List of North Face 100 Training Runs 2015

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Remember to check the training page on FaceBook regularly for updates, it’s here

Week 1
Saturday 21 March
The HahnMich Manoeuvre 17-34km options

Week 2
Saturday 28 March
TNF100 CP1 to CP2, Shortcut to CP3 then back up Nellies Glen 42km

Week 3
Saturday 4 April
North Face Start to finish via Jamison Valley- 2014 course! 40-44km

Week 4
Sunday 12 April
Canberra Marathon/ Ultra 42/50km

Week 5
Sunday 19 April
Running Wild Mt Solitary Ultra 45km

Week 6
Saturday 25 April
Fatass Hellgate Gorge 45km

Week 7
Saturday 2 May
Inner Harbour Loop 30km

Week 8
Saturday 9 May
Manly Dam 25km

 

The maps are linked on the FaceBook event (in the ‘get tickets’ section)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from our hotel over the start/finish area

The view from our hotel over the start/finish area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view back down to Chamonix

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

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

3 famous trail runners - yeah right!

3 famous trail runners – yeah right!

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

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


Start to Saint Gervais

0 – 21kms
Fri 5.30pm – 8.53pm

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

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

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

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

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

Still from UTMB Video captured by Adam Connor

Still from UTMB Video captured by Michael McGrath

Photo from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux

Photo from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux

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

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

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

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

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

The best ever Chicken Noodle Soup

The best ever chicken noodle soup

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

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


Saint Gervais to Les Chapieux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

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

    Source unknown

    Source unknown


Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

49kms – 77kms
Sat 3.53am to 10.57am

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the trail overlooking the Italian town of Courmayer

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

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

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

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


Courmayeur to Champex-Lac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.06.07 pm

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

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


Champex-Lac to Vallorcine

122kms to 149kms
Sun 1.01am to 9.24am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vallorcine to Chamonix (finish)

149kms to 168kms
Sun 9.37am to 2.43pm

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

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

Looking back at where we had climbed up from

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

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

Source unknown

Source unknown

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

before Flegere

Tete aux vents mini checkpoint

Coming towards Tete aux vents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy & Joel on our post race holiday

Amy & Joel on our post race holiday

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

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

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Hoka One One Mafate Speed Review

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Shoe porn, stolen directly from the Hoka website

Shoe porn, stolen directly from the Hoka website

I’ve never done a shoe review before, so please excuse me if some of this doesn’t sound ‘right’. I do however hope it is all ‘correct’!

The shoes were kindly supplied by Northside Runners, they didn’t ask me to write a review but I thought it would be cool since they’ve been so nice to me. Also just because I have a wall full of Hokas don’t think I’m incapable of being brutally honest- I’m really just trying to be impartial, and yes some of it may be uncomplimentary.

But not this time!

The Great North Walk 100s held on the weekend of 13-14 September this year are billed as ‘Australia’s toughest trail races’ and I don’t know if that is true, but the 100km (actually 104km) and the 100 miler (actually 108 miles or about 175km) are pretty damn tough. The trail goes through some beautiful but very unforgiving country, and towards the end there’s  lots of sandstone rocks which can shred shoes and the sheer distance can make mincemeat out of your feet.

It had rained a fair bit before this race and I knew that I needed loads of grip as the trail was likely to be very muddy in parts. As I contemplated the shoe wall I realised that both pairs of Stinsons were getting a bit flat on the bottom and the Mafate 2’s that I had bought cheap last year were just a touch too small for such a long distance race (I’d worn them on the Larapinta and had lasted 3 days before switching to the Stinsons). Obviously the answer was more shoes (as Imelda herself would say)!

I spoke with Michael Delgarno and suggested the Mafate Speeds or the Altra Olympus as I really like a wide toe box, but his advice was to go with the Hokas because the Altra is a zero drop shoe and would require a bit of adaption. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I suggested I wanted to wear brand new shoes for a 108 mile run, good man. It also meant that I would be safe from Roger Hanneys voodoo dolls, at least for a while…….

