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Race Report: The North Face 100 (2014)

May 24, 2014

“I don’t want people to feel pain… I just want them to have a good time in the bush.” – Tom Landon-Smith (TNF Race Director)

TNF100 2014

PRE-RACE
I decided to enter TNF100 after friends Mike and Sue showed me the official TNF DVDs from the last 3 years. My next decision was to sign up with a coach to minimise the risk of injury and get the most from my training. Andy Dubois wrote weekly training programs for me, including lots of hill and stair training, and strengthening exercises. In October 2013 I ran the Heysen 105, my first 100km race. I learned a lot from this and it proved to me I could run 100km. For the next 7 months I ramped up my training. I also decided to use the run to raise funds for mental health charity beyondblue ($2,500 so far). Finally race week came and I knew I just needed to relax, recover, plan, and run a good race on the day. My partner and I arrived in Katoomba on Thursday. I finalised my drop bags, went over the race maps, tried to catch up on sleep, and on Friday went for a 20-minute run. We checked out Scenic World, which is a great venue.

Checking my mandatory gear

Checking my mandatory gear

On Friday night I went to registration and picked up my race number and t-shirt. This was followed by the Buffet of Disaster and a good panel discussion with Brendan Davies and some of the other top runners. The Welcome to Country was touching – a local Aboriginal woman in her seventies or eighties, who told us she had walked the trails we would run on as a child.

Friday night panel discussion

Friday night panel discussion

RACE DAY
After getting up at 4.30am and eating a breakfast of cornflakes, white bread and a few snakes, we took the event bus to Scenic World and ran into a friend Ben, who was also in Wave 2. I had worried about getting cold while we waited, but time went quickly. It was daylight now and forecast sunny with temperatures from 5C in the morning to a high of 18C. The first wave of runners started to loud cheers at 6:30am. 3 minutes later, wave 2 started and we were off along Cliff Drive. The road undulated but was mainly uphill or flat on the 2km out. Runners spread out after the first hill. Ben and I ran at an easy pace. Soon the Wave 1 runners started to pass us in a steady stream on the opposite side of the road. After 2km we turned back the way we had come. I tried to make the most of the downhills. With experience of only one previous 100K race, for me I was trying to find the balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough. My plan was to make the most of every flat or downhill. Even running a few metres of flat halfway up a long hill would save a few seconds, and adding them all together would make a big difference. On the road section a few runners were going hard, trying to get ahead, but most people seemed happy going at a comfortable pace.

Going down Furber steps, the pace was a sprightly jog along the shallower sections and very slow on the metal stairs. There were no huge bottle-necks like I’d heard about. We turned right at the bottom and across the duck boards through the Scenic World mining exhibition. Beyond this the track became rougher approaching the landslide. The pace here was slow with most people running the flats. We were held up by a few runners stopping dead every time they came across a rock or tree trunk, causing everyone behind them a frustrating series of stops and starts. I decided not to stress about this and took the chance to get some food down. I realised that I could save a lot of energy and get into a rhythm by walking a lot of it. This allowed the mini-bottlenecks to clear and avoided the constant stopping and starting. After the landslide, there was a faster section of single-track, then a sharp right up the Golden Stairs, a continuous single-file of runners walking up the 200m of steep uphill and steps.

