-3 laps of the hour ticking over. Oh yeah, it also meant that I was in a top 10 placing, which spun me out a bit.

Annabel STILL carving it up

Annabel STILL carving it up

I’d pretty much made 21 laps or better each hour and was comfortably up on my target. I knew that I’d need some of those spare laps at some time so I was pretty happy. I also knew that going from 5 minutes of rest every hour to 15 all in one block was not going to suit me at all- I was having a real slump around the half hour mark of every hour. So I mentally decided to modify Andy’s plan and split my 15 minute break up like this-

Run 25 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 20 minutes, walk 10 minutes. Which translates to- run until 25 past the hour, walk until half past, run until 10 minutes to the next hour, walk until the hour ticks over……

This gave me time to eat, drink and visit the toilet. But where was I? Hour 8- I promised myself that I’d have a coffee at hour 11, just to make sure I blasted my target before I got to rest. At hour 10 I needed a toilet stop and an official came out to ask if I had left the track. I said I had been to the toilet, but the next hour my lap total seemed to be down by about 3 laps. I didn’t really have time to yell out ‘My lap shouldn’t have been more than about 5:40 cos I only had a quick slash’. An hour later I was back on track but not sure if I was running faster or I’d had some laps credited back. By the time I got to hour 11 I’d pre loaded with a few cups of Coke and when Gordon delivered a lovely strong coffee I was ready to fly! That coffee grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and I punched out a couple of 23 lap hours. Coming in to hour 13 I was still feeling good, and decided to keep going on the 0-12 hour strategy for as long as possible in the hope of making up a few extra bonus laps. Needless to say this didn’t last long but I was still about 7 laps up and was starting to think I might actually make my target. By now I’d developed a habit where on my walking laps at 50 minutes into each hour I would stop and have a salt tablet, a perpetuem solid, a swig of sports gel and wash it down with lemonade or coke. Then a swig of gel and a drink on my next walking lap at 25 past the hour. I also made a few extra laps (or was that in my mind?) by convincing myself to keep running when passing the clock if it hadn’t quite got to my walking time yet……

Cunningly, it looks like I am running here....

Cunningly, it looks like I am running here….

In a few more hours I’d gone from skipping up the track singing ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ to merely grunting when other runners greeted me. But- I’d kept grinding out the necessary laps. As you may know, I’m not very competitive, so it totally gave me the sh!ts to have to push for such a long time. But it was working……

I was able to give much more than I thought I had to give, and by 4am I’d started making more bonus laps- a 354 lap target was a nice fat 369 actual. I put on the required 17 laps to make 384 by 5am, and at 6am turned over a century to have 401. I stopped having so much caffeine because I was worried about my sanity, and I couldn’t shake the thought that if I kept it up I’d be covered in medics at the end of the race. This of course made me slower, and I calculated that I could walk the rest of the way. After a few pathetic attempts at running, I did. I spent my newly relaxed time recalculating how long it would take me to finish. I knew I couldn’t walk off the course at 450 laps, but I needed at least one more in case there was a muck up in the calculations. Obviously it would be ideal to pump out the laps until the finish sounded but I knew this wouldn’t be possible.

Adam asking Cassie Smith for some tips

Adam asking Cassie Smith for some tips

When I realised I was going to finish an hour before the cut I got a bit emotional. I’d had a lot of trouble counting my laps during the race, relying on the updates every hour but when I got down to the last 35 laps I had extra motivation to make the count, and make them count!

As we got closer to zero I asked Gordon to help me with the count, we held up fingers to each other (in a nice way) as I passed each time, and on the last one I went out for ‘just one more’. I’d done my 450 laps in 22:58. I followed the white line around for my 451st lap, hit the finish line and signalled to the timing people that I was retiring at 23:03.

Go forth and conquer? Well, in that last hour where I left there track I’d slipped from 7th to 9th place, but I still felt like a champion, having make my target and with time to spare. It did seem quite surreal.

Gordon gave me a big sweaty hug and congratulations and I hid my leaking eyes by requiring help to sit down. A short time later we all decided to pack away and not wait for the official end, everyone was tired and I couldn’t see myself pretending to be normal for much longer- I was sure someone would ask a medic to take me out the back and shoot me.

Sure enough, I could not stand up, and needed 2 blokes to carry me to the car, possibly not my finest hour. I’ve never needed to be carried from the playing field before. I would have been completely screwed if I had tried to pack away myself, I’d probably still be there. While I sat in the car waiting, I could hear the countdown to the end as everyone left in the stadium yelled ’10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…….’ and it was over.

I’d been in 7th place when I quit, only a few laps up on the next guy, but I also knew that Annabel Hepworth could beat me if she just stayed out there…… which she did.

Let’s face it, the fact that I was in front at the 23 hour mark was an illusion. Annabel is a much tougher character, a much faster and consistent runner and I should have been chasing her- however many of the key people who should have eaten up this race had problems. I’d been planning on holding on to Cassie Smith because her 2012 total was 182km, but she had a tough day too. At times I variously saw Jade Crim and Kurt Topper in the gazebo fixing their ills.

This is definitely an event that rewards good running form. Gordon snapped a good photo of me swinging my left foot out as I put it down. You’re going to have a problem if you do that 90,000 times in 24 hours- and so it transpired. It seems to have caused a problem with my ITB bursa. A few times I was reminded to loosen up my shoulders, and it’s true- I do slouch badly when I run. Subsequent injury and a visit to Jason Wheeler showed that I am extremely lucky to do an event like that and not suffer more because of my poor running form.

We also saw history being made out there- Robert Knowles ran BAREFOOT and made over 212km- a new (yet to be ratified) world record!

A note about the volunteers (and the food). Everyone was really helpful, volllies- just in case you don’t already know- you’re enthusiasm really did make a difference. When you yelled encouragement, jumped up and down and waved, it made me stand a bit straighter and go a bit faster, thank you. And while I didn’t get to sample much of the food, what I did have was great. I had seconds of the mashed potato and it was brilliant. The pasta was great too and it looked like someone was cooking up a storm. Excellent.

Browsing the AURA records page, I found that Cliff Young (yes THAT Cliffy) had done this race 10 times, with a best of 235km. Obviously no slouch……

So what else went wrong? This might sound a bit silly since I did so well, but there’s always room for improvement. And if someone (NOT ME) wanted to do this event again, perhaps these things could help. I should have had a better plan for nutrition. I went to the race without a real plan. I had about 6-7 flasks of gel and RAN OUT. I should always buy the expensive lollies because the cheap ones are too hard and difficult to chew. Should have planned my caffeine intake a little more carefully. I also would have run SLOWER- knowing now that I can make the distance, I could have eased off a bit and hopefully gone until the final siren. I am a little bit disappointed that I could not rack up a few more laps, simply because I’d spent everything I had in the first 23 hours. I should have had a bigger container to mix up sports drink, and smaller containers to run with. There’s no reason to have a drink bottle more than 300-350ml because you only have 1x400m lap to drink it. I probably should have planned my food a bit better, eating real food seemed to have a positive effect on my performance.

Massive thanks to the unbeatable crew of Gordon Plunkett and Sarah Jane Marshall. They went above and beyond in keeping us all going- and by all I mean they helped everyone- even the strays I dragged into our gazebo. Outstanding effort and I would not have been able to succeed without your amazing help.

Fashion Sense. I lost mine somewhere.....

Fashion Sense. I lost mine somewhere…..

But the thing I’m probably most proud of is something that happened after the race- in one of the Facebook posts Martin Fryer actually called me a ‘warrior’. Thanks Martin, that one word will live with me forever, coming from such a legend it really makes my skin tingle.

By the way, did you know that walking 100 miles in less than 24 hours is a thing? If you can do that, you can call yourself a Centurion.

If you’d like to have a look at a short video of the race, and a really great race report by the race director, and also the results– still provisional at this stage. Interestingly it is this race that Yiannis Kouros still holds a world record for- have a look at the 1997 race here, and check out his first marathon time…….

I seem to have moved into this shadowy world where a 100km run is considered ‘middle distance’. It’s inhabited by strange people who say things like this about doing the Beer MileIt is a really fun event I should send you through the details and you can run your own…..I vomit every time…!!!’

But luckily they aren’t all completely crazy- I also read this ‘I lied down in the shower on Sunday night with a bottle of wine.’ Now that would be bliss!

So would I do it again? Don’t know- 24 hours is a long time, but the people were fantastic, the weather was kind, the crew were amazing. Perhaps my memories are clouded by the fact that I had a blinder, but when another competitor private messaged me the next day and said ‘how about 500 laps next year? 200km sounds like a good target, doesn’t it?’

My first reaction was to lose my lunch- but somewhere in there I thought ‘maybe she’s right, maybe I could’. Maybe…..

Here is my official results- you get times for all of the major distances

Marathon:   4:39:57
50K:           5:35:42
50 mile: 9:32:44
100K: 11:55:17
150K: 18:33:40
100 mile: 20:03:46
24 hours 180.00km

*Most if not all of the photos here are courtesy of Gordon Plunkett, they’re great aren’t they? If I have accidentally used one of yours and you would like it removed or credited please let me know via the contact page, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2946

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

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

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

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

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

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(photo credit Andy Bowen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoops. Just a bit too fast.

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

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

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

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(photo credit Bek Cramp)

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

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

And then the suffering began.

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

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

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

IMG_2977

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

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

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

IMG_2980

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2982

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

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

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

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

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

And almost died.  Under 9 hours.

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

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

 Gear

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(Photo credit Bek Cramp)

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

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

 

Nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: THANKS!!

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

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

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The North Face 100 2014- Stair Master Edition- Race Report

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‘But I thought you were fast!’

I’d walked past a lady who had just finished, and she said ‘I know you- you’re the guy that, that, um….’ So I heaped her out a little by mentioning the thing that I’m most known for ‘I run the Unofficial TNF training page on Facebook

Instantly she looks dubious ‘but I ran with you today- I thought you were FAST!’

I got a good chuckle out of that but- “Nope, I’m a middle aged bloke who haunts the middle of the pack, I write more about running than I actually run, and have no particular talent or ambitions. But I love to help others’

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Some of the NRG Runners- the ones who could still walk on Sunday

But let’s get back to the start. We’d done the final 2 sections a couple of times in training and decided that Brendan Davies was right- this new course was going to be about 1-2 hours slower. However when I actually looked at the course description I figured that they’d simply moved a bunch of the tough bits to the end. There is still a few ‘free’ road km at the start, and the only other difference is the soul destroying descents and ascents from CP4-5.

Who's the lucky boy who got to carry the unreleased Salomon Sense Flyweight Jacket? ME!

Who’s the lucky boy who got to carry the unreleased Salomon Sense Flyweight Jacket? ME! Thanks to Salomon Australia

I was reasonably well prepared, training had been spotty but I’d come good a few weeks before the race. I’d decided this was not going to be a big push as I have other stuff to do this year, but I think that’s the voice of a scared little boy worried about the new course. Then I also had to deal with the blasé old man who had done the race 3 times before and wasn’t worried about anything. Both of them got me into trouble.

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The dark dark night before the race

I’d decided that I’d be happy with a sub 18 hour time, and told lots of people. This took a lot of pressure off, but I should have been a bit more aggressive and put a bit more into training, I took the easy option.

Saturday morning arrives and we get up at 5am to get organised. Then couldn’t find my sunglasses. I always leave them in a very visible place and I freaked out a bit about not having them- I knew it was going to be a bright sunny day and I am susceptible to headaches from sun exposure. I also left my Ventolin puffer on the table at the accommodation. I don’t really need it most of the time, but I do get a tight chest when running in cold air and it does help. That took the wind out of my sails, then we were in a rush to get to the start, picked up Mike McGrath, Ben Rollins and Ian Rowe (and possibly one other?) and headed off. Then the sports field parking was closed off and we had to park on the street, I forgot my sports drink that I always drink at the start, went back to the car to get it and missed my start wave!

So I headed off in wave 4 instead of wave 3, my head a bit messed up because of all the mistakes, but I had one thing going for me- all the blokes in wave 4 who wanted to beat me would now have to finish more than 5 minutes in front instead of simply catching up to me……

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I think Joe Hedges added the motion blur- I wasn’t going that fast!

Off we went and I spent some time running with Tim Lyndon (who finished in 13:55 to get a silver buckle), and we settled in for some fun….. down the Furber steps and across Dardenelles Pass to the landslide, where someone (NOT me) dropped a fart that would have been banned by the Geneva Convention. This was the start of 16.5 hours of completely inappropriate conversations. Ultra running is such a glamorous sport.

We were held up maybe 1-3 minutes at the landslide, but not enough to destroy anyones race and it’s always nice to have a break!

Up the Golden Staircase I had my first bit of positive news. In previous years I’d struggled up here and had to step aside several times to let people past. This year I only had to do it because I was talking too much, rather than about to die. I know it is a few km earlier on this new course, but believe me, it’s not the extra 5km, it’s those bloody stairs! Running Curry Mountain reps definitely helped here, unfortunately looks like I have to keep them up!

My race plan was to carry no fluids for the first 10km, but my carrying capacity was made up of 2x front bottle 750ml each and a squishy hand held of 500ml. I carried 500ml of water in that but didn’t need it because of the 600ml sports drink I’d had at the start. As per my plan I filled the 2 bottles at CP1, grabbed some fruit and took off. Race time into CP1 was 1:26 but this was not recorded by the timing mats. I saw Martyn Dawson, Tanya Carroll and David Madden here looking happy so we all took off hoping to murder the others in the next section. So along Narrowneck we went, and this was where I met Duncan Bell, a former Melbourneite doing his first TNF. I had a fantastic chat with him, and although we finished only minutes apart hardly saw him for the rest of the day. In fact what happened was he was running faster than me but I was spending less time in checkpoints. Sometimes old age and treachery does win hey!

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I got talking to Damon Roberts who has come along to some of the training runs, and we descended Mt Debert into Medlow Gap and headed off towards CP2, Dunphy’s Campground. I hadn’t tightened up my shoelaces enough and my toes were bashing into the front of my shoes. I’d made a promise to myself to fix this at the CP, but got distracted by going to medical. I asked the guy if he had any Ventolin, which he did, and after a couple of puffs I was on my way. Adam Darwin had come over to see if I was ok and taken off. The Ventolin had very little effect but as the day was getting warm I just wanted it for prevention I guess. I caught Adam Darwin and we had a little chat to the bottom of Ironpot Ridge, then I steeled myself for this vicious climb.

I managed to get nearly half way up before my calves started to cramp, and I started screaming. This is only about 32km into the race but I’d forgotten my race plan which was to take 2x salt tabs at 20km and 1-2 every 10km after that. Another blow to the confidence! But why was it so bad so early? Maybe because I’d eaten some of my wifes’ hot chips the day before and needed to drink loads of water? Maybe because this year it was a little hotter than previous years? I don’t know. One more clue is this- although I felt I was taking in loads of fluid, my wee was telling me that I was dehydrated all day, and I did eventually get quite sick of drinking Endura.

Last year Andy DuBois had emailed me after the race and said ‘you could go 20 minutes faster along this section’ – he’s right, but it wasn’t going to happen this year either! Along the top I saw 3 runners helping a female who was on the ground screaming from cramps, I gave them 3 salt tabs and moved on. My cramps came back when coming back on the out and back which is a little scary with the sheer drops on each side but I made it without further incident.

The descent off Ironpot is horrible. It’s pretty much the entire reason why I was wearing my Hoka Mafates, but at least this year the dust was a little less like talcum powder and I only saw one or two falls. About 1km on I saw Kieron Blackmore who looked to be having a tough day, I couldn’t do anything to help so I moved on. After that there’s a couple of creek crossings and then a short, steep ascent to meet back up with Megalong Valley road. My whole leg seemed to seize up here, just as a whole bunch of runners passed me. I’m sure it looked pretty comical!

By this stage I was getting passed a lot and I knew that I couldn’t really push on too much without aggravating the cramps. I should point out that I NEVER thought I wouldn’t finish- I was managing the things that went wrong without too much drama. I’d already decided not to compete with the guys I normally dice with so I had no pressure, and apart from not being able to move very fast and my feet starting to hurt (I STILL hadn’t tightened my laces) I was having a good day.

I did finally catch up with one guy who did a massive power chunder right in front of me, so I asked if he was ok. He didn’t look too good but unfortunately he seemed to speak no English. I reassured him that it was only 5-6km to the checkpoint, which he seemed to understand and I carried on. Damon caught me on the big hill out of Dunphy’s and said ‘I don’t remember this hill!’ and I agreed that it’s not one of the epic climbs that you remember, but it’s bad enough to make you have a little cry inside. We made good time on the road into CP3, but again I couldn’t use any serious speed because of the cramps.

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Possibly the last time I looked serious during the race

Checkpoint 3 is great because it’s the first time you get to see a bag with your own stuff in it. I’d packed a 600ml coke and that was the first thing I knocked the top off. I dumped some rubbish, picked up a flask of gel and took off. This has got to be my fastest ever time at CP3, I’ve always been a bit slower before but I think this might be because it’s been a bit later in the race, and I mentally view it as an opportunity to rest, whereas this year I felt like I needed to get on and finish.

I’d walked out of CP3 still holding my Coke and realised I’d have to carry it to the next checkpoint. Probably should have spent an extra 20 seconds to drink the lot and dispose of the bottle, oh well. Along Six Foot Track I saw Nigel Huband, who I thought should be way ahead of me, but it was nice to chat for a minute. He was lamenting his decision not to bring along any bacon flavoured gels (yes they do exist), but I was trying to coax my shattered shell into running the flats and he soon took off to brighten someone else’s day.

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CP4, but not everyone likes my brand of comedy

It’s really nice to know that you’ll get into CP4 (Katoomba Aquatic Centre) during daylight. In my 3 previous attempts at this race, I’d only managed to get in AND out in daylight once. But of course it’s now at 57km instead of 65km so we were probably an hour earlier. I ran through my mental checklist when approaching the centre and then got really confused about what I was doing. Ended up having to go from one side of the centre to the other a couple of times before getting all of my stuff together. Picked up my fleece, head torch and spare battery (yes I had little ones for the daylight hours). Time- I knew from previous years that getting to CP3 at 54km within 8 hours was a good goal and would contribute to a good time, so this year with CP4 at 57km I figured 8.5 hours would be nice. Sure enough, I made it in 8:16, so pretty much on target. I also knew from doing the last 2 sections twice before that I could do them in 9 hours or 7 hours. Seven hours would get me sub 16, but 8 hours was much more likely! Drank my next coke and put the bottle back in my bag, picked up some noodles and headed out. Through the park, across the swamp and into another park where the track leads to Echo Point, where I saw Martyn Dawson sitting at a park bench. The poor guy had blown his ITB and was pulling out. He’s had a great lead up to the race, running strong and far, but sometimes it’s just things that we can’t control. He’s tougher than me, so I reckon he’ll be back. I sat down with him and ate my noodles, left, came back to collect the fleece that I’d forgotten and hit the track again.

Coming across the park was Beth Cardelli (who welcomed me by name! Wow!), she was in casual gear so I figured she had finished her race already. I later found out she was a DNS but whatever happened I’m sure she will be back stronger than ever.

Up at Echo Point all of the local tourists were making a big noise when they saw runners, it was excellent to get some recognition from these people who sometimes view us as a bit of a pain, it was a great buzz. Down the Giant Staircase I got behind a group of people including the legendary Greg Brown, who I met a C2K last year when he was running and I was crewing for Jane Trumper. He was pretty hard to miss as he had a koala teddy bear strapped to the back of his pack. Mate if you want to scare the tourists, paint some blood around its mouth…..

During this descent there were a couple of women behind us discussing if they were dehydrated so of course I yelled out to a bunch of compete strangers ‘what colour is your wee?’ I heard crickets.

Back on to Dardenelles Pass and into the most hellish part of the whole race. In the last 2 sections you go down into the valley more than 2.5 times (perhaps 800-1000m ascent and descent each time) and at least 1.5 of those is in this section. If you take out the 3km from Hordern Rd to CP5, that means you hit a possible 2000m of climbing in 18km. It’s f/ing hideous. But pretty. Did I mention how pretty? I got to the water stop near Conservation Hut and grabbed a few lollies, oops one of them was a black jelly bean. Normally not a problem, but this time it provoked gut problems that were to plague me for the rest of the race. Not bad, but enough to be uncomfortable. I shouldn’t complain though, I have iron guts compared to most people. Another bad cramp going up some stairs, more salt tabs and at 5:07pm I had to use my head torch for the first time when I went into a lush, slightly hidden under cliff ‘valley’. Just before 6pm the head torch went on full time. It was nice to see Wentworth Falls finally because that meant I would be climbing out Rocket Point Track to Hordern road and some actual running for the first time in a while.

Out onto Kings Tableland Rd a runner who had passed me several times said ‘I can’t really tell if we are going uphill’ and I replied ‘we are, but we go downhill after the next corner’. Sorry runner I meant ‘after the next 3 corners!’. I saw Allison Lilley along here, she was supporting, and when I got into Queen Victoria Hospital CP5, I was mobbed by helpers! That’s pretty good for someone who had no crew!

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Pick the NUTR

Tylana Woodward (who should have been running but pulled out with an injury and then decided to help- aren’t ultra runners awesome?) filled up my bottles, Kath Carty went through my checkpoint list with me, Andrew Bowen hovered in the background trying to look menacing as the grim sweeper, and Kate McElligott got the photos. It was like a Formula 1 pit stop- I knew that I had some food on my that I’d been carrying from the start, so I didn’t pick up much more. Andy said I didn’t have to carry the fleece as I was leaving before 7:30pm (it was apx 7:10pm) so I ditched it. ! drank my 600ml Coke, picked up some lollies and a (pre peeled) mandarin, snarfed down some watermelon and headed out into the night. The mathematical machinations were in overdrive now- to make a sub 16 hour time I needed to finish in 3:40 or less. I knew I needed 20 minutes to climb the last 976 stairs up Furber (for the pernickety- yes I counted them. This includes stairs that go down, does not include drainage channels, but does include one or two stairs that don’t have much ‘rise’. I’d say overall it’s pretty accurate, let’s say 976 +/- 2 stairs). So I had 3:20 to make 22km. There’s 8.5km down to Jamison Creek, I figured if I could make it to Jamison Creek in an hour, I would have 2:20 to do the last 13.5km. An average over this terrain of 10min/km would give me 5 minutes spare. Would my body rise to the challenge? Um, no.

Watch out for this guy. In fact, you can't really miss him......

Watch out for this guy. In fact, you can’t really miss him……

What actually happened was this- I made Jamison Creek in about 1:10 (I think, can’t be sure), but my average over those last 13.5km varied from 9:30min/km to 15min/km. I just couldn’t give a toss about going any faster, so my next challenge became beating my 2012 time of 16:34. I was pretty sure I had this in the bag, but I couldn’t relax. Happy to get to the old sewerage works and head into the single track again. There’s some sharp uphill then you head back along Dardenelles Pass to the foot of the Furber Stairs. I felt like I was moving pretty well here, but my speed was atrocious. At the bottom of the stairs I dumped my last fluids and hit the climb. It was a brutal as expected. My legs were not cooperating, so I had my gloves on and pulled myself up using the handrails. Distracting my mind by counting the stairs and looking up occasionally to see the bright lights at the top- you could hear the crowd, it was very comforting!

I finally hit the top of the stairs and went across the walkway, I turned off my headlamp kind of hoping I could make a quiet slink across the line, but then the crowd started to roar. I couldn’t believe that so many people were still so vocal at this time of night and so I lifted my hands up a bit higher and the crowd got louder! This encouraged me to do a heel clap across the line (I’ve never been able to do that before) and so it was over. A few seconds before the next minute ticked over got me a 16:25 and my second best result in this race from 4 attempts. Very happy as my aim was sub 18 hours. It did look like sub 16 was available at some stage, but I don’t care. I took it pretty easy and I do think that taking an hour off that time wouldn’t have been impossible- HOWEVER- People like Adam Darwin, Chantelle Farrely and Rocco Smit all did around 15:30 and they are all better runners than I am so that will remain unknowable!

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It didn’t FEEL like I was wearing hover shoes…..

Having so many cramps during the race really f’ed up my legs and I only managed to get them moving better by having a little run on Monday, but now my toes are the big problem- big toes and little toes on both feet are a bit black. I don’t think I’ll lose the toenails, but they are quite swollen and bruised which is new for me. No blisters though, which is nice. Oh yeah, my sunglasses were on the table in front of the TV, but they’d been covered by a plastic bag. Oh well! Eight hours 16 minutes for the first 57km, 8 hours 10 minutes for the last 43km. Sounds about right!

Nutrition
Start to CP1- carried 1 gel flask, 1 packet Clif Shot Bloks Margarita flavour, 6x Hammer Perpetuem solids, 1 packet Strawberry Gu Chomps, 1 packet Cranberry Apple Gu Chomps, 1 tube of 12 Gu Brew tablets, 1 Lemon Sublime Gu, 1x 140g packet of the Natural Confectionary Company Strawberries & Cream Bliss, 1 Gu Roctane for emergencies. 500ml water.
Actually consumed- about 2 sips of gel
Still in my bag at finish-  6x Hammer Perpetuem solids, 1 packet Strawberry Gu Chomps, 1 packet Cranberry Apple Gu Chomps, 1 tube of 12 Gu Brew tablets, 1 Lemon Sublime Gu, 1x 140g packet of the Natural Confectionary Company Strawberries & Cream Bliss, 1 Gu Roctane for emergencies
I filled up my bottles with Endura at CP1, and by the time I got to Tarro’s Ladders I still had most of it left, meaning I had 1.5l of sports drink for the next 11km. So I dumped the water from the soft flask and didn’t use it for the rest of the race. Couldn’t dump it though, because then I wouldn’t comply with the 2l fluid capacity requirements. I could have however swapped it for my 600ml Cokes at the last 3 checkpoints, and probably would have if I had a good spot in my pack.

CP1-2
Actually started taking in fluid and food here but it was too late, I was dehydrated for most of the day.
Consumed- 1 packet Clif Bloks Margarita, equiv 2 gels, 1 mandarin and 1 piece of banana at Tarro’s, watermelon and a toothpaste flavoured Endura gel at CP2.

CP2-3
Gel before Ironpot, 2 salt tabs halfway up, 2 more 10km later, more gel. At CP3 I drank 600ml coke, ate watermelon and a couple of lollies

CP3-4
I tried to eat a BSc Missile Bar along Six Foot Track, not very successful, ate about 60% of that and had some gel at the bottom of Nellie’s Glen. At CP4 I drank a 600ml Coke and grabbed some cup noodles and left.

CP4-5
Ate the noodles while stopped with Martyn Dawson. Ate some lollies from Conservation Hut water stop, more gel. Worried about running out of fluids so I took some water from this stop as well. I did consume some, but still had heaps when I arrived at CP5. At this CP I drank a 600ml Coke, grabbed some lollies, 1 piece of watermelon and a pre peeled mandarin. Filled bottles with Endura and left. Had this and some gels on the last section.

Totals
I was drinking an average of about 600-700ml fluids per 10km, which is a bit low for me. My consumption of gels and food was surprisingly low as well. I guess this could have something to do with my reducing my sugar intake for the last 4 weeks before the race. I’d forgotten to get the boiled eggs into my checkpoint bags so I didn’t really have anything with loads of protein except for the Missile Bars and for some reason had trouble getting these down. My home made gel consumption was about 3.5 of the 5 flasks I had available. There’s about 4 gels in each of these so I had about 12-14 gels in total. I probably could have saved myself from carrying about 400g with all of the extra food I didn’t eat!

A note about supporters- for NRG, we’ve had about 3-4 entrants in 2011, 6-8 in 2012, around 12 in 2013 and 45 in 2014! What an amazing result, and some really fast times too. I won’t even mention that I beat Robyn Bruins last year and she came back this year to make 12th Female. Oops. This huge increase in numbers has led to a massive increase in supporters and we love you. I’ve never exactly been lonely out there but coming into a CP and having a huge cheer go up really makes your day. It’s often cold and boring for those people, so a huge thank you for making the effort- see you next year as a runner?

I'm having a bit of trouble turning any of these into silver- know any alchemists?

I’m having a bit of trouble turning any of these into silver- know any alchemists?

Now, you’ve seen all of those names and you’re thinking ‘geez what a name dropper’. Well, you’d be right. Every one of those people, whether they know me or not, has contributed to my being there, and the happiness it brings me. I’m amazed that I can just casually have conversations with superstars like Brendan Davies, Gretel Fortmann, Jo Brischetto and others, but basically we’re all in it together…….Most comical part of the awards presentation was when Tom Landon Smith (the Race Director) was showing off the swollen knee of a female English competitor Claire Walton. She’d come 5th, but had fallen in the first 5km and fractured her patella. He leaned in and said ‘I just want to find out if your knee has anything to say about the fact that you dragged it along 95km while busted’ and he put the microphone down towards her knee and we heard a whispered ‘faaaaark youuuuuuu’

Brilliant.

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Photo credits- Tylana Woodward, David Brown, Kate McElligott, and the amazing and talented Joe Hedges!