They ordered in a size 11 and size 11.5, and when I went in to collect them it was immediately obvious that the 11.5 were the winner. Nice and roomy down front and possibly a little less wide than I would like, but these are currently the widest shoe in the Hoka range. I also treated myself to a new pair of Injinji Trail 2.0 socks for the adventure.

So, how did they go? They felt awesome. I’ve never had so much confidence flying down muddy tracks or climbing up ascents with dodgy grip. More than once I was saved from getting wet feet simply because the foam is so high- as I sank into the mud the water couldn’t get into the upper!

Hoka Mafate Speed- slightly used by one old lady on a Saturday and late into Sunday

Hoka Mafate Speed- slightly used by one old lady on a Saturday and late into Sunday

They did bleed a bit of colour on to my feet, I looked like I had bruised feet after the run. And it took me a couple of goes to get the tongue settled on top of my left foot- it had a crease in it. However this is probably just a symptom of being a new shoe.

And yes, I did have to stop and tape up my little toe, which was bashing against the side of the shoe. Relief came immediately but I’m not marking the shoes down because of that- if I’d been sensible I would have taped the little toes before wearing them for such a long race. There is such a thing as being TOO cocky!

The ride is a lot harder than the Bondi’s, somewhat surprising for a shoe that unashamedly rocks the maximal look. But with a good pair of socks they feel like weapons ready to go to war with the trail. I wanted to compare with something different so I strapped on a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3’s and headed out for a little run this morning. The tongue felt enormous and it took my feet a little while to get used to them however I’d definitely put it like this- Speedcross is a good alternative for any fast gnarly run under about 45km, and the Mafates for anything else.

At the end of the race they still looked 7/10, which is better than I could say for the rest of my body. They have a small hole in the top of the left shoe- I must have dragged it on some rocks. A bit disappointing however not a big deal. They look great for shoes that are nearly 30% through their working life after one race, I think they will last really well. The grip is extraordinary, I think I might be the only runner who didn’t come close to falling over in this race, yes there were some epic spills! OK smartarse, I’m aware that 7/10 and ‘30% of their working life’ doesn’t really inspire confidence, however if I would wash the shoes (or at least rub the dirt and sand off) they’d be an 8/10. Humph.

Now if you think I’m being a bit down on these shoes, let’s take a step back and look at the facts- they had enough cushioning to enable me to complete a 175km run with very few issues. The only blisters I got were in places where I forgot to lube my feet. Yeah, I’m that dumb. They stopped me from sliding around like 90% of the field and prevented me from getting wet feet more than once. They didn’t get too hot, and the terrain didn’t chew them up as much as expected. I’m a fan.

These are not perfect- I would still like 1-2mm more width in the toe box, and perhaps a more hole resistant toe cover, but they get very close. If you need some gnarly trail shoes, you should consider these. I’m actually looking forward to using them at Hume & Hovell.

Great North Walk 100 Miler GNW100s 2014

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I know it sounds stupid to most people but I wasn’t worried about running 175km, I was worried about the sleep monsters.

I CAN RUN FOREVER*

*as long as I keep eating, drinking and moving forward there’s no problem. When I’ve helped out people like Joe Ward, Kirrily Dear and Jane Trumper I’ve typically taken the night shift and I’m quite happy run/walking through the bush at night and telling silly stories. These are the things that great adventures are built on. But some people get an extra buzz when the sun comes up and a new day starts. Not me, I get sleepy. So I had to consider the prime directive-

FINISH THE RACE

After the disaster of last year I had to take a long look at strategy and give myself the best chance of a finish. One of the reasons I do these long races is because you never know what is going to happen- a finish is never guaranteed. I am comfortable with a DNF, but I was pretty motivated to not collect another one this year. This year I have big plans. Yes kids, that means C2K. As far as I can tell, there are a couple of official requirements and a couple of unofficial ones. Officially you need to do 180km on road or a 100 mile trail race. Now I’ve done both this year. Unofficially you need to have crewed and have completed the GNW100 miler. Tick!