Climbing the Golden Stairs to Narrowneck

Climbing the Golden Stairs to Narrowneck

I was grateful for for the press of runners around me, as it made it impossible to push too hard. We climbed at one pace in a slow, slogging rhythm. At the top, we turned left along Narrowneck. Checkpoint 1 was slightly further than I had expected at the top of a long, gentle uphill. A lot of people walked this. At the checkpoint I found myself panicking in case I forgot something that would cause problems on the next leg – I double-checked I had enough gels and Clif bars, drank some water, refilled my bottles, and ran on. The next 10km along Narrowneck Ridge was fast, undulating vehicle track. The views were beautiful, but it wasn’t a hugely interesting section. This became single-track at the end, veering downhill, rougher until we came to Taros Ladders at 21km. This was another potential bottle-neck area. But in a few minutes I was on the ladder and climbing down. This part was fun but smaller than I’d expected from photos. It only took a minute, then we were running fast again down single-track snaking through trees. After 1-2km, we came out onto a fire-track, which led downhill and flat for the next 7km – a fast, easy section. A short, steep and slidy downhill took us into checkpoint 2. On this downhill I felt my knees and quads. So far I was way ahead of schedule, which at this stage of the race was probably reason for caution. Checkpoint 2 was a small affair located among beautiful green fields with horses. There was a marquee, tables, and a neat water dispenser with at row of taps that allowed lots of people to refill bottles at once (these awesome devices were at all checkpoints). I was surprised again by the absence of a gear check. I filled up my bottles, took a Clif bar and a handful of snakes.

Coming into Checkpoint 2 at 31km

Coming into Checkpoint 2 at 31km

From Checkpoint 2 we ascended a steep slope onto Ironpot Ridge. Everyone around me walked hard up this. One runner had stopped halfway up, looking knackered and admiring the view. Ironpot Ridge was a part of the course I had been looking forward to, because I had heard that aboriginal people would be up there playing didgeridoo and clap-sticks, and encouraging the runners. I recognised the man who had spoken to us on the Friday night and given us the Welcome to Country. I thanked him for it and he laughed and said, “Yeah my mum killed it, didn’t she!” We continued along the rough, winding single-track, keeping left to allow the returning runners to pass. I tripped twice but avoided completely stacking it. At the furthest point we turned and ran back, then peeled off to the left down a quad-destroying downhill, which I enjoyed.

Lucy Bartholemew on Leg 3

Lucy Bartholemew on Leg 3

The next section from the bottom of Ironpot to the start of the Six Foot Track road all merges into one in my mind. I remember coming out at a farm after a long downhill and turning left onto a fire-track along the bottom of a valley, following a creek through pines. I remember the scenery as extraordinarily pretty, green and sunny. There were lots of gently undulating sections, then some long, steep ascents and descents through thick forest. There were two creek crossings but both had plenty of rocks and it was easy to avoid wet feet. There was a pretty big ascent up a fire trail, then we were on Megalong Road. The section before CP3 was a long downhill on bitumen, which gave the knees a good pummelling.

I heard the noise from Checkpoint 3 before I saw it. We ran through a field, which led down through trees and into the funnel. This was the first Checkpoint accessible by spectators and it was noticeably busier than Checkpoints 1 and 2 with lots of noisy, cheering supporters lining the race route and and a real atmosphere. As I came in, there was a gear check and I was asked to show my hi-viz vest and thermal bottoms. There was no queue and the whole process took all of 30 seconds. I was really impressed by the volunteers, who seemed to want to help the runners through the check as quickly as possible.

Between Checkpoint 3 and Nellie's Glen

Between Checkpoint 3 and Nellie’s Glen

After Checkpoint 3 were several kilometres of fire track and road, undulating with an overall ascent. We passed the halfway mark and I couldn’t resist snapping a celebratory photo of the “50km” sign pinned to a tree. I had heard the first 50km were easier than the second 50km and in my mind I was thinking of Checkpoint 4 as the halfway point. I had one eye on the next leg, which I knew could make or break my race. My aim was to be running down Kedumba Valley after Checkpoint 5 and not to blow my quads and end up hobbling like an old man, which happened in my first ultra. The track climbed more steeply out of Nellie’s Glen and became single-track with lots of uphill and several sections of incredibly steep stairs. I focused just on keeping moving, no matter how slowly. One runner ahead of me was running short sections, then disappeared ahead. But most people walked. Eventually the trail levelled out and wound gently uphill onto a track and back into Katoomba on Farnell’s Road. A few locals were outside their houses cheering on the runners. some kids had stuck signs to wheelie-bins cheering on their dad. After 10 minutes of bitumen we arrived at Checkpoint 4 (Katoomba Aquatic Centre), up a grassy bank and into the basketball courts.

