I had a great North Face 100, but training and enthusiasm has been sorely lacking since then. I dislike cold weather almost as much as I like food. End result- feeling very under done and a bit heavy to successfully tackle any race, much less 162km. However I also knew that I needed something to get me out of my slump. I had, however, forgotten how bloody hard a 100 mile race is. Yeah.
So- one massive system shock to go, please waiter…..
Sarah and I met Jane Trumper, Wayne Gregory and Dave Graham at the airport, which was awesome, but things went downhill from there. Our plane was delayed by 3 hours, which meant I had to fill three hours with a bunch of experienced ultra runners. You know what that means- drinking! And the smallest beer size they know is pints……sometime during this carb-fest (well, you can’t have beer without chips…..) Jane had tried to convince me to run with her- for a sub 24 hour time. Um, I realise that sub 24 gets a silver buckle, but trying too hard makes me very uncomfortable. Tired, cold, hungry and spewy. I had been thinking 26-30 hours would be comfortable, but I think I may have agreed to try. Maybe. Allegedly.
Getting in to Avalon after 8pm meant that I could not get to the shops for supplies before closing time, but luckily I had more than enough stuff scrounged from my ‘discarded shit from other races’ bag to do the first few hours.
We slept at a friends house (thanks Aunty Panda and Alistair!) and rose at 6:15am for a 9am start. That’s remarkably civilised for one of these races. I figured a hangover probably wouldn’t hurt too much if I went slowly enough. And when combined with all of the other pain, I was kind of right.
So let’s have a look at the course. It’s a 20km run with sort of figure 8 shape and 2 aid stations, one at the start/ finish and one at apx 12km. You start by going up a big hill called Flinders Peak, then back down to the start again. From there it’s a couple of km of pleasant single track, opening up to about 4km of wide, flat fire trail. Then you duck on to a mountain bike track for a bit over 2km to the edge of the park and checkpoint 2. Then it’s a 5km loop on fire trail and back to CP2, and about 4.5km of slow meandering uphill mountain bike track to the start/ finish. Each lap is just a smidgen over 20km and 8 loops gives you 161-163km for a genuine 100 miles.
Reasons to do this race- much of it is flat open fire trail, it’s fast and there’s no branches to rattle my skull on. Yes, I do run into trees quite a lot, so this is a big plus for me. It’s very pretty in an Aussie plantation bush kind of way. The trial is well marked, the vollies are awesome and it’s quite small. I love small races. Oh, and did I mention it’s flat?
Reasons not to do this race- it’s 100 miles.
Things I forgot to take- race pack, bottle belt, race shirt, I think my subconscious was trying to defeat me before I even got there. I was pretty well prepared, but I hate carrying a hand held and forgot to bring anything to holster a bottle in. I also only had a long sleeved shirt where I had planned to pack a singlet as an under layer and various t shirts and long sleeved tops to layer up for the day/ night etc.
In the end, both of these things worked in my favour- I figured out that I could have a few swigs of perpetuem and heed as I went through an aid station and not carry fluid at all. The longest section without support is 8km from the start/ finish and the cool weather meant I could pre load with 250-500ml of fluid and be fine. This doesn’t work for a lot of people because that much fluid at once will make them sick or cramp, but I’m ok with it. I ended up wearing my brand new race shirt under my long sleeved Glow Worm marathon top- and didn’t need to change at all during the race. It did get pretty cold at times and I either wore a polar fleece over the top or draped it around my shoulders and this kept me mostly comfortable.
Speaking of cold, I suspect this was the cause of most of the DNF’s as the course is non technical. Stats- 45 entrants, 20x DNF, 25 finishers.
Lap 1- 2 hours 28 minutes
I agreed to at least start out with Jane but I knew that her recent 1200km across Japan and my um, less than stellar preparation would likely see me in the hurt box sooner rather than later. George Mihalakellis is a local and agreed to show us around and it was lovely to have some company and a bit of a chat as we saw the course for the first time. A 24 hour finish means an average of 3 hours for each of 8 laps, so the plan was to do the first lap in not under 2:30. Nailed it, but I was already feeling tight in the solar plexus due to my complete lack of core exercise recently.
Lap 2- 2 hours 40 minutes
By the time I got back after my first lap, my CP bag was full of all the goodies I had asked for- Super Crew Sarah had been to the shops! This is an interesting aspect of the race- if you do a sub 24 hour time, only 3.5 of your 8 laps will be in daylight- the first 3 laps and the last half a lap. We headed out again with me holding up the rear (ooh, er missus) and trying to ignore the increasing pains in my bits below the waist. It was way too early for this crap but I figured the sufferfest was coming ready or not. George began to complain that his back was hurting and he was going to order some pain relief for the next loop. So my eyes bored into the back of his head ‘FFS George don’t tell Princess you’re getting NSAIDS- I don’t want to hear that lecture AGAIN’ and luckily he only wanted paracetamol…..
Lap 3- 3 hours 0 minutes
George had bounded off in search of a Mexican Yeti and Jane and I settled into a companionable silence. It’s been a while since we’ve run together but I always appreciate a bit of a chat without feeling the need to talk if I’m doing it tough. ‘You’re not hurting too badly yet are you Adam?’ To which I truthfully replied ‘got a bit of plantar fasciitis in the left foot, a spot of ITB tightness in the left knee- the right leg my calf muscle has gone solid making it difficult to extend my leg and my core is very weak. But I can sort of run if I pay attention to my form’
That earned me a look that said it all- ‘I’m sorry I asked!’ At this point we knew there was no alternative but to keep pushing the pace in an attempt to give us more breathing space later, and I was taking my mind off my pain by doing some mental calculations. The results were not encouraging- we really needed to push hard to allow for any drop in pace over the last few laps- although we’d given ourselves 30 minutes breathing space in the first lap, those gains could disappear very quickly if something went wrong. And at the end of the lap Jane said cheerfully ‘only 100km to go!’
Lap 4- 3 hours 0 minutes
I’d worked out a strategy- the 3km up and down the hill was basically rest because I didn’t have to run, but the hardest bits of the lap were the 5km fire trail, 2km mountain bike path then the 5km loop after CP2. After that it was a gentle 4.5km to the start, but the running was starting to suck. Then I realised that we had a chance of making sub 14 hours for 100km if we kept pushing. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen? I could tell Jane and she could agree…… and of course she did. I now found that I could run ok if I just kept a steady pace, and when Jane got too far in front I yelled ‘walk!’ and she’d slow down until I caught up. Then we would walk for a minute or two and run again. This gave me plenty of rests and still meant I could meet the required 4:1 running to walking ratio we needed to make our time.
Lap 5- 3 hours 3 minutes (100km time 13:56)
I know you’re going to get sick of hearing this, but it was time to dig deep- again. We had 3:07 in hand to go sub 14 for the 100km. Under 14 hours doesn’t mean much to some, but it’s a number I’ve tried (and failed) to beat at the North Face 100. Five years in a row. This year was my closest ever at 14:45. It’s a very different race being 5500m of vert over 100km vs ~3000m over 160km, but it was symbolic for me. And we made it with minutes to spare. We now had a 1 hour buffer for a sub 24 hour time, which was awesome- now we had to deal with the cold and the sleep monsters. Jane needed a caffeine tablet from her bag and I graciously told her to take all the time she wanted after making our sub 14 hour time. I’d started taking on more and more Coca Cola at the aid stations and wishing I could strap on an iPod- but it was against the rules with a threat of instant disqualification. 10 hours to do 60km? Sounds easy……..
Lap 6- 3 hours 14 minutes
‘One more lap like the last one, that’s all we need’ but the strategy of yelling ‘walk!’ and catching up to Jane wasn’t working so well anymore. The problem was my running had slowed down so much that I could no longer rely on a ‘run 4, walk 1’ plan to keep me in the game. And Jane is so strong that she just kept punching out the kms hour after hour. Several times I looked down at my Garmin and she was walking at 7:24 min/km. Yes walking. I was having to run to keep up with a walking midget. Jane was very quiet and I assumed she was enjoying the rush from a No Doz, but it turned out she hadn’t been able to find them and was suffering on her own.
Lap 7- 3 hours 17 minutes
We’d squandered 14 minutes of our 1 hour buffer in the last lap. Maths said we were ok if we didn’t slow down too much more and I started asking Jane to take off and I would see her at the end. She wouldn’t, but I could see she was still able to make good progress and I felt I was slowing her down. By this stage I was scoffing 4 cups of coke per lap (sorry Brett, it truly is the nectar of the Gods) and trying to hold my running form to stop the pain from hitting too hard. Unfortunately photos show that I’m slumped over like the old man I am. We had (OK I had) slowed down by 10 minutes in the previous lap and needed to stop the bleeding. I felt like I was running well, but as each km clocked over I was seeing more 9’s than 8’s in front of my mobile scorecard. I wasn’t sure what would happen when the sun came up- it could zap the strength out of us or give us a boost. We couldn’t afford to rest on what we’d already done. Last pit stop of the day was planned 10 minutes out, executed quickly and we pushed out for the last lap……..
Lap 8- 3 hours 24 minutes (100 Mile time 23:48)
Our Flinders Peak time was exactly the same as the previous lap, a good sign. We were pretty comfortable with the route now, and going over it for the last time generated the tiniest bit of nostalgia, but not quite enough to cancel the dark thoughts swarming in my head. We could see a deep red slowly expanding on the horizon, and soon I heard the first calls of the early rising magpies. That’s when I heard the first bit of negativity from Jane ‘oh that’s just bloody great’. But I couldn’t figure out what was wrong- I was dealing with my own demons. We got on to the mountain bike path, both of us looking at our watches, but my brain started telling me to speed up. It was unusual for me to be in front of Jane and she didn’t yell walk!’, and within a few minutes I was almost out of sight.
What to do?Jane had battled on with me for over 22 hours at this stage, dragged my sorry arse into a position I had no reasonable expectation of achieving- but was I outperforming or was she falling off the back? I couldn’t go back and get her, that would take too long. I knew at that point my only real option was to hope she would feel the clock ticking and get a move on. I felt terrible and started mentally composing my abject apologies for the end. Past the aid station and into the 5km loop for the last time. I thought I had plenty of time but I ran, trying to get that buffer up. I saw a 5:48km flash up on the watch- that can’t be right? ……Aaaand all of a sudden I was broken, and Jane was back beside me. I don’t know how she did it, but she had slashed away a pretty significant gap. I made some bumbling apologies and we made another agreement to finish together.
Off in the distance we could see a figure, and without any speech, we both started the slow process of picking another one off. Over the period of nearly a full day we’d gone from almost dead last to a pretty decent position, outlasting the battered bodies we were leaving by the sidelines. It turns out this last person we’d pass was Michelle Shannon who’d started really well, but we had now lapped. Jane pointed out large ice crystals growing in a puddle of dirty water.
Back out of the aid station with only 4.5km to go and I had a sudden urge to hit the toilet. It was not one of those urges that could be ignored for 30-40 minutes, it was an imminent poonami warning- the thunder down under was coming and you’d better make plans or the coming shit storm would engulf your universe. Luckily our path took us right past the best toilets on course, but by then I was looking at the trees somewhat longingly. Jane promised to walk and I should catch up, but by the time my apoocalypse had passed I could not run. Young sky runner had turned into old skywalker, and my race was about counting down the metres until the end.
And about 300m from the end my peace was interrupted by Bernd Meyer going past. I briefly debated going after him but decided that we had probably lapped him too and he was no danger to my position. Yeah, I was wrong. I may have said to Sarah later ‘if that red headed bastard has cost me a top 10 place I’ll be really pissed’ but he hadn’t, he’d pushed me from 15th to 16th and that’s good enough for me. It was a bit disappointing to be separated in the rankings from Jane after such a long day/night/day together but I’m not even sure I could have mustered a little trot to challenge him. If the poonami had held off a few more minutes though…… ah well, shit happens.
It was beautiful and warm in the sun, must have hit nearly 6 degrees! I pulled up a chair and gratefully lowered my bucket of bones into it. At that point I’d have been pretty happy to have the whole bottom half cut off but unfortunately that section also includes my favourite toy. It isn’t much use these days but I like to keep it around because it made all my important decisions for me when I was younger.
I hadn’t hallucinated out on the course much, just the usual human figures that turn into trees when you get close, and things on the ground that speed off at the edge of your eyesight. But I now had bit of a problem. A group of well, large ladies wearing black tights were standing right near me. I was wearing my clear lens glasses and did not have access to my darker lenses. The sun was VERY bright, and the only place I could safely look was straight into these dark orbiting moons. Now I’m a firm believer that you should be able to wear whatever you like (except males wearing compression shorts with nothing on top, that’s a crime against fashion). I was terrified that one of these women would turn around and say indignantly ‘were you staring at my arse?’
And I’d say something like ‘Sorry, it’s the only thing stopping me from going blind’
Which may not have been well received, and I would have deserved a slap.
So you can see it was imperative to get out immediately. Unfortunately Sarah kept coming back and saying ‘we’ll go soon’ then disappearing to chat to people, like I always do…….
And it was over. I feel pretty confident that if I’d been in good condition the suffer needle wouldn’t have stabbed me so hard, but the fact remains that 100 miles is a very, very long way. I’ve picked up some new, not very interesting injuries so we’ll see how the Great North Walk 100 miler goes in about 7 weeks. Gulp.
Massive thanks to Sarah for sticking around virtually the whole time and supporting me, Jane, Blue Dog and Dave Graham- Wifey you are a gem! Thanks to Jane for helping me to achieve something I thought impossible- that’s only about the 100th time you’ve done that! Congratulations to Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory for making his way back to the long runs- it’s a slow process coming back from injury but I don’t know anyone tougher. Congratulations to Dave Graham who was still smiling at the end despite having a difficult race- and coming THIRD! And big congrats to Jane who worked her way up the field (remember we were just about last on our first lap?) to come FIRST female!
Here is the interim results
And I think these are the final results with 20km splits