Normally I run with a head full of caffeine and breeze through the race. The major problem with doing this is my vocal filter (which isn’t very good to start) falls off completely. This means I say some fairly outrageous things but luckily I can usually get forgiveness from my friends! This strategy wasn’t going to work for this race. Even a 30 hour finish would mean kissing the post at midday- 6 or so hours after daybreak. I needed to be very conservative, assume I was going to just make the cut off at 6pm and try to make sure my caffeine intake didn’t spike too early or I was going to be spazzy with tiredness too early.

I do think that my subconscious was trying to destroy my plans though. by the week before the race I had not organised-

1. Transport to a hotel near the start
2. Getting to Warners for the pre race meal
3. Accommodation on Friday night
4. Transport to the start on Saturday morning

Australia’s toughest trail race? So, let’s see what we can do to make this a little bit more difficult….. how about we do it with no crew and have your pacer pull out with injury 3 days before the race? Now that’s a proper challenge!

I was gutted for my pacer as her injury has proven to be tough to shake, it was a little disconcerting when she dropped of a charging cable to hear her knee grinding as she moved it. Recover well!

I really wasn’t concerned about doing the race without crew, and the lack of a pacer isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes it’s great if you don’t know the way, and you kind of need someone around in case you totally lose your shit, but I knew I could either pick up a pacer whose runner had pulled out or simply run with another runner for the last few sections. I know the way fairly well. Or so I thought…….

Massive thanks to Rob Mattingly who offered to share his room at Pippi’s. Luckily this was very close to the start. Unluckily it was Friday night and there were several bands playing. That’s ok, I don’t need sleep. Oh wait, yes I bloody do!

A Note from my coach. He expressed it a little differently......

A Note from my coach. He expressed it a little differently……

I also carried with me a note from my coach Andy DuBois. he said- ‘Believe a finish is possible until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it isnt – ie you have missed a cutoff or have been told not to continue  – if neither of those things happen then keep putting one foot in front of the other’. Wise words.

We woke at 4:10am, ate and dressed for a big day out. I slipped on my new Hoka One One Mafate Speeds (review coming soon) and we ventured off into the night. Brand new shoes for a 108 mile run? Yes, I’ve done 2 or 3x 100km runs in new Hokas and never regretted it. Michael Delgarno from Northside Runners didn’t even bat an eyelid at this stupidity. Thanks!

David, Marty & Adam at the start

David, Marty & Adam at the start

It’s amazing to be around the start. We collected our t shirts, got our wristbands and were weighed in, and waited for Dave Byrnes to do the race briefing at 5:30am. It was a very different feeling for me this year- last year we had a huge group but this year we were missing Rocco Smit, Adam Darwin and Jennie Sharland- Riggs. Although Jen would be with many of us during the race doing support, and getting to hang around for a while speaking to my mates and running heroes before the race is amazing.

At 6am I didn’t hear Dave give the go signal (as usual) but suddenly everyone started moving forward and we were off…..

Start to CP1 Watagan State Forest (28.6km)
The first few km are on the road and we were all very careful to go easy, and I drifted along chatting to Kurt Topper and Damon Roberts, both of whom I had met through the Unofficial TNF training group. I had drunk 600ml of sports drink before the start and had 2x 750ml bottles on the front of my pack containing electrolyte. By the time we got to Heaton Gap service station at about 15km I didn’t need to fill up but I went and had a pee, this being the last real toilet for some time…..

As I was crossing the road Martyn Dawson caught up, and the last I saw of him until the end was his bum disappearing up the monstrous climb.

It was right here that I was reminded of a couple of things-
1. Having a massage before the race is absolutely necessary, and I had absolutely not done it. Having run the 240km Larapinta last month and had 3 races in 4 weeks this month, I REALLY needed a massage. Time had conspired against me and it didn’t happen, so my legs started to complain on the first big climb. Bugger.

2. I really do have something wrong with my lungs/ heart/ body/ whatever. I was running comfortably until that first big climb but I lost about 35 places in 800m. I was gasping for air, sweating bullets and needed to stop constantly. It was really obviously a problem, and something I’m looking forward to working out. Why on earth do I enter races with so much vertical ascent?

As we came close to the rainforest section I tried to get a group of us together because of the difficult navigation. We did go a little bit wrong however Billy Bridle managed to show us the correct way!

I came into CP1 a bit behind David Brown but honestly the competition here was in my head, not with other runners. I had planned to go easy on the caffeine for as long s possible but I had a cup of Coke there, grabbed a bottle of gel and a pack of dried bananas and took off.

Time: 4:51
Time in CP: 12 minutes
Position: 138

This was dangerous, because average time for a 36 hour finisher was 4:55, meaning I was dicing with the cutoffs and it was only checkpoint 1!

Kurt & Adam at CP1

Kurt & Adam at CP1

Annabel Hepworth before Golden Compass award

Annabel Hepworth before Golden Compass award

Kirrily Dear at CP1

CP1-CP2 Congewai Public School (24km, total 52km)
Luckily Kurt Topper came with me and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting. He’s a lovely bloke, quiet and considerate. Did I just hear you say he’s the complete opposite of me? Harsh but fair. I pulled my dried bananas out of my pocket and suddenly realised why these aren’t sold in supermarkets any more. They look like poo. It’s pretty much impossible to make them look like anything else except dried turds. But yummy turds, and great ultra food!

This stage is significant because it looks fairly flat in profile. But that’s a damn lie. Although it does have a few km of fairly pleasant groomed road as you come into the checkpoint. Except that you arrive at that point in the middle of the day and there isn’t any shade over much of the road. Coming into Congewai was a very different beast to last year- there was a bit of a celebratory atmosphere rather than the last rites of the previous year. No bodies on the ground, very few people needing medical attention and loads of smiling vollies.

Another cup of Coke, and Jennie was there to help me, as well as Zoe Howard and Jill Saker. Thanks ladies! I also ate a can of dolmades, the Greek rice wrapped in vine leaves. This worked well last year, and I’m pleased to say the same this year. It’s very difficult to get a product with a decent amount of protein in a non refrigerated drop bag but this seems to work nicely.

Time: 3:31
Time in CP: 24 minutes
Position: 124

A long checkpoint because I ate and fixed a blister, could have been much faster. A 36 hour finisher would do this in about 3:36- I wasn’t making up much time!

 

Joe Ward at CP2. he would go on to make 12th overall and 10th male!

Joe Ward at CP2. he would go on to make 12th overall and 10th male!

 

Kieron Blackmore at CP2. Another cracking run by a lovely bloke

Kieron Blackmore at CP2. Another cracking run by a lovely bloke

CP2 to CP3 (the Basin Campground (29km, total 82km)
Kurt came with me and we battled up the communications tower climb and used the downhills after that for the occasional trot. We crossed the farm with the little stream as the sun was fading and climbed up to the first unmanned water stop where a few people were having a well deserved top up. The fresh water was delicious! We got out our headlamps and at almost exactly 6pm switched them on. I have a new headlamp and I’d forgotten to program the output and burn time, so I was very worried that it would burn out too quickly on the factory settings. oh well, at least I had a spare battery. And also a spare torch. And spare batteries for the torch…… in the end it lasted until almost exactly 4am, so 10 hours burn time and very bright is really very good!

Shortly afterwards we had a couple of guys come back towards us complaining that they had gone the wrong way. After arguing with them for a while I accepted that they were right so we headed back and found a turn off that we had missed. Then there was a tree across the trail causing a bit of a back up, but great conditions for a bit of running after. I noticed Kurt falling further and further behind and he finally admitted that an old war injury was playing up. I was a bit rude to him in the hope it wasn’t serious and he’d snap out of it, but it wasn’t to be. So I continued by myself which isn’t so bad because the last few km of this section you have people coming back out to head over the hill for the next CP. I got to see a few people who were in front of me but not Martyn, so he must have been flying!

I sat down in the CP and the lovely vollies brought me several cups of soup and some Coke. I dumped some of the food I’d been carrying since the start and hadn’t eaten and picked up a gel flask and a Coke to take away. I picked up my battery pack and cables and started charging. When you charge the Garmin 910xt on the run it keeps recording but does not display any stats. Charging it to 100% just before CP4 gave me enough juice to record the entire 35 hour journey. Sweet.

Time: 5:43
Time in CP: 11 minutes
Position: 107

Made up some time here, a 36 hour finisher would be 6:24. Also this is the only checkpoint I did without waiting for anyone. Seemed slow to me, but 11 minutes is ok!

Brad and Martyn

Brad and Martyn

CP3- CP4 Yarramalong Public School (24km, total 103km)
There’s a massive climb out of the Basin and I didn’t really know the way so I was determined that I should have someone with me to share the navigation. Well, hopefully tell me where to go, in a nice way. So I dragged a lovely bloke called Pat along and we managed to have our first disagreement at the top of the hill. Something gave me the powerful urge to make my mark on the trail, so a few minutes later I came out of the bush pulling my pants up only to surprise one of the international runners, a Cuban lady called Nahila Hernandez who is doing the 5 continents challenge. This race is the 4th of the year with only Israel to go in 5 weeks. She was understandably a bit reluctant to shake my hand but I did assure her that the other runners were ‘just down this way. Yes, into the creepy dark bushland….’

We caught up with Pat and after abut half an hour of her following us we started up a conversation. She’s obviously a very tough woman, having completed Badwater in 58 degree heat last year, but when we asked her what the hardest challenge of the 5 continents was, she didn’t hesitate ‘this one!’

There’s about 10km of road into CP4 and yeah, I thought it would never end. But we eventually got to CP4 which is the end of the race for the 100km runners. I had 2 sausage sandwiches (they’d run out of soup) another cup of Coke and grabbed some stuff from my drop bag. I’d made a deal while on the way into the CP that we would leave together, but we’d lost the Cuban runner, she was having nasty foot trouble.

Time: 4:23
Time in CP: 25 minutes
Position: 115

Actually lost a couple of positions here because I spent too long in the CP. It was a bit of a disaster because I lost Pat for a while in the CP and when I found him he still had lots to do. Not his fault but I should have been more on top of things. 36 hour finish time for this section is 4:30.

 

CP4 to CP5 ( Somersby, 29km, total 132km)
Pat and I left Yarramalong and headed up Bumble Hill Rd towards the GNW track head. We were quickly caught up by Sarah Highfield and her pacer. They were going at a fairly quick (walking) pace and I advised Pat that we should try to stick with them because we were about to hit the infamous Dead Horse Creek section and it’s navigation challenges. This turned out to be a great idea because her pacer had the notes out and was reading and understanding them, unlike us. We managed to contribute a little bit by pointing the right way a couple of times, but my power of speech wasn’t all that great. Thanks for getting us through that section guys! We surged past before 40 Acre Farm, but they decided to run when we got out to the road and we didn’t see them for the rest of the race. I should mention that I’d pretty much given up running before CP3. Why? Because I could! I’d gone from being behind the time needed to finish before the cut, to well in front simply by having a fast walk. I really needed to finish this race so the choice was to take it easy and deal with the sleep monsters, or speed up, risk bonking and still deal with the sleep monsters. Under almost any other circumstances I’d probably be trying to catch up to Martyn Dawson, but not this time…….

Doing some sums, I knew that last year I had arrived at Somersby at 9am, and I had 9 hours to do the last 42km, which was ok, but not a lot of time. I was pretty keen to beat that to give us a bit of a buffer- late in the race, the key target is to make the last unmanned water stop by 3pm. Whilst it is unmanned for most of the race, there is someone there who will DNF you after 3pm on Sunday. If you make it by 3pm, you have 3 hours to do the last 12km.

I’d noticed that Pat was taking a while in the checkpoints and so we had a little chat ‘you know mate, those checkpoints aren’t an oasis of food and rest, they are a fierce dragon that sucks time out of your race and destroys your chances of finishing’. I’m sure he silently called me names after that little speech but we agreed that the next checkpoint would be only 10 minutes. Poor guy was starting to suffer too, this probably did not come at a good time. We arrived at 7:34am and my family was there! It was lovely to see them but in all of the photos I look really cranky because I was trying to concentrate on my tasks to get ready for the next section. It’s only 18km to the next CP, so I dropped a heap of useless crap and re packed my bag. We got out at 7:48am and now had over an hour buffer on last year! Yay!

Time: 5:54
Time in CP: 14
Position: 49

This section would take a 36 hour finisher apx 6:50 so we were comfortably ahead. not competing anymore with the 100km runners made us jump many places too. Could have shaved a bit off this CP time, but not much.

CP5 to CP6 ( Mooney Mooney 18km, total 150km)
Not much to tell here, I assured Pat that I still wanted to finish with him, despite me being a bit of a prick about time in checkpoints. the terrain and navigation isn’t particularly challenging which is nice. There’s some rolling fire trail before we walk/ run beside Mooney Mooney Creek and we caught up to David Brown and his pacer Bruce Craven. I think it’s a good thing having someone with you who is capable of thought, so we spent a bit of time with them. Bruce is taller than me and called out a low hanging branch. However I had lost the ability to bend down so I smacked my head right into it and landed flat on my arse. It was a pretty big smack and there was some blood spilled, but overall pretty funny. Except when I tried to stand up again, which was quite a challenge. Around this time David was having a bit of a low point and we got slightly ahead. I wasn’t expecting this, David has been training the house down and had been in front for something like 28 hours, but I figured if he wanted the position he’d come back and take it!

My wife Sarah was at Mooney Mooney and Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges turned up too! Adam is one of the 31 tough people who finished last year and Joe was his pacer. It was lovely to see them but quite unexpected. I felt very relieved to get into CP6 as I knew we absolutely had it in the bag. We arrived at 11:01am, meaning that we had 4 hours to get to the unmanned water stop, only 12.7km away.

Time: 3:13
Time in CP: 6 minutes
Position: 47

Average 36 hour time is 3:36 so we made up a bit. Luckily this CP is small, boring and there is only one stage to the end, which equals a fast transition time. They should all be like this!

Martyn at CP6

Martyn at CP6

Rob, Ross and Martyn

Rob, Ross and Martyn

CP6 to Finish (Patonga 25.5km, total 175km)
There’s no getting around it- the last section is beautiful, but brutal in so many ways. We rolled on for the first few km, then I think Pat decided that our progress was not fast enough, and he put on a spurt. I wasn’t 100% happy, but I realised that our progress had slowed considerably due to the terrain. It was taking ages to cover each km, and it wasn’t because we could smell the finish. In fact we couldn’t even smell Woy Woy rubbish tip because that was still 10km away……

We finally reached the unmanned water stop at 1:40pm- nearly 90 minutes to spare! A few swigs of cold water was just bliss as it was very exposed out on the rocks, and Pat sat down for a couple of minutes to rest his knees. I wasn’t concerned because I knew that unless I had an accident I was going to get my long desired finish.

The last 12km seemed to go on forever. Pat asked me what the sequence was, and because I know the area really well I could name all of the landmarks. But he kept saying them back to me in a much more abbreviated form- leaving bits out in the hope that the end would come sooner! I had a lot of sympathy for that attitude but yeah, it doesn’t work like that.

In the last 2 hours we probably lost 4 places but I was happy just chugging along. On one hand if I’d been by myself I might have gone faster, but I was so grateful to have someone to share the experience with, even if neither of us could talk much. I think having a fresh pacer would help a lot, but remember the prime directive- finish!

We got up to the final road crossing and there was Sarah, Alex (my son), Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges again. Alex started to run towards me like he was going to jump into my arms and I screamed out ‘don’t touch me!’ I was terrified that I would fall over and be unable to get up! I’d also spent quite a while reminding myself not to take any outside assistance- i.e.. don’t hand your wife any rubbish etc if it’s outside a checkpoint.

We crossed the road, walked the single track, and even had a bit of a trot down the fire trail towards the car park at Warrah Trig point. I said to Pat we should finish together but as it was about 34:40 into the race we shouldn’t try for sub 35 as it seemed too difficult. He replied that his knees were giving him grief and I should go down the final descent without him. I wasn’t altogether cool with this but I thought I should do what he asked in case he needed to experience the moment by himself.

So I bombed down the vicious final descent (how often do you hear that at the end of a 175km race report?) and arrived at the beach only seconds after another runner. I had no intention of beating him but I realised I could actually go under 35 hours if I hustled. I ran up to the car park and an old man in a beat up car said ‘the trail is along the beach’ and I replied ‘mate have a look at the gate I just came through, there is a GNW symbol on it- the correct path is through the car park’ so he just shut up and drove off……

Back on to the beach at the next GNW sign and Alex ran towards me for the big finish and I was running quite well- feeling fresh and in control (might not have looked that way) I blew a kiss to the finish post just before the next runner and gratefully accepted the finishers medal from Dave Byrne. total time 34:57:51

Pat came in about 3 minutes later and promptly disappeared. All I can say is thanks for your company for the last 100km my friend!

Time: 5:50
Time in CP: N/A
Position: 41

6:07 for a 36 hour finisher, so we just beat that!

Rob & Marty- age group podium!

Rob & Marty- age group podium!

This photo shows me finishing in front of the guy who was pronounced equal 49th, but he appears in the results above me. Complain? Not me!

This photo shows me finishing in front of the guy who was pronounced equal 49th, but he appears in the results above me. Complain? Not me!

Adam & Alex finishing

Adam & Alex finishing

 

attempting to bend down and accept the medal

attempting to bend down and accept the medal

I reckon there’s easily 90 minutes to be taken off this time, perhaps a couple of hours if I concentrate. Sub 30 hours? That would assume I’m doing it again….. I think I’ll wait for the swelling to go down first thanks!

Now I have 2 qualifiers for Coast to Kosci, but I could not have done any of this without-
1. My wife. Thank you Sarah for letting me get in the stupid hours of training
2. My coach. Andy DuBois, for helping me to race smart
3. Northside Runners. For providing the shoes, sponsorship, and more reason not to DNF!
3. My friends. I wouldn’t run if it wasn’t for you

Great stories- Rumour is that Martyn Dawson had to flag down a cyclist and borrow a knife so he could cut a hole in his shoe to relive the pressure from his blisters. He still managed to finish equal third in his age group with Rob Mattingly. Amazing effort guys! Nahila the Cuban runner got out of CP4 barely 2 minutes before the cutoff and still finished the race- 2 minutes before the 36 hour cut!

 

Thanks to Jill Saker, Jen Sharland- Riggs and Sarah Connor for the photos, and thanks to Joe Ward and MBRC for the video!

UPDATE 18.9.14- get the raw results, and everybody’s progress times.
Final statistics for the miler-
91 Entrants
57 finishers
4 DNS
30 DNF

More stats for me-
Runner number 31
Starting weight 74.1kg
Weight at CP2 73.2kg
Weight at CP4 73.1kg
Weight at CP6 72.9kg

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