Entering Checkpoint 4 at 57km

Entering Checkpoint 4 at 57km

Checkpoint 4 was the first time I saw my girlfriend, which cheered me up. I tried to get down some food and managed half a satsuma, some watermelon and part of a Clif bar. I decided this would be a good place to re-vaseline my feet and put on clean socks. Looking back I’m very glad I did this and I finished without a single blister thanks to just the Injinji and vaseline combo. After 13 minutes (my longest checkpoint stop) I headed out the exit and off down a fun section of single-track I’d explored a few months previously, which cut between houses along obscure footpaths, past a silt trap. This led down to Katoomba Falls Reserve, which was soaking wet when I ran it two months previously but dry on race day. The route took us round the oval down to Cliff Drive, Echo Point and down the Giant Staircase. On the way down, there was a loud clanging from above and a man in his 60s rocketed past, taking the metal steps so fast it was like he was running from a swarm of bees. Another runner and I were happy to let him go. I had run this leg in training and knew it would be a lot harder than it seemed on paper. The absence of huge hills was misleading, as the unremitting ups and downs and constant steps could take their toll. I had decided I was going to take it easy and not worry about how long it took. Shortly after the bottom of the Giant Staircase, I caught up with the guy who had sprinted down the stairs, which reinforced the importance of sticking to my own pace.

Leg 5 - in some ways the toughest section

Leg 5 – in some ways the toughest section

This section seemed to go on forever. I didn’t eat enough, because the jarring of the downhill steps was messing with my stomach. We got some pretty strange looks from tourists on this section, which was both amusing (haha, we’re running 100km, we must be crazy!) and frustrating (haven’t you ever seen a runner before?). Finally the trail joined a sandy vehicle track for about 1km to join a bitumen road at the edge of Leura. I saw a few runners ahead of me on the road and ran most of this long, gentle uphill at an easy pace. I managed to swallow half a Clif bar and an electrolyte capsule but by this stage had to force myself and was already behind in calories. I felt heavy and I worried my quads were going to finally burn out on the long bitumen downhill to Checkpoint 5. I knew I needed to take in calories before I could go any faster. Two guys running together overtook me on this section. One I’d seen before, a young guy with a ‘tache and muscle top, who asked if I was ok. This made me worry a little, but I think they were stronger runners and I was at a low ebb. It wasn’t anything too serious. When I said I was ok, he gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder and they ran off. Approaching Checkpoint 5, Pauline (Howard’s wife and support crew), honked at me from her car and in my undernourished state, I had the sudden crazy thought that it was my girlfriend and where the hell had she got a car from.

Checkpoint 5

Checkpoint 5

At checkpoint 5 I changed to a fresh merino t-shirt and the feel of the clean, dry wool on my skin felt amazing and gave me a mental boost. I put my buff on and my head lamp in anticipation. I filled my bottles, made sure I had enough gels and snakes to keep me going for a slow, hard 22km. Ready-made instant noodles were laid out in pots and I tried to get one down, but after a few mouthfuls, eating it was taking too long. I could eat on the move and left after 8 minutes.

Soon after leaving Checkpoint 5, I started the long 8km descent to Kedumba Valley. I wondered how many runners would be walking it. One of my main fears before the race was that I would be one of them. Starting the downhill my legs felt good and after a bit, I allowed myself to pick up speed. It was reasonably steep and somehow going faster was easier. I figured the quicker I went, the sooner I would be able to finish. I still wasn’t sure if I was on track for a sub-14-hour finish. I was trying to gain as much time as possible before the long, slow slog up the hill from Jamison Creek. It got dark on the descent and I enjoyed running in the low light for a while, before turning on the headlamp. In that brief period before complete darkness, running alone through the forest, it felt very peaceful. I recognised the concrete blocks crossing Jamieson Creek before the big hill. When full darkness fell, the mood changed and I felt a nervousness that pushed me to keep moving. Through the trees I could see lights on the cliff-tops, but they looked so high above that it was discouraging. I tried not to look at them. A couple of hundred metres ahead, I could see the headlamp of the runner who had passed me on the way down. This was comforting, because the light showed me where I’d be in a few minutes, which was a lot higher. It felt good to be near other runners with all of us slogging it out in much the same way. I wondered how the others were experiencing it. I tried to get some food in on this uphill and I managed to eat a few snakes. I tried to slow as much as possible to eat, but the steep gradient limited how “easy” I could go, so the stomach started its complaining again. This improved when the hill levelled off, before another smaller descent then the second big climb. The 91km aid station was around here. 1km before it I came across Josh (a local and physiotherapist) and his friend standing by a 4×4 with the first-aiders tending to the third guy in their group who had collapsed unconscious. I asked if they needed help, but they said no and Josh told me they had IVs and everything else. We continued together and Josh told me they had been on track for a sub-11-hour time until their friend collapsed and they had to call for emergency help. They had been stopped for quite a while getting help for their friend and making sure he was ok before continuing. We walked on together. Ahead next to the track was a 4×4 and a small bonfire. We passed through the 91km emergency aid station together, where a volunteer filled up our bottles from a kettle and told us we only had 3 more km of uphill fire track, then we would be on the flat section through Leura Forest. I was sorry to leave the bonfire behind. Josh and his friend were pulling ahead and climbing that long hill in the cold and dark, I just wanted it to be over. It helped having run this section of the course once before, and I mentally checked off landmarks as I passed them: the end of the steep climb, the transition onto single-track, the left turn at the sewage pipe.

After the sewage pipe at ~94km, I knew the track was relatively flat until Furber Steps, so I figured about 4km at an easy pace and I could eat it up in no time. Unfortunately, just after getting onto this section I completely bonked/crashed. Within several minutes, all strength left me and I slowed to a walk, then to a slower walk. My balance was sketchy and I could barely put one foot in front of the other, let alone run, even on the flat, which I knew was ridiculous. I knew I needed to eat something quickly, so I downed a whole Clif bar and took an electrolyte capsule for good measure. I was glad I’d decided to carry some water on this final section. I was annoyed with myself for not forcing myself to eat regularly in the later part of the race. For the first six hours or more I ate regularly at 20-minute intervals, but I realise that later on, when eating became harder, I stopped eating regularly and time just got away from me without taking in enough calories. At this point I was alone in the dark on the flat path through Leura Forest. There was no one around although I had seen head lamps behind me. I knew if I waited and moved slowly (not that I had a choice at this point), it was just a matter of time until the sugar went in and I would feel stronger. In the meantime I kept walking slowly along. By this stage I knew I was still on track for a sub-14-hour finish, which was a huge psychological boost, as it meant I just needed to keep moving. As I started to feel stronger, I walked faster but there was no way I could run. Several people ran past me. Eventually I felt well enough to run a bit and I remember a nice downhill past the sign for Dardanelles Pass. I walked all the uphill until I reached the bottom of Furber Steps. Josh had told me it was only 20-minutes from there to the finish and I knew it was almost over. Still, I was dreading the switch-backs at the top that seemed to go on forever. I used my arms to help pull myself up the metal steps and managed to jog the flatter sections. This didn’t seem to take too long, until suddenly I saw Scenic World and found myself on a wooden walkway. I was confused for a minute, because I thought we had to run to the top of the steps, then along the road to finish. But as I came the few metres along the walkway, I saw people standing there start to clap. Rounding the corner I found myself with only the final few metres to go, and crowds of cheering spectators. It was a great atmosphere for runners to finish to a loud crowd and pumping music. Having expected to be running at least another 2km, I broke into a celebratory sprint finish across the line with a finish time of 13hrs 38mins 47sec. My first thought was relief and joy that I’d managed to beat the 14-hour mark and I knew I’d earned the silver medal. At the start of the race I really didn’t know if I could do it and it depended on so much going well on the day, plus the usually element of luck.

 

Crossing the finish at 13h 48m

Crossing the finish line

As I finished my girlfriend came up and gave me a hug. My lower body was tired and sore, but I actually felt fairly ok, although was dying for a drink of coke. We picked up my finish-line dropbag and I changed into a completely fresh set of clothes with compression tights, which would stay on for 3 days afterwards. The fresh set of clothes felt amazing, as did the litre of coke, pepperoni pizza, and hot chips. We sat and chatted with friends Howard and Pauline, Emma who had run the 50k, and Ben who finished not long after I did. Everyone was glad to be finished. I saw Ben with a medal and perked up, not having realised that we could pick them up immediately from the finish-line. I went over and told them my race number. They handed me a silver medal and a velvet bag for it. Yes, it’s only a belt buckle, a bit silly, but it’s what it represents that’s important. My first race I’d run where belt buckles were given out, plus a sub-14 100km over tough terrain. I pretty much kept staring at the buckle for the next 24 hours.

 

The silver medal

The silver medal

Runners were still coming in quite close together across the finish and there was lots of cheering. I was really tired and was happy to sit and chat with the others. After a bit we went outside to watch some of the finishers coming in. And because Pauline had secretly arranged for the emcee to get the crowd to sing happy birthday for Emma. Emma had seen it happen for another runner earlier and wished she’d told them. The whole crowd sang happy birthday for her and she won a fancy watch, which was fairly impressive. I had originally planned to stay behind and watch people come in, but I think we all felt so tired that we soon went back to the hotel to sleep.

WHAT WENT WELL
Core training and strengthening exercises (allowed the other muscles to survive longer)
Pacing and race plan.
Nutrition in first 50km – different options, regular schedule
Brief checkpoint stops
Clothing & kit choice

…AND NOT SO WELL
Pre-race sleep – poor sleep in race week. Avoid early flights next time.
Nutrition in 2nd half of race – need to have backup plan for times when difficult to eat.

THANKS
…to the following people for donating to my TNF100 effort to raise over $2,500 so far for mental health charity beyondblue:

Jonathan, Deborah, Glen, Mum, Lenny, Doreen, Janet, Karen, Bev, Anthony, Fleur, Brenton, Matt, Sally, Teresa, Emily, Ann, Ana, Pedro, Anon, Bianca, John, Eric, Maureen, Chispa & David, Nicole, Toby, Anna, Cameron, Denise, Dej, John & Sandra, Tina, Jill, Howard, Julie, Robin and Anne, Kitty, Jon and Sadie, Mum, Nicky & Dianne, Paula, Greg, Tony & Ros, Bee.
(If you wish to give, you still can still give at https://give.everydayhero.com/au/run100k)

Race Report: Heysen 105, 19th October 2013

October 21, 2013

“Between us we had made, carted and erected more than 12,000 waymarkers, manufactured and installed over 4,500 stiles, routed and painted 8,000 warning and information signs, built bridges, sand ladders, board walks, designed and authored 15 maps, 2 books…”

– Terry Lavender (from “The Last Post… or how to build the Heysen Trail in 400 years or less”, p.123)

runner
A runner on Wood Cone Road approaching CP3

The Race

The Heysen 105 is annual trail race along 105km of the 1200km Heysen Trail in South Australia, created by South Australian runner and coach Ben Hockings.

Pre-Race Preparation

I’d originally planned to run the H105 last year, but an injury saw me on volunteering duties for the whole year, which gave me a lot of time to think about running goals, training, motivation, etