I wrote most of this while we were driving between stops. Most driving days were between 2-3 and maximum 6 hours of driving so I had plenty of time to summarise while Sarah drove…..
Day 1- Wednesday March 9
March 9 we got on a plane for Los Angeles- it’s a 13 hour flight. I usually manage to get some sleep but this time I watched 5 movies instead. Of course I was pretty shattered by the time we landed, but it was 6am local time and we needed to stay up as long as possible so we could get into sync with the time difference. Honestly it’s not too bad with only an effective 5 hour difference. OK it’s actually 19 hours but midday in LA is 7am Sydney. So most days I had until about 2pm before any support tickets came in!
It’s kind of strange to leave at 11am on Wednesday morning and arrive at 6am on Wednesday morning after such a long flight, but the mental gymnastics to deal with the situation were overwhelmed by the desire to sleep…..
That first day we managed to drag our old carcasses around to the local shops to pick up some essentials. They had a whole aisle of breakfast food but I found it impossible to buy anything without heaps of sugar. I normally like a non toasted, natural muesli for breakfast but even the muesli was all toasted and in 100 different sugary flavours. Later I learned that to get natural muesli you have to go to a health food store. And those are chock full of incredible stuff like 5 different flavours of hemp milk. Yes, hemp milk.
Saw loads of interesting cars- without exaggeration I’d say Teslas are about as common here as Volvos. Lots and lots of Maseratis, couple of Ferraris and Bentleys and a Koenigggseg. We even saw 3 KTM X-Bows, I mean I think only about 3 of them were ever made? One other difference from back home is the crapload of electric cars. Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and hybrid Prius mixing it up with the Teslas. Seriously- so many Teslas. It became such a thing that eventually Sarah threatened to punch me if I pointed out any more, and she punches hard.
Day 2- Thursday March 10
La Brea Tar Pits
The La Brea Tar Pits is a place I’d always wanted to visit, and we found that we were staying within walking distance! The main ‘pit’ is a grungy looking pool that’s free to visit, but looks very unattractive. Apparently tar bubbles up through the ground from time to time in various areas of the park, and there’s green traffic cones warning people of small eruptions. We went into the museum and they’ve done an awesome job of explaining the history and there’s even a film describing how so many creatures got caught in the sticky tar and preserved. Well worth a look.
Day 3- Friday March 11
I was very glad we had pre paid for the tickets, because it seems impossible to walk more than 10 steps at Disneyland without an opportunity to buy something, indeed anything for about 15x what it’s worth on the outside. It was particularly interesting to see what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise since purchasing it- i.e., they are flogging the shit out of it! You can buy Darth Vader beanies for your toddler, a gold C3PO hat with Mickey Mouse ears, and R2D2 dress or purse, and mountains of other vile tat. OK some of it I was kind of attracted to, but my mind flipped out when I saw the price. Yes Virginia, you can have this Light Saber Umbrella for only $65. Phaaaaark, that’s about $90 Aus!
I think we spent over $100 just on food- and I had brought my own bottle of mineral water. The rides were a lot of fun- we finished with ‘Hyperspace Mountain’ and it couldn’t have gone for more than 2 minutes but holy crap it was intense!
Day 4- Saturday March 12
This is our last day in LA and we decided to hit the Getty Museum and Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. The Getty is beyond amazing. I can’t express how great it is to be able to see these artworks so close up and their beauty can make you very emotional. Well, it did for me anyway. Weirdly Van Goughs Irises was protected by glass, but positioned so that a lot of light spilled in from outside, meaning 1. you couldn’t get a photo without reflections and 2. I wondered whether the painting was adequately protected from UV rays. I really want to go back and spend 2 days there, just so I can stand in front of some of the items without time limits.
Some of these panoramas are great- give them a click! ^^^
We were so tired after the Getty that we all just wanted to go home and sleep, so the Hollywood Walk was cancelled, but I demanded to be dropped off at Amoeba Records so I could go crate diving. Fantastic place with over 25,000 records- unfortunately I didn’t have much time so I managed to pick my way through the Dance Pop, Trance and House sections. I didn’t really feel that the full priced records were worth the money, but I picked up a few (ok 60 or so) records at between 50c and $2.99. Some I already own but in better condition than mine, a couple that I have no idea if they are any good, a few that should be interesting and one, yes one, off my list. Every DJ has a list- of tracks they are looking for…..
There’s no listening stations at Amoeba, but they have a return policy where you can bring things back for a 75% refund if you don’t like it. I didn’t have time to listen, and I think the really cheap records that I bought are excluded from that offer. The AirBnB we stayed in had a DJ setup that included a Technics SL1200 MKIII, so if I’d had more time…….
After a couple of hours in record heaven I hopped across the road for dinner at Jack In The Box (quite tasty, but slathered in butter) and got a cab back to our Air BnB
Day 5- Sunday March 13
Overnight daylight savings time turned on in California and so our time difference with Sydney is now 6 hours, we packed up and hopped in our enormous van and headed up the freeway to Barstow outlet centre where I bought too much stuff. This was a recurring thing over the next few days. Lunch was a 1lb burger from Fatburger which definitely lived up to its name. I kind of felt that I was going to emulate Elvis and collapse while attempting to push that burger out of my body, but that’s a TMI story for another day….
We got to the hotel Circus Circus and booked in. It’s an old, fairly tired hotel but everyone was really pleasant. We were warned several times that ‘this is a non smoking hotel’ but you have to walk across the casino floor to get in or out, and the smoke was eye watering. Up in the rooms you couldn’t smell smoke but as soon as you step out into the corridor it hits you. Anyway the rooms are basic but good and fairly roomy, and at $US50 per night I can put up with a few weirdos and smokers. We had a bit of a walk up the strip and it was exactly as fun and hideous as you’d expect. People holding these huge cans of beer, openly drinking, others with novelty containers- yard glasses, plastic Eiffel Towers, guitars etc. all filled with cheap sweet booze. We walked into a 711 to pick up some supplies and they had flavoured tequila shots on ice right next to the cash register…….
It must be delightful to be an alcoholic in Vegas, you’re never more than a few steps away from buckets of cheap booze and nobody gives a fuck if you walk up the strip at 8am with a beer the size of an aircraft carrier and talking to yourself. After a few days Sarah hated it, I just wanted to see more of the seedy side!
Day 6- Monday 14 March
We woke at 7am and went for a run up the strip- all of the major intersections require you to go up to an overpass- I suppose this is to reduce vehicular deaths from all of the pissed pedestrians. Helpfully, they all provide escalators and elevators for the old, fat, infirm and completely spannered.
After a shower it was off to get remarried! We hopped in an Uber and got to the chapel in plenty of time. The ceremony was heaps of fun and Elvis did a great job. Sarah was absolutely stunning in a red sequin dress and we all got to be a bit silly and have a dance, if you want to see the extent of my embarrassment you should watch the movie!
Back to the hotel for a change and to the Dennys across the road for lunch. The servings are ridiculous- I ordered a spicy meat plate and could barely finish it- remember I’ve been able to eat 9 pieces of KFC and 2 large sides for lunch. A bit more shopping and no time for a sleep before we got picked up by Maverick Aviation for a helicopter ride out to the Grand Canyon. Just a note about this- the helicopter ride didn’t cost much less than our flights from Australia. It was hugely expensive, but we got to fly over Lake Mead, land IN the Canyon, have a snack and then fly back via other landmarks and up the Las Vegas strip at sunset, it was totally amazing. Apart from the eye watering cost I’d totally recommend it.
A limo ride back to the hotel and we met my parents for a steak dinner in Vince Dean Tuatara- a rock n roll steak joint with nightly karaoke. We ate at the same joint the next night and watched a toddler dance on stage for an award. Toward the end of the song I heard the chorus- ‘Spread your Legs’, charming.
Day 7- Tuesday 15 March
Out for an early morning run, we ran the opposite direction and found the sleazy part of Vegas. In reality, the sleazy part starts the moment you step off the strip. One block back from our hotel was the ‘Worlds Largest Erotic Museum’ and many many supply stores for strippers. No, I did not attempt to buy any strippers.
For breakfast we went to the Bellagio – Mum had read online that the Bellagio and the Wynn has the best breakfast buffet, and I can believe it- we had paid $US20 each for dinner at the Circus Circus buffet, and while they had a decent selection of food, it was just uninspiring and a little depressing. The Bellagio by contrast was fantastic- 2 different kinds of bacon, chefs on hand to custom make omelettes for you (with real crabmeat, as one American next to me demanded) and a fine selection of pastries and other things that I should not eat for breakfast. But did. The only downside was when I ordered a coffee for Dad and myself- at $US13 + tip for 2 coffees, that was about A$10 per coffee. Ouch!
There were a couple of interesting exhibitions on at the Luxor– one about the human body and one with some Titanic bits so we headed down there- unfortunately we didn’t know it would cost $US35 for each entry so we headed back to the hotel for a much needed rest. Well, I slept and Sarah failed to sleep. So we got up and went to ‘Fashion Show’ which is a big mall in the middle of the strip. Sarah got excited about clothes and shoes while I got accosted by a tweaker trying to sell a $US500 device that streams content from all over the world. It seems to be a basic $50 streaming box that comes with a ‘lifetime subscription’ to a private club that hosts pirated content. Sorry buddy but I’m not paying for your meth, and I doubt you’ll be around for a refund when the FBI shut down your little club. It’s most likely that the content is organised by one of a number of small underground piracy groups. If that’s true they are selling access to something that is free for other people. Great scam I guess!
Sarah spotted a Tiffanys store so we had a quick look and I spotted a lovely Tiffany blue pendant and decided to buy it for her as a 10 year anniversary gift. Then she spotted a little duck pendant and decided to buy it for herself. They both look lovely, and it continues a duck motif that has been present through our marriage- we gave glow in the dark ducks to our wedding guests, and brought one of the ducks with us to take photos with.
Later we met up with Mum and Dad- they had taken Alex for a few rides back at Circus Circus, and we took the bus up to Fremont Street. This is the ‘original Vegas’ and has covered part of the street with an amazing light show to attract tourists and rebranded as ‘the Fremont Street Experience’ and honestly it was a bit much for my tiny brain. I needed a wee and went into one of the casinos, they had go go dancers dancing above the slot machines. There was skimpy dancers on top of a bar right in the street and skimpily dressed and just plain weird people all over the place, including a guy who wasn’t that much younger than my father wearing backless pants and angel wings. No one needs to see that, granddad.
Day 8- Wednesday 16 March
Leaving Las Vegas
On our last day we had a truly Vegas breakfast- black coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Sarah ran to the airport to pick up our next rental car, and predictably the lady behind the counter was gobsmacked that someone could run that far (about 45 minutes). Mum and Dad helped us take our bags down and we said our goodbyes (they are spending a few more days in Vegas then heading to the coast to take a cruise). It’s been truly great having my parents around to share some of these experiences. A pity the rest of the family weren’t able to come but at least I get to see my sister next month when she comes over to be celebrant for my cousins wedding.
We stopped in Pahrump to get some supplies for lunch then went through some weird town that has a whole bunch of fireworks stores- actually Sarah tells me that was also Pahrump. I had to stop and get a pic. The 2 toothless owners were really friendly, and I’ve got to say that’s probably the largest amount of explosives I’ve ever been around. I was told that I could buy whatever I wanted but I’d have to pay $5 extra for a firearms license. Then they became really cagey when I asked where it would be legal to set them off……
It was hugely exciting to get close to Death Valley National Park, the site of the Badwater Ultramarathon. Six years ago, in 2010 when I started running I heard of Badwater- it’s one of those ridiculous races that people use to prove that runners are crazy. In the intervening years I’ve discovered that races like this ARE possible to complete, and even for someone of limited running ability like me. It requires careful planning and full respect for the challenges, but it is possible. I really think that UTMB would require more than I currently have, but Badwater is a race that has always fascinated me, even when I thought it would require a superhuman to complete it.
Here’s some photos from the Zabriskie Point–
So Sarah dropped me off just outside Stovepipe Wells and I ran up the road towards Emigrant, fulfilling a long held dream. I had wanted to do at least 10-15km and we had compromised on this section which is about 8 miles or maybe 13km. Unfortunately it was 3pm when I started, so Sarah had to pick me up about halfway due to time constraints- we needed to get to our hotel in Lone Pine before reception shut. A few notes about the run- when Sarah dropped me off the temperature was about 90F which is 32.2 degrees celsius. That’s warm but not uncomfortable for a run. The bit that sucked was the air- there’s no moisture in the air and your sweat doesn’t really get a chance to cool you down- it’s drawn straight into the air before you get any benefit. Also the heat reflected off the tarmac is hotter than the sun so it’s a weird feeling to feel the ground hotter than the atmosphere. And it was a mistake to take a black coloured bottle with me- it absorbed the suns rays and made my water like warm tea. But even considering all of that and the traffic it was still a run I will cherish forever.
We stayed in the Best Western at Lone Pine, it was clean and well appointed and so far, the nicest place we’ve stayed on this trip. Apart from having to share a room with Alex! Breakfast was also included which was a bonus. We’d been buying some breakfast things from supermarkets and keeping it cold in our foam $3.79 esky and free hotel ice, but particularly in Vegas it was really hard to get healthy stuff for brekkie and I’m not used to dropping $50 for breakfast every day!
Dinner at ‘The Grill’ was lovely- I had ‘Dust Devil Pasta’. Trust me it was a lot nicer than that sounds, and also got to try an Alaskan beer, nice way to cap off the day.
Day 9- Thursday 17 March
Lone Pine is only about 13 miles or apx 20km from Mt Whitney Portal. The portal is the beginning of the hiking trails in the area, and is the end of the Badwater race. The road is currently being repaired so we weren’t sure we could get access, but we figured it was worth a try. And sure enough we had to get an escort car to take us up to a spot where the road really was closed. However, the traffic guy had told us that no one would stop us going up higher, but if we had to be rescued by the cops they would give us a fine. Totally worth it, so up we went. We had switched to a Hyundai ‘soft roader’ in Vegas so I was hoping that would be enough to get us out of trouble but it turned out to be a non issue. You know, I’m kind of running out of superlatives but I will say it was brilliant. We got to race around in the snow, there was no one around and Alex got to play in snow for the first time ever! It’s incredible to think that all of the photos I took were easy to get, beauty all around. And signs to look out for bears…..
From there we drove to Tahoe and booked in to a hotel called Kingsbury Lodge- it’s a time share ski lodge. Once again, we felt like we had scored pretty well- the room was nicely appointed with a gas fire, kitchen and huge couch. Sarah had been a nanny in Tahoe in the early 1990’s and we were trying to catch up with some of her friends in the area. We had a lovely St Patricks Day dinner in one of the (very posh!) wooden houses perched on the side of the hill looking out over the lake with a great bunch of people, including a friend of Sarahs who had been a lawyer but is now a local judge!
Day 10- Friday 18 March
My training had been pretty poor and my eating pretty substantial so it was time to suck it up and get out there. The only downside was the below freezing temperatures! It was -1 celsius in the morning but we managed to crank out a few km- it’s not going to get me where I want, but better than nothing. After that we hopped in the car and headed out to Reno. Sarah works for a company that imports Cascade Design products- this encompasses many brands of outdoor gear. There we were given a personal tour of their 87,500 sq foot warehouse- yes it was bloody huge! It was also fascinating to see them making and testing some waterproof bags. Lunch with a former colleague of Sarahs who worked for Patagonia, and then a side trip to the Patagonia outlet store. That was a bit disappointing, as I had purchased a jacket at a Patagonia store earlier in the week a lot cheaper than the price at the outlet store. And I really didn’t dig any of the stuff that was cheap. We had dinner at Applebees- a sort of high end Denny’s with one of Sarahs ex boyfriends and his kids. He’s an interesting guy and dinner was great- I made the joke that Sarah was dining with 2 ex boyfriends, which was sort of true as I had been upgraded to husband…..
Day 11- Saturday 19 March
Another early run at -2 then on the way out of Tahoe we went down to the shops and Sarah managed to spend an eye watering amount of money on more gear (most of my shopping had been much earlier) and I had to consider the possibility that we would need to ship stuff home.My 120 litre bag was so stuffed I don’t think I could fit a cigarette paper in there.
Post shopping was a little side trip to Emerald Bay– it’s got a great high up view of Lake Tahoe- and snow! We played in the snow for a while and I managed to have my first accident- I fell through some snow melt and smacked my shin on a massive boulder. It hurt, but I didn’t think much of it until later when I discovered an impressive amount of blood. Next it was off to more friends of Sarahs- family friends who live in Placerville. What a beautiful spot- it is nestled in some hills amongst apple orchards and wineries.. So we had a bit of a hike around the local area. It was fantastic to have a relaxed dinner with some locals (thanks Peter and Gale!) and of course once Alex found out about the hot tub, he had to have a go- despite the outside temperature being on the unkind side of bitter.
Day 12- Sunday 20 March
After a bit of a sleep in (finally!) we got up and headed down to a local lake- Sly Park Lake. The lake has a single track path around it that goes for 8 miles, just over 13km. So I took Alex out who made it 4km before refusing to go on. I handed him back to his Mum who had already run that morning and I ran the rest of the trail. It was fantastic- a nice soft bed of pine needles and some nice easy rises and great slopes to bomb down. I felt like a runner again, not the fat bastard that I had become. ‘Home’ again for some lunch and I even managed to sneak in a short nap before a bunch of people arrived for dinner. It was great being part of a family dinner and we had dry rubbed ribs and malt liquor. OK I had malt liquor- everyone else refused. It didn’t make me want to fight my own shadow so I’m not sure what the problem is. Well, I guess the problem is that you can buy a 739ml can of 8.1% alcohol malt liquor for $1.79. That’s a serious alcoholic bargain.
Day 13- Monday 21 March
On the road again, on our way to the outlet stores at Vacaville. We were fairly shopped out, but still couldn’t resist a bargain. Have you ever said to yourself ‘if I ever see one more fucking North Face hoodie I will scream’? No? Well, I came pretty close…… and yet. And yet I bought still more North Face clothing. If you think I am well dressed whenI get home from this trip it is because I could purchase Calvin Klein jeans for $20. And did, more than once. It was In-n-Out Burger for lunch, adding to our tally of Jack In The Box, Five Guys, Fatburger, Chipotle and Dog knows how many others. Yes, I’ve been making America great again by singlehandedly supporting the burger industry. We’d pretty much decided to eat local for the last few days so when we arrived in Santa Cruz we headed in to downtown in plenty of time to be harassed by a couple of homeless people and have pizza for dinner. It didn’t bother me much but Sarah was quite perturbed, particularly because a crazy black guy had unleashed a torrent of racial abuse at an Asian lady who accidentally bumped in to him- and then apparently said something to Sarah.
Day 14- Tuesday 22 March
Our run the next morning was brilliant, running along the river but brutally cold. I had dressed for 14 degrees (Sarah checked the weather) but it was very low single digits. I should have checked for myself! We also went past an artist community called the Tannery which sparked a memory of mine- a young resident had been murdered there last year by another resident. Very gruesome story, and of course that put Sarah off even more! I think she was pretty happy to leave, just quietly…..
Gale had sent a bunch of things for us to do but the only one we could fit in was the Monterey Aquarium. What an amazing place, and somehow not surprising since the list of people donating $1 million, $5 million, $10 and $25, even $50 million was quite long. I can’t really say enough about this one, just get there if you can and I hope the pics give you an idea. Late in the afternoon we arrived in San Luis Obispo, a Californian town famous for its good weather. It’s a really cool but fairly touristy town. This was the place where we had booked the cheapest hotel of the trip and it showed. It was clean and comfortable but the last residents dinner was still in the fridge, and some woman decided to sit out side our door and complain about her life well into the night. I didn’t really fancy putting pants on to tell her to piss off but luckily Sarah did it for me. I had managed to go into Abercrombie & Fitch just before dinner and buy MORE clothes so there’s a danger I will be mistaken for someone who cares about their appearance soon. Dinner was in a local pub called F. McLintock and was good- we even had dessert so I think the transition to overeater is complete. Full disclosure- Alex ordered deep fried cheesecake and I helped him to finish it…….
Day 15- Wednesday 23 March
We woke a bit late and skipped a run, opting for a basic breakfast and getting on the road. We passed through Shell Beach, Pismo, Guadaloupe and other towns going down the coast towards Santa Barbara and Ventura, our last hotel for the trip. Ventura is only about an hour or so from LA but far enough that it’s worth exploring. It’s very spread out though- we had a lot of trouble figuring out where the shopping spots were, but lunch at the top of Gates Park was amazing. You could hear the big V8’s roaring around Ventura Raceway (and we’d driven past Laguna Seca only 2 days before). Sarah needed a rest so I went out to a local Mexican ‘art’ shop (ok, it’s full of tourist stuff. But I love the ‘day of the dead’ things) and I managed to buy a ‘dead’ bride and groom on metal plate, and a decorated skull that I’m going to call ‘Bob’ after the ‘Bob the Skull’ character in The Dresden Files novels by Jim Butcher. You should read them, they are heaps of fun.
Day 16- Thursday 24 March
We woke up and went for a run, then spent a stupid amount of time tracking down a breakfast place. We needed up at Pete’s Breakfast House and yes, the fuss was worth it. I had a completely artery clogging fried hash, and Sarah had Heuvos Ranchos. Sarah wanted to go to a Patagonia store (yes another one, but this one was apparently the original) and I wandered away to find a coffee. My mission on the last day was to have the most American version of whatever that I could find. At Starbucks I asked the poor server ‘what’s the dumbest drink you have?’ and without batting an eyelid she simply answered ‘hot or cold?’
So I needed up with a caramelised honey latte with whipped cream. So bad, so good.
I set the GPS to take me to one last record store ( it’s actually called ‘Record Surplus- The Last Record Store‘). This one had listening stations, but not a great selection of the music I like- it seems all the record stores are risk averse to dance music. Anyway I picked up a few tracks (mostly super handbag) and we headed down to Santa Monica for a last look at the beach and then a browse of the shops. Electronics shops seem to be a thing of the past now- no Best Buy, Frys Electronics, Radio Shack or similar to be seen. But I did have a quick look at Sears- the electronics section was in the basement and looked like WW3 had broken out. Anyway it satisfied my curiosity and we got back in the car at 4pm for our 17km trip to LAX. Holy crap the traffic was awful, it was nearly 3 hours later that we managed to drop our bags, negotiate into a lounge and get some food. OK beer. Luckily the flight was not due to take off until 9:55pm. It didn’t actually leave the ground until nearly an hour later but we made up the time in the air and landed safe back in Sydney at 6:50am Saturday 26 March, having completely missed Good Friday!
I met new people, had amazing adventures and made memories that I will treasure my whole life. I’m so grateful to Sarah for arranging it, Mum and Dad for coming along, and Alex for being Alex.
When you’re running this event, your whole body hates you.
If you’re crewing, it’s only your liver.
At around 9am on Wednesday Jane Trumper and Sally Dean arrived at my place and we made a few last minute decisions about what to take and leave and headed off. Then headed back again because I had forgotten my laptop. Sometime much later we arrived at Hailey Maxwell’s place and added her stuff to the amazing assortment of crap in the car.
The trip to Eden was uneventful except for 2 things- somehow we didn’t go via Berri- and hence missed the fresh donut van, and we managed to talk openly about bodily functions for quite a long time. It became obvious I was going to enjoy spending time with these lovely ladies…..
A quick stop to dump our crap at the caravan park and it was off to dinner at the Fisho’s- Eden Fisherman’s Club. It’s like going home. Well, a gaudy home that sells delicious fried things. And beer. Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory was there with his team so we added Mick and Bernadette along with BD, coming back after 4 long years in the injury box.
Getting back to our new waterfront trailer, we were pretty happy and took a few selfies with beer and decided to head off to bed. At that moment Wayne turned up with a bottle of red wine, and the ladies ran away and shut the room doors. So Wayne and I sat up and talked about nothing, nursing a few middies of red. Nice way to finish the day.
Thursday morning and strangely I wasn’t feeling 100% but I wasn’t worried about getting sick, as alcohol kills bacteria. We popped into town for breakfast and met Joe Ward and Anderson, who would both be running. After that we hit Coles for supplies and everything looked delicious. Poor Jane was made to pay for our soft drink and chip habit, then we handed the big job of re arranging the car to Sally while Hailey and I checked the course for Cossie to Coast.
If you’ve never seen this race it is hilarious- the crews all wear a swimming costume and run 7km from near Boydtown Beach back to the caravan park. This year we had 29 starters, and for some reason I ended up as the RD, but it went smoothly and we didn’t have to send out a search party for Annabel Hepworth like last year. She was in a gorilla suit so I’m not sure if she’d have been able to hunt down any food……One person this year wore a ‘Gafkini’- a bikini entirely made from Gaffa tape. Just be glad I’m not posting a photo of that one…..
Back to the Fishermans club for the race briefing and pre race dinner- it really is Christmas for ultra runners- almost every ultra runner you know is in that room. Handshakes, backslaps and sandbagging is the order of the day, before an early night and even earlier morning for the race start.
We shuffled down the beach in lovely mild conditions to start the race. This year my running club (NRG) had 5 runners accepted into the race, but sadly 2 were out with injury. Would have been an amazing thing to have 10% of the field, but alas it wasn’t to be. On the upside we did have Robyn Bruins, Chantelle Farrelly and Rocco Smit- all of whom had amazing performances at GNW. I snuck in for a pic with team NRG, got one with my crew + runner and suddenly they were off!
The last few years there has been a rule that everyone must head off to the Pericoe Rd meeting spot directly from Boydtown Beach. Makes a lot of sense, and prevents runners breathing in heaps of dust from cars going past. We arrived there to see the locals making coffee and bacon & egg rolls. They were delicious, but I had a few things to set up too….. I planned to be the only car on the road with wifi, aircon, and an espresso machine. OK air conditioning isn’t that special in a modern car, but I figured good coffee and access to Facebook would make the crew very happy……
At Pericoe Rd we ‘serviced’ our runner for the first time and started to get into the rhythm of the race. Jane had been a bit worried about a niggle she had picked up during her race in Manislu and had brought her own moon boot. That’s a new level of sandbagging. I hoped. However she seemed to be moving well when she came through. In the early stages of the race you get to see pretty much everybody, and it’s a real party for the crews before the field starts to stretch out. Trevor Allen came through first at warp speed, followed closely by Joe Ward and others- not sure it’s a good idea to make your 10km pb in a 240km race but I have full respect for those who can ‘go out hard and hang on’!
From there the next major moment is at Rocky Hall, 50km in and designated Checkpoint 1. Jane made it here at 11:55am or 6:25 race time. This was 19 minutes slower than her PB in 2013, but the day was getting hot and certainly no reason to worry.
We designated Hailey to walk up Big Jack with Jane, and I went up in the car with Sally. It’s the first time I’ve been up there in a car- twice pacing Jane and once running the event. At the top, we figured we had enough time to sneak into Cathcart. It puts the odometer out of whack, but we wanted to buy lunch, get ice (we were using a lot in drinks etc because of the heat) and make sure there was something good for Jane (she likes a mango Weiss bar at Cathcart, but we already knew they didn’t have any).
Back to the top of Big Jack and no one was any wiser, except for the pie stains on my shirt. Jane checked her feet, and it was here that we started to hear about the carnage unfolding on the course. Jan Hermann (11 time starter, 9 time finisher and bloody legend) had pulled out at Big Jack- we found out later that he had recently been knocked off his bike and was still injured from that. Tough guy but poor luck this year. It was a big blow to all of us to hear this.
Another to pull the pin was Billy Bridle. I really wanted to see him finish, he’s worked really hard for his place and lost 50kg over the last few years. Alas it wasn’t his day but I hope he’ll be back.
Into Cathcart and it turned out that the earlier trip was worthwhile- they’d run out of ice! It would bean extra 20km into Bombala to get some if you needed it…… Jane was now running 45 minutes behind her PB but still looked comfortable. Blue Dog had his game face on but looked like he was in pain, and Sabina Hamaty was way back in the field and looking unhappy- but 240km is a long way and like someone said ‘if you feel good during an ultra marathon, don’t worry- the feeling will pass’.
Jane asked us to meet her 4km up the road outside Cathcart, so we went out 4km, I laid back for a nap, and the ladies sat at the rear of the car and talked quietly. Just as I drifted off I thought’ we haven’t seen any runners or cars for a while’ but it wasn’t enough for me to wake up…… and shortly after this my mobile rang and it was Andy ‘Whippet’ Hewatt the race medic using Jane’s phone to find out where we were……. she had run 6km and figure we had gotten lost. Oops. Yes, we’d missed a turnoff.
Back on track and Jane came up to the window and absolutely tore strips off us. The air turned blue and all I could manage was a weak apology, then I looked around and Damon Roberts crew (who had helped Jane while we were indisposed) were filming us! We’d been set up!
So I called her a bitch and she variously said she was fine and we were a bunch of er whatevers, and we all trundled merrily down the street. Next thing I’m being interviewed by Damon’s team again about our ‘mishap’ and Billy Pearce (race medic) comes up to give us shit too. It seems runners can’t keep secrets….
It’s a bit of a slog from here to the dead tree at 102km, and we were all a bit sombre after getting lost. Your runner really does rely on their crew to be on top of everything at all times, it could have been much more disastrous than it was.
We’d decided that I would be first pacer and would start at CP3. Cup noodles were ordered from the finest chefs in the land but unfortunately our stove kept on getting blown out in the wind. They eventually solved the problem by using hot water we had in a thermos from the morning. Nice!
By this time it was obvious that Jane was not having an easy time and it would be a matter of minimising losses rather than killing her PB. I saddled up for a 6 hour shift and we headed out into the night. Previously we had done a big 8 hour shift to start, but this time we had only 2 confident runners on the crew (Sally would have been fine but our job was to keep Jane moving, and Sally more than makes up for not pacing by being super organised and nice to be around!)
I like the night shift, it’s quiet and you can see stars and reflect. The trip into Dalgety can be a bit soul destroying because it is pretty long at 42km but there’s nothing for it except to keep going. I insisted the ladies get a bit of sleep as I was carrying everything that Jane needed for the next few hours. So we left the clipboard on the windscreen of the car and I wrote the time we went past, allowing them to get a bit of sleep. I did turn into a bit of a Nazi though, yelling at Hailey for not being asleep! Sorry Hailey!
Hailey took over pacing around 2:45am and I settled in for some sleep. Amazingly I was pretty relaxed and actually slept for a while- massive win!
Somehow I managed to arrange things so that Hailey had to pace Jane up Beloka Range. I awoke in the early morning, and as men do, needed to wee. First problem- there was about 5 cars up there! So I spotted a tree a discrete distance away, but just as I was about to drop trou, Damons team command parked right in front of me. Given their previous treatment of us I was pretty tempted to urinate on their nice clean car, but figured it wouldn’t really make things better. You’ll keep, you cheeky bastards.
In another stroke of brilliant luck, Jane told us to go ahead to Jindabyne and get coffees, breakfast and supplies. So I got a couple of hours sleep, coffee, breakfast and plenty of rest. Heaven.
I took over pacing duties again in a car park on the outskirts of Jindabyne, and we headed out of town towards the big climb. It was around here that we heard about an issue that had come up. I don’t really want to go into it here but several teams were warned about having too many crew cars serving their runner (you are allowed only one), and subsequently a time penalty of 2 hours was issued to Nikki Wynds team. It must have been gut wrenching for both Race Directors and runner (and crew), but anything that jeopardises the running of the race must be dealt with harshly. I can’t imagine that the race would get approval in todays nanny state environment, and we must do everything to preserve it’s viability.
Jane is typically very strong on the hills, and we started catching up to Kirrily Dear- eventually passing her by the side of the road with her legs in the air. Sorry that didn’t sound right- her all female team were attending to some nasty blisters. I’m sure Kirrily thought ‘game on!’ but when she got past again a few km later Jane told her there would be no contest and she could have the race placing with her blessing.
This made us aware of how badly Jane was hurting. You always hurt during these races, and Jane has a higher pain threshold than most humans I’ve ever met. And probably most I haven’t. However she was getting slower and slower. I’d paced her in 2012 to a PW and 2013 to a PB. I’d seen her really sick in 2012 and still finish. This year she was in (slightly) better physical condition (i.e. not spewing for 8.5 hours) but much more pain from a back issue. There were a few worried looks from the other crew so I had to chat to them privately about our strategy. Which boiled down to- don’t mention the injury, get Jane to the finish. We never discussed the option of pulling out in front of her, but it was quite distressing to see her like that. It became a task to make her as comfortable as possible, with loads of massage and stops, which she normally wouldn’t do.
Hailey had another stint at pacing and I took over again at Perisher. We had a long stop at Perisher to massage Jane, get some food on board and make the last 9km to Charlotte Pass. We had a couple of runner service stops and sent the crew forward to get our mandatory gear checked off. I’d spent a fair bit of time schooling Jane so she could pass a cursory medical ‘just stand up a bit straighter and make sense when they talk to you’. I went to Paul Every to ask if we could allow Jane to hold on to our packs to keep her a bit straighter but he wasn’t keen and said ‘you have to ask if you need to keep your runner upright if they should be going up the mountain at all’ and looked pointedly at Rhiann Blackwell, medic. Luckily we had already convinced Rhiann that she was ok. So, she’ll have to do it herself then, no problem. We were super organised but somehow it all turned into a complete clusterfuck once we arrived. Nobody could get their shit together for the final assault on the mountain. Even me. In fact the NRG’ers waiting at the finish line laughed when I yelled at the team to get moving and then spotted Ngaire and had to run over for a hug.
……. And then it got very, very ugly. If you’re in good condition you should be able to do the 9km up and 9km back from the summit in around 3.5 hours. It took us nearly 6 hours. We’d been explicitly told to get assessed by Andy ‘Whippet’ Hewatt at Rawsons Hut. We were lucky enough to get (for Jane) a more professional massage and hot chocolate, which she promptly threw up. But I was very glad that she’d had it- I’d been pushing her to eat and drink for hours with little result.
With 1.3km to go I asked Sally if she would go ahead and get the car- bring it up towards the finish line and out the heaters on full blast. It was pretty cold and I wanted to bundle Jane into the car as quickly as possible after crossing that line.
And so it happened- 42 hours and 39 minutes after leaving the shores of Boydtown Beach, Jane crossed the finish line for the 6th time. She’d been telling us that this was her last time for the last few days, let’s see what happens next year when entries open….
I drove us all down the mountain, not as fresh and awake as I’d hoped, but still ok to get us back to Jindy. Once we got inside we were all so shattered that showers were about all we could manage, and the thought of going out to the car for another pot noodle filled us with dread.
The next morning we all attended ultra runner church- the presentations. While the entire event is special, there’s nothing quite like it when Paul stands up and gives a little speech about every single finisher, and yes, while we’ve heard most of the asides there’s still not a dry eye in the room. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
After this I had planned to have a sleep but somehow got caught up shopping and drinking. This went long into the night- in fact when I flamed out and went home, Jane stayed until she got kicked out at closing time. Maybe I’ll have to develop that kind of stamina for next year!
Monday morning breakfast was quite sombre, at least until Roger turned up and started doing jokes. Somebody at the table said ‘Roger, what’s going on in that head of yours?’ and 4 other people at the table simultaneously screamed ‘DON’T ASK!’
Final word goes to Paul Every. As I was leaving breakfast he asked
‘So, will we see an application from you next year Adam?’
‘try and stop me!’
Paul ‘Oh, we can stop you…..’
“OK, PLEASE don’t try and stop me!’
These times are taken from Rob Masons run in 2010, stats downloadable here. I’ve chosen his 40 hour (39:57 actually) run as an example, adjust as needed. Pericoe Rd and Dead Tree times estimated from Alison Lilley 2009 who ran around 23 minutes faster than Rob, both are terrific athletes- times chosen because they were close to 40 hours. Adjust as needed but most runners seem to finish between 36-43 hours. Or leave it as you see it and hope your runner can finish in time before the pizza place in Jindy closes. Don’t be worried about cutoffs, but do know what they are.
Race Start 5:30am Friday
Meet Runner at Pericoe Rd Intersection ~24km
Race time 2:58, Time of Day 8:28am
You will have breakfast here and there may be a coffee van. Don’t forget about your athlete and make sure they have fluids and nutrition as they go past.
*after this, your athlete will choose how far up the road they want you to drive. Early on it might be 5-10km between each stop, later in the race it might be 1-2km, particularly in the section from Thredbo River to Charlotte Pass. Jane will usually choose 5km gaps until we hit Thredbo River but communicate with your runner.
Rocky Hall, 50km
Race time 6:10, Time of day 11:40am
Should be toilets available here, field starts to spread out
There is a picnic ground just across the causeway at the base of Big Jack. also has one of the nations prettiest public toilets. Good spot for crew to have a snack, or lunch if you don’t fancy a pie at Cathcart. I believe that crews are allowed to walk with their runners up Big Jack but do confirm this. At the top of Big Jack it’s common for runners to take a short break to change socks etc. Can be quite busy here.
Race Time 9:02, Time of Day 2:32pm
The shop at Cathcart is the last open shop you will see for a while. You can buy a hot pie, ice cream, chips, soft drink and other assorted health foods. They sometimes have ice but don’t count on it. Jane would like a Mango Weiss bar so you bastards better not eat them all.
Toilets available at the Community Hall, but not always unlocked
Dead Tree, 102km
Race Time 14:00, Time of Day 7:30pm
Dinner time! Your runner might like to stop here, or go 4km further to Checkpoint 3 at 106km. I’m not going to do a separate entry for CP3, but here’s what you should know-
First pacer should get ready for 8pm start
It can get cold as soon as the sun goes down
Your runner has done apx 2.5 marathons and it’s another marathon to Dalgety
If your runner made it to 100km in under 14 hours, they can walk the rest of the way and still make the cutoffs. But there’s not much margin for error so don’t let them do that.
Here starts the critical time for crew. How long does each pacer go for? It most likely doesn’t matter as long as the other crew GETS ENOUGH SLEEP. At this point if you are a team of 4 you have 1 runner, 1 pacer, 1 driver and 1 sleeper. I am pretty good against sleep monsters until 2-4am so I will generally take the night shift. I am not a vampire but in any case you have no proof. At night, because the runner has a pacer we can extend the support gap out to 10km or more. At walking pace this means the 2 people in the car can get 2 hours sleep at a time……
Race Time 21:15, Time of Day 2:45am
Dalgety is set up as a support stop for crew more than runners. There is plenty of floor to sleep if needed, and there’s always some fantastic hot soup and a bit of company there. And toilets. Yes these are important, which is why I mention them! It’s also a major milestone for the runners because there is less than 100km to go. Pretty sure in 2012 I went from 8pm till 4am when we hit Dalgety. I was pretty much crying for joy when I finally saw that community hall. A shift that long is probably too long unless your pacer is a very keen athlete.
Get your runner in and out of here as quickly as possible- depending on a bunch of things you may switch pacers here, but make sure that pacer has enough stuff to get them though the next few hours. You may tell the car to go ahead to the bottom of Beloka Range and sleep. This is 14km away and will give the people in the car a good sleep.
Remember this is one of the rare races where ‘mule-ing’ is allowed- take as much stuff out of the runners hands, pockets etc. as possible. The pacer can easily carry a couple of hours of food and water for their runner.
At the bottom of Beloka Range is the 100 mile point, another major milestone to be celebrated! On a 40 hour pace the sun will rise before you get into Jindabyne. This is your athletes 2nd sunrise, often a 20 minute nap will help if they are walking sideways at a snails pace- not 40 minutes though! You know, biorhythms and stuff.
Race Time 27:40, Time of Day 9:10am
Toilets! Yay! Omigod coffee! Hot food! Ask your runner what they want for breakfast- a couple of bites of a bacon and egg roll are amazing- they probably won’t be able to eat the whole thing. There’s 2 places of importance here- there’s a bakery cafe inside the shopping square that appears to open early (we’ve arrived in Jindy at 6am and 9am) and there’s a shop attached to the petrol station next to the caravan park.
MAKE SURE- you have your shopping and stop planned out BEFORE you hit Jindy and don’t waste time here- some of the crew may have been awake for way too long and may not make good decisions- you probably don’t need pink marshmallows from Coles.
Some runners will stop in the caravan car park for a massage, Jane may ask us to meet her and her pacer at Thredbo River.
*EDIT- Have a printout of the receipt for accommodation. When your runner goes through, see if you can get the key for your room. Lake Jindabyne Hotel are often ok with this. Dump out of the car anything you can to make space- but don’t dump any of the mandatory gear- its a long way back if you have to get anything.
Thredbo River 188km
There is a little park off to the left (with toilets!) and you can have a bit of time in the sun until your runner comes past. This is where it gets gnarly. It’s basically uphill with few respites from here to Charlotte Pass. Your runner will probably ask you to do 2km or even 1km stops for them. It can be brutally hot, or freezing cold- and the variations get worse as you go higher. On a hot day you can use a spray bottle to spray your runner down- and don’t forget sunscreen for all of you!
Note- if you have a marine esky in the car you probably still have some ice left- maybe keep the spray bottle in the esky but do not use the ice for anything that goes in your mouth at this point. This race is so long that a hygiene mistake can take you or your runner out with chunderous force. If you bought a pack of 600ml water bottles and froze them before the race there might still be some ice in them. Use them for cold, fresh water. Not the brown sludge with sticks in it from the esky.
PARK ACCESS (updated). There may be a new, automated system for getting into the park- you probably won’t be able to sweet talk your way in for free, even if you look like the undead (as most of us will at that point). Pay at the entrance, or risk a ranger coming in and issuing you with a payment notice at some stage. Sorry for the misinformation I had here earlier!
Race Time 33:50, Time of Day 3:20pm
Disappointingly, the checkpoint at Perisher is a bus shelter, and not a fully stocked bar with snow bunnies. I’ve never seen one of those either, but I’m pretty sure the race would be abandoned here if it was. There are toilets- but you have to go into a spooky empty building and head downstairs where the lights only come on when someone enters.
There’s only about 9km from here to Charlotte Pass so you’ll probably only meet your runner a couple of times before the next big stop. Then you will head up to the car park, get all of the crews mandatory gear together (including your runner’s gear), get it checked off, get some food and fluids AND YOUR CAMERA, and wait for your runner to arrive.
CLEAN the car up inside- make space for your runner. If they have a post run protein drink or a bloody kale smoothie, make sure it is in the car and ready to go.
When that happens you all saddle up and join your runner for the last section- this is your reward for putting up with a grumpy runner for 36 hours!
Again, you carry EVERYTHING you possibly can for your runner, including their mandatory gear. You must anticipate their needs- if it gets slushy, offer a walking pole. If it gets cold, get them into a jacket. Most likely they’ve lost their mind by now, you need to think for them. Have they not eaten for a while? This is a danger point because you’re so close to the end you may not want to worry about food etc. Always give them the best possible walking line- you take the rough path. After dark the wet ice turns into a teflon coated slippery dip- be wary.
A couple of km from the top is Australia’s highest toilet. Why am I obsessed about toilets? Well, they do make life a bit more comfortable…..
Get to the top, take some pics and get the hell off the mountain!
Charlotte Pass, 240km
Race Time 40:00, Time of Day 9:30pm
You’ve got 9km to the finish. The sun will go down before you hit the finish line. At the finish, unless told otherwise you should hang back and let your runner hit the tape alone and hopefully get some good photos. You’ll probably be invited to come back in and get some more pics with all of you but remember this is their moment, we are just privileged to be a part of it. And one day maybe we’ll get to that line too…….
Don’t hang at the finish for too long, you may all get very cold when you stop. Now comes the reason you were told to sleep on Friday night- the person who is hallucinating the least is going to drive you all back down the mountain. I’m joking but it’s quite a long drive (35km?) and you must not take any chances with safety.
If you can poke your runner into finishing around 38 hours, the pizza place in town may still be open. Otherwise Jindy is pretty dead, even on a Saturday night. Pot noodles for dinner again then?
Now I’ve just written 2000 words to try to answer the question ‘how long are my pacer shifts and how long between runner service intervals?’
I think I’ve adequately answered the runner service intervals question but the simplest way of doing the pacing is this. Assuming you have 3 healthy pacers-
Pacer 1- 8:30pm till 4am ~Bukalong Siding Rd to Dalgety (42km)
Pacer 2- 4am till 11am Dalgety to Thredbo River (42km)
Pacer 3- 11am till 5:30pm(estimated) Thredbo River to Charlotte Pass (32km)
All crew 5:30pm till 9:30pm Charlotte Pass to top of Kosci return (18km)
This does mean that Pacer 3 has a very long day, but the total distance is 50km vs 42km for the others. You may wish to split this up differently based on the talents of your crew, but I know this does work.
I’m going to try to do splits for a runner where they have 2 reasonably strong runners and one who isn’t very keen. The 2 pacers start with 6 hour sessions, then switch to 4 hours.
Pacer 1- 8:30pm till 2am ~Bukalong Siding Rd to somewhere outside Dalgety
Pacer 2- 2am till 8am ~Dalgety to Jindabyne
Pacer 1- 8am till 12pm ~Jindabyne to around Thredbo River
Pacer 2- 12pm till 4pm ~ Perisher to Charlotte Pass
Pacer 1- 4pm till finish
All Crew- 5:30pm till 9:30pm Charlotte Pass- Mt Kosci return
That looks a bit hard on Pacer 1, so let’s go shorter again-
Pacer 1- 8:30pm till 2am ~Bukalong Siding Rd to somewhere outside Dalgety
Pacer 2- 2am till 8am ~Dalgety to Jindabyne
Pacer 1- 8am-11am~ Jindabyne to Thredbo River
Pacer 1- 11am till 2pm ~Thredbo River to Guthega Turn off
Pacer 2- 2pm to 5:30pm ~ Guthega turn off to Charlotte Pass
All Crew- 5:30pm till 9:30pm Charlotte Pass- Mt Kosci return
Now I’m not terribly good at doing reviews, but if people would keep sending me stuff to try, perhaps I’ll get better. /Subtle hint
These socks are not currently available in Australia so I was very happy to be given a pair and asked to do a review. At their most basic, they are a 100% recycled nylon sock. Made from old fishing line, how cool is that? We all love the outdoors, and we all abhor waste so what’s not to love about a sock made from stuff that would normally become landfill?
The company also makes Merino wool socks which I love, have a look at their sustainable practices here
The sock I tried was the lightest weight material, called ‘Evapor8’. They’re quite long in the ankle/calf area, a good fit, and really really soft. Now to be honest, the length of the socks is not exactly the height of fashion, but have you seen the Salomon Team gear? Call the Fashion Police! There’s been a crime against style! And yes, if you do trail running for fashion, you probably need your eyes checked.
Bonus- high socks = less leeches
So how are the socks? Running in cold temps they are fantastically warm, and the softness allows your feet to move around a bit without getting blisters. Running in hot temps I found my sweaty feet got well, sweaty and did not dry out even after several hours. It certainly wasn’t uncomfortable but does contrast to those brands that claim to wick moisture away from your feet. I haven’t had a chance to run through creeks etc in them but I suspect the results would be similar- if you really need dry-ish feet, try another brand. BUT- if your requirement for dry feet is because you think wet feet= blisters, you will be pleasantly surprised with these socks.
So I’ve been able to do a couple of months of multi hour runs in these socks and they’ve worn pretty well- no signs of distress yet. They are comfortable and don’t have any hot spots, reasonably priced (in the UK) and good for the environment.
I’m hard pressed to say what the best feature of these socks is- is it the fact that they are really, really soft? (Just had to say that again) Or is it because they are contributing to a cleaner environment by reusing old fishing nets etc. in their manufacture?
Either way, I’m a fan.
*update- after several months these socks did go a bit hard which I kind of expected. So I’m going to order more.
Now this goes a bit over my actual level of talent, but that’s never stopped me before…..
I’m really excited that a whole bunch of my mates will be experiencing this race for the first time this year, but there are some things that I probably wish I’d been told. Or more correctly, that I had been told and wish I’d remembered.
Do not pull out of the race for any reason other than impending death. You have been personally picked for this race based on the RD’s view of your ability to finish. Up until about 2 years ago, no female had ever DNF’d. The race has a very low DNF rate, don’t be responsible for making it worse! Maybe I’m just pissed that I didn’t get a start? Haha, there’s only 50 places, make your selection worth it.*
*I did actually take to an ultra running group yesterday and argue that health is more important than a race and a DNF is not the end of the world. The truth lies somewhere between these two opposing opinions…… I’m not your Mum, do what you think is best.
Run slowly. Generally you are considered to be running too fast if you crack out the first marathon in less than 5 hours. Remember you’ve got about 5 marathons to go after that…..
I made lots of mistakes, here are a few-
- Having coffee at 24km Pericoe Rd intersection. I’d had no coffee for 2 weeks before the race and I was gagging for it. I should have waited until much later in the day, it wasn’t a strategically good decision to have it so early.
- Running too many of the (small) hills. One of my abiding memories is Jane Trumper leaning out of the crew car as she went past and screaming ‘Walk the bloody hills Adam!’. Don’t tell her I said this, but she was right.
- I had run the numbers in 2012, and knew that if I could crack out the first 100km in under 14 hours I could walk the rest of the way and still make the cuts. I became obsessed with this as a first timer, wanting to ensure my ability to finish even if walking. I went through 100km in 12:44 which was too fast. Going maybe 1-1.5 hours slower there could have helped me a LOT in the back end. Roger passed me at 100km and I think beat me by 4 hours!
- Mismanaged my chafing strategy. But you all know that and I don’t want to talk about it today. Ask Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory about his Japanese flag……
- At about 80km into my run it started pissing down rain, but only for 20 minutes or so. I should have changed my shoes right then but I was afraid of wasting my last pair of dry shoes too early- then I had to have roadside triage on my blisters at 140km.
- I also should have worn my shoes in a bit more. I love having a fresh pair of shoes for a big race, but in this case they had an issue with the inner soles.
- My longest run before the race was 65km. I had planned to go longer but made a rookie mistake of not taking sun cream on a very hot day. Don’t stress about doing stupid long runs, but do enough to give yourself the confidence to know you will finish.
Buy a few things that are treats for you, I was loving cherry tomatoes because they aren’t sweet. Ginger chocolate, Cherry Ripe, nut bars etc. Eat small but often. As the distances get longer, the food you eat starts to look less like ‘race’ food and more like ‘normal’ food. Practise eating everyday food during your long runs. Remember a gel isn’t going to be very useful during a 40 hour run. Figure out how you are going to get some protein- in such a long run you are going to need some.
Sparkling mineral water is 75c a bottle at Coles and tastes wonderful after hours of sports drink/ electrolytes. Buy a few bottles.
Read the race reports. Plan your race- make sure your crew know your plans, but be flexible enough to not be rattled when things change. Think about how absolutely awesome it will be if it rains the whole time- you’ll get to claim you finished in a ‘bad’ year!
One last thing-practise taping your feet. Get your shoes off at every opportunity until the race- simply exposing them to air will toughen them up. Walk around the house barefoot. After your shower in the morning- spray your feet with metho. This will toughen the skin. If you develop big callouses- go and see a podiatrist before the race to have them cut off. Any REALLY tough patch of skin can become a problem.
Get one of those Leigionairres caps that have a flap that covers your neck. You’ll be out for at least one entire day in the sun, and this might be the only race you’ll do where wearing one isn’t silly. I bought mine from eBay for $8 and it had an unexpected bonus- printing on the front that wasn’t in the pic- it said ‘Tiger Brave’ or something equally ridiculous.
I would have killed for something like this during the race last year, perhaps not very practical….
Best of luck everyone- I’ll see you in Eden.
Most of you know of Nikki Wynd from her amazing performance at Badwater this year- winning female, 4th overall, second fastest female ever. Well, I was lucky enough meet her briefly as she flew past at Coast to Kosci last year. The only overseas race I’ve ever really wanted to do is Badwater, so I figured I could feature her as my first actual interview on this blog- and to my surprise she said yes!
Also- I’m not any sort of journalist or writer- if the questions suck, send me some hints and I’ll do better next time!
ha ha, good try Adam. You need to complete 3 ultra marathons over 160kms and this does not include 24hour track races. So basically I spent 18 months building a resume so to speak of not only 100 mile races but also 100km races. I also tried to pick the toughest ones in Australia – ie: C2K, GNW and I also did Glasshouse. You also then have to answer questions about things like “what does the name Badwater mean to you”, who is your favorite BW legend etc. So they want to know that you know everything there is to know about this race.
Well last year the race was run on a difference course so I didn’t have that as an advantage but I went back there not as intimidated and scared as I was last year. Last year I actually didn’t feel like I should have been there, so after running 3rd there last year I did feel well I did deserve my spot and I was a lot calmer and probably a lot more low key than last year. Last year I was absolutely petrified.
I think just another year of ultra’s under my belt made a difference. I felt more confident as I had done another 3 races over 200kms. I had a strategy this year and had strategic walking breaks factored into my running. I found having the walking breaks, just 2 mins at a time, really made my legs feel a lot fresher in the back end of the race. Last year I actually felt like I held back a little bit to much, this year a very good running mentor of mine Mal Cree told me to “run on feel” and that was what I did. I wanted to feel like I had given it everything that I had and when I crossed the finish line I knew I had nothing left in the tank.
4. One interview says you’ve only been running for 5 years. This doesn’t seem likely as I’ve also been running for 5 years and I’ve never won anything (jealous!). And yet you seem to have done just about every long distance race I can find- what other races would you like to do?
I have been running marathons on and off for probably the last 10 years, but I didn’t take up Ultra Running until 2010 when I did Oxfam with some friends from my local gym. I liked the fact you were allowed to walk and eat in ultra’s, and it was a lot of fun getting out to train with friends. Next year I am keen to do my first 48 hour race and then after this I am not really sure. A part of me actually feels I am ready to take a bit of a break from racing and just train for fun.
how could I forget you from C2K…….I must admit your shaving story was the highlight of the presentation at C2K last year. I actually think they are pretty similar races, its actually really difficult to say which is harder, C2K is longer and the last few years the weather has been cold and crap however Badwater has a lot more climbing and elevation and the high temps (48+), also the night start at Badwater was tough too. I am hoping this year at C2K we just get hot weather and good conditions as those that know me well know that I am not good in the cold.
6. Your partner David Eadie is also a very handy runner- how do you decide who gets to do which race?
I must say that I am very very lucky to have such a supportive partner who totally gets what I do. At the moment David is happy to take a back seat and just be my training partner. He has spent 20 years at a competitive level so is quite happy to just jog around with me (and carry my bags as he likes to tell people). We are pretty lucky to do what we do together. We have travelled to so many amazing places together all thanks to our running. He is also the one who keeps me on the straight and narrow and makes sure I am eating properly and looking after myself.
7. Favourite race or distance? Often we finish a race and immediately think we could improve with a few changes. What race have you done that you think you could go much better at?
I really love the 24hour track races and would love to break 230kms. At the moment my current distance is 221kms.
8. Bucket list runs… Any that you haven’t done yet that you’d love to have a good crack at? (very similar to Q4 I guess)
Next year the 48hour race in Canberra. UTMB and Western States.
9. Goals for the next 12 months? Do you prefer trail, road or track? You seem to have done all of these!
I started off running trail however the past few years I have definitely done most of my racing on road and track. I do love the track, this would probably be my preferred surface at the moment, I find i can just get into the zone and keep going. The next 12 months – Canberra 48hour in March, Oxfam with my girlfriends Sam Gash & Jodie Obourne in April and back to Badwater in July
10. What tips would you have for someone wanting to step up from a marathon or 100km distance?
I really think that the step up from Marathon to 100km is quite easy. Introduce strategic walk breaks, have a plan, practice your plan in training, find out what works best for you. Train on the surface you plan on doing your race on and be consistent but listen to your body. I think the main thing is to have fun, find some friends to train with and remember its not going to be easy but it will be worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of crossing that finish line achieving your goal……..
I’m not the last word in experts on this race but having crewed twice and raced once, I’ve been there for 3 out of the 10 years the race has existed.
This year many of my mates have scored a start for their first time, so I’m keen to pass on some of the hints I’ve been privileged to get from others.
Firstly, you need to download and read this document about crewing by Diane Weaver. It really does have the best information you can get about the race from a crewing angle. All I’m going to do here is fill out a couple of other things that I think are important for crews. None of this is official, just my opinion. Disregard at will!
- Your runner needs to arrange accomodation ASAP or you will miss out on getting a ground floor room at Lake Jindabyne. Imagine trying to get upstairs after running 240km? Actually there is video of me doing just that last year. Not pretty.
- You should travel to Eden on Wednesday before the race. Plenty of options, but I like staying at the Sapphire Sun caravan park. This gives you a whole day (Thursday) to get ready, fill the car up, arrange stuff and relax before the race.
- You should not travel home on the Sunday after the race. Hang around the Lake Jindabyne Hotel, sleep and eat (party just a little?) with us on Sunday night. Travel back on Monday, work on Tuesday. Maybe.
- An ideal crew number is 3. After the 100km mark you can have 1 person pacing, one sleeping and one driving. With 2 you’re going to have some very tired crew!
- Can you get a storage unit for the top of the car? Once the race starts you can stuff all of your crap in there that you don’t need for your runner
- It’s traditional for all crew to join their runner for the 18km round trip from Charlotte Pass to the top and back. But you can’t go up without a bunch of mandatory gear- it’s listed in Diane’s doc above. Get all of this together before the start of the race, put it in a bag, and know where it is. You’ll be tired when you need it.
- It’s traditional for your runner to supply running shirts for the crew- I hope to see some cool designs out there!
- Get a marine cooler to store stuff in. Having ice after 3 days on the road is brilliant.
- Get a box of water bottles- yes I know it’s not very green, but if you freeze some, the space they take can be made useful. And you can crush the bottles afterwards. Also bulk water for making sports drink etc.
- Garbage bags
- Bring a bikini. Yes, even you Mr Hairy Nuts. The day before the race there is a 7km run for the crew called Cossie to Coast. OK a swimming costume will do instead of a bikini. But a girl can dream.
There you go- nothing earth shattering here but I hope it helps. I will update this if anything else comes to mind. This advice is in addition to the usual things you’ll need like food, a sharp knife, deodorant, blankets, chairs and a crew member who is very good at organisation. Knowing where something is located is just as important as having it onboard! Oh, and a camera- don’t forget a decent camera!
For more reading, here’s a basic search. It includes a couple of guest reports from Kirrily Dear and Joe Ward, as well as my own experience crewing and running. Sometimes little things make a big difference- for me it was cherry tomatoes- those amazing little bubbles of fruit took away a lot of the flavour fatigue from the sweet things I was eating. Also here is Jane’s report from 2013.
The Loop UTMB 2015
Rather than start from the beginning, I want to start from a place where it almost ended.
I was in a public rest room just outside the check point of Courmayeur, throwing my own pity party. My legs felt like they were shot, my chaffing was cringe worthy and it was 28 degrees and climbing; not the ideal state when one still has 93km to go.
It didn’t start off that badly. I had arrived in Chamonix on Wednesday afternoon with the start being on Friday night. My strategy was to make the jet lag work in my favour; I was going to be awake at night and sleepy during the day. For those that don’t know, Chamonix is in the foothills on the French side of Mount Blanc. Everywhere you look there are great vistas of the Alps, and every view is a postcard. The tough thing about being in a new place is that you want to explore, but walking around endlessly would ruin my 6 months of training, so I basically stayed at the hotel only going out for food and registration. One observation when I got to registration was that everyone nibbling on a baguette, perfect carb option I think I went through 3!
The race starts at 6pm, forcing the elites to go through one night section. I had strategically taken Stilnox to knock me out till about noon on race day. I left the hotel about 5:30pm and started to walk to the start. The town was buzzing! People notice your bib and yell “Allez! Allez!” with passion, for today I was a rockstar.
Getting near the start line I found a patch of grass and sat down in the shade and only got up when I heard the countdown. It’s hard to describe the start, but the streets are lined with 6+ people deep. The announcer gives words of encouragement, some along the lines of “Once the body gives up, the mind takes over. When the mind gives up the heart gets you to the end”, (which I quite liked)…… You hear the theme music in the back ground (Vangeelis Conquest of Paradise), which still gives me goose bumps, then the gun goes off and you basically walk the first kilometer till you are able to get a slow gait happening. Even after 3k’s there are still people lining the path cheering you on.
Basically the whole course can be described as: go up a hill, go down a hill, go up a hill, go down a hill, then run some flat area………..just kidding…..there are no flat areas, you go up another hill and repeat!
La Houches is where things start to get pretty messy. You start climbing up a ski hill, basically 800m of elevation in 4km, (this was a baby compared to those that followed). I pulled out my sissy sticks, put my head down and started the climb. The thing that really surprised me is that the hill was lined with supporters all ringing cowbells; reminding me of the scenes of the Tour de France. I understand the race is a big deal for these small towns, as the UTMB gets more popular so do these small towns.
The encouragement was appreciated and before long I had made the pass of Le Delevret. One down, seven to go! (Croix Bonhomme, Col De Seigne, Col Des Pyramides Calcaires (new this year), Arete Du Mont-Favre, Grand col Ferret, La Glete, Catonge and the monster Tete ux vents).
So far the trail was a mixture of single track and fire trail with nothing too technical. Being not the most coordinated of runners this was a good thing. The trail up to Croix Bonhomme was more or less a test of strength: one foot in front of the other repeat until you reach the top. Soon enough I had made the second summit and began the decent, this time the decent was very technical and steep. Many runners that I had passed coming up the hill were overtaking me on the way down. A general observation about European runners is that they are great at descending tough technical trail even when they have ran 120km. The tough single trail decent gave way to an easy fire trail and I was able to make up the places I lost. As I came into Champax-Lac, spirits were high as I was running well and had an overall feeling of well-being.
A little note about the checkpoints: They are filled with water, coke and a drink similar to tailwind (called Overstrim). The food is a mixture of salami, cheese, and crusty breads. I found them extremely easy to navigate and the volunteers were extremely helpful provided you were polite.
I stayed away from salami and cheese but in hindsight I possibly should of given them a go. There was also a clear distinction of which country you were in, based on the types of cheese, salami, and bread. For what it’s worth, I had the best time in Switzerland’s checkpoints. They were so pumped to see you and nothing was too much trouble for them.
The climb to Col Seigne was epic. A fair amount steeper than the previous climbs and for the first time I noticed the altitude. I was becoming short of breath when above 2000 meters. The chit chat among runners was fairly scarce, however I did come across an American runner who I exchanged a little banter with and who had some great advice for running at altitude: sharp short breaths in. This seemed to help a little, as I was able to maintain a good pace up the climb. Once reaching the top, the next point is only about 500 meters away; you can almost reach out and touch it. However you have to descend about 400 meters, and then climb about 450 meters to reach Col Des Pyramides Calcaires, which is a new section of the course. This section was not friendly and the most technical of the course. It was to take about 2 hours for around four km, it didn’t really feel slow but that is about a kilometer every 30 minutes!
This peak was the second highest (about 2550m), and the toll of the race was starting to show. It was about 5:30 in the morning and I saw numerous people asleep on rocks at the top. When I asked if they were ok, they said they were just going to take a nap for 20 minutes and continue to run. But I guess the truth was, their race was done. The next decent was where things started to come unstuck. On unstable and rocky trail, basically I had to navigate this terrain on all fours. What’s worst was that my calves were starting to cramp and I decided not to take gels – WTF? (I knew this was bad but for some reason my brain said don’t take any more gels – I still question why my brain said “No”).
The only blessing on the decent was that the sun was rising and I had survived my first night! The trail into Courmayeur was pretty much the same one epic accent and some brutal down hill segments. My condition continued to deteriorate; I had stopped taking gels, I was cramping and I had developed some nasty chafing in my nether regions. To make matters worst the temperature was climbing. Being a ginger, I tend to think of the sun as the devil, and anything over 25 degrees means I basically stop, find some shade, some beer and pass out. But I still had 93 km to go and for the first time I thought that I wasn’t going to finish. I still went into the checkpoint with the best intentions: go through my drop bag, get what I needed, and get rid of what I don’t and get out of that checkpoint. Courmayeur had everything though: beer, pasta, soup an array of snacks and just 2 male toilets for 2000 male runners. The queues were massive and although it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, except that I had to make some adjustments……….. But I will say a little nudity is ok in ultras.
Out of the Courmayeur checkpoint and into the frying pan, it had risen to 28 degrees and it was still climbing. I took refuge in a public toilet barely 500m out of the checkpoint. It was time to make the call to tell my wife that my race was over. When she answered, she was full of praise and letting me know how well I was doing. But I was broken, and I was only 90 minutes above cut off and I was falling apart.
Everyone should have Leah as a ‘phone a friend option’ in an Ultra. She is specialized in the craft of having an answer to every excuse known and also (a little unnerving) she said I was “skirt” if I didn’t continue. Ouch! With that I gathered what was left of my soul and started the climb to Refuge Bertone. Before you get to the nasty part of the climb you get to walk through the public square of Courmayeur, where I kid-you-not some guy announces your name and what seems to be the whole town gives you cheer. I remember the announcer said “It’s Russell and he’s all the way from Australia, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” He expected a retort with “Oi Oi Oi”, but I just kept my head down and thought that he could go screw himself, (gives you an idea about how low I was at this point of the race).
On the way to the base of the climb I saw people turning back, hopes and dreams were being killed off with the 30 degree heat and a relentless gradient of the climb. When things were at their toughest, a little sign of encouragement came in the form of a gentle cold breeze, which gave me hope of making it to the next checkpoint. I thought to myself, I would just go on until I didn’t make a cut off. (I could live with that excuse.) The cramping had gone as soon as I got onto stable ground and the only thing that was slowing me down was the pain from the chaffing, which I was maintaining through applying ultra glide every hour (advice from Leah on the other side of the world). Randomly the night before the start I had spoken to a guy that had been timed out at the last check point, he told me it was devastating for him but I kind of liked the way he was back to give it another shot this year.
The next 75km were purely about putting one foot in front of the other. I still hiked the hills and shuffled along the down hills and flats, (coach Andy would be proud). Highlights included the climb to highest peak at Grant Col Ferret where I had a really pure feeling of just existing.
The massage I had at Champex-Lac……. I popped my head in the medical tent and asked for some deep-heat, next thing you know I’m horizontal on a massage table with 3 physio’s working on my legs, two on my quads and one on my calves. I really did enjoy the Swiss side of the race.
By about 9:30am I had survived my second night and made it to Vallorcine, the checkpoint before the last climb to summit Tete aux vents. When you get to the tent, it kind of looked like a treatment facility for Zombies. The run had made our skin flake, various cuts and bruises having had a chance to weep and swell, and the sleep deprivation had completed the look. The cure was easy either finish or pull out. Strangely though, this checkpoint is where a lot of people pull outWith only 21km to go, you are so close – why would you pull out?!
For the first time in 24 hours I thought I could finish. I got out of the checkpoint and started the walk to the foothill of the climb to Tete Aux Vents. It soon dawned on me the reason why people pull out at Vallorcine: they know what is to come. I remember reading a race report from Anton Krupicka and even he said that the climb was pretty messed up. On this climb you don’t count stairs, you count switchbacks. It’s also completely exposed so one is forced to do battle with the elements. Climbing these monsters one learns there is a certain etiquette to the climb. You try to tag on to a group and hope that they are going slightly slower than your pace. Groups form and disappear throughout the climb; you do your best to drag along people who are suffering. At this part of the race there is a kinship between the runners where not a word is exchanged but only a passing glance or a slight hand movement to let people know to overtake you.
Up till this point I had been pretty good on the climbs. I would find and maintain a good rhythm, but for this climb however I decided to make myself hurt. I flew up the first 10 switchbacks only to realize that I had made an epic schoolboy error and blown up. The climb should of taken me 1 hour, instead it took me 3. I would try to cling on to groups but I would always fall behind and before I knew it I had 10 runners behind me wanting to pass. Throughout the run I was constantly trying to repress thoughts of finishing and try to stay in the moment. You have never finished this race until you’ve crossed the line in Chamonix. The last check point La Flegere you can see Chamonix below, only 7km to go with 800 meters of decent on technical terrain – oh so close!
I shuffled my way down and lost a couple of places on this section as once again my downhill technical skills were being shown up. I did see a girl roll her ankle badly on this section; she got up instantly and didn’t cry, didn’t yell out in pain but just continued to throw her body down the mountain. Acts of courage were the norm on this section and I really hoped she finished.
With about 3km to go the path begins to line with people and the great thing is, these people worship you! Yelling praise, offering you food and water; one girl even offered to carry my bag! She was hot and French and sadly, I had to politely decline. The sacrifices we make!
1km to go and all I could do was call Leah to let her know that we had made it. I really mean that, had it not been for that ruthless pep talk on the phone from Australia 28 hours ago, I would not be on the streets of Chamonix approaching the end. My mind turned to how I would celebrate crossing the line. I looked at my poles and remembered the song that was tormenting me for the whole run: Y M C A. Pretty sure I could turn these poles into larger than usual letters? Awesome, I would become a Youtube sensation! However, I got to about 10 meters till the end where it is six deep and people are cheering you on. All I could think about was what a privilege it was to be able to participate in such an event and how lucky I was to be there. All I ended up doing was bowing and I’m happy I finished it that way. I crossed the finish line met the announcer; for those who know him from the net cast, yes he really does look like he is on speed! I shook the hand of the runner who finished behind me, grabbed a beer (free for finishers) and sat on the same patch of grass I had sat on 45 hours ago and just enjoyed the moment.
For those of you even remotely interested in this run, it is a must. Get the points and go into the lottery. Just make it happen! One of the hardest and most satisfying things I have ever done.
What I learnt and what worked for me:
I had 3 naps: 10, 20 and 15 minutes at Arnuva, Champex-Lac and Trient. Without these naps I wouldn’t have finished. When you start talking to living wooden sculptures, you knew it was time to take a nap.
Maintenance of the body
I think I could of run a 40 hour-ish time had I not got chaffing. My cramping was unfortunate but was overcome with a change in terrain. Once you are running for 12 plus hours its time to lube up again. Just do it, even if you don’t think you need it, this mistake almost cost me my race. Also, look after your feet and legs as much as you can. Be careful with compression, I wore compression Injinji socks, it almost been a month and I still don’t’ have all my feeling in my big toes.
I used it sparingly and only when I was broken. It was like having an escape route every time I got in a bad situation.
For the first time I had used painkillers in a race but it really helped manage the pain from the chaffing. I’m not a big fan of taking painkillers as part of me thinks it is cheating, but under the circumstances I did what I had to do and I don’t regret the decision.
Although I never did this during the race, get used to eating bread, salami and cheese, which was at every check point. This would help break the monotony of taking gels ever hour. Make sure you indulge in the soups and pasta, custom made for the run. I remember have a Bolognese at La Fouly and feeling like superman afterwards.
Coach Andy at Mile 27. The training gives you every chance to finish the run. I would also recommend paying a little extra and getting the strength exercises as well to help run more efficiently.
Kicks: INOV-255 rocklites
Socks: Injinji Compression
Shorts : Speedo Board shorts over skins
T Shirt: Nike Dry knit
Sun Glasses: Julbo Powel
Hat: The Northface Sun-visor from finishing the 2013 100km
See you on the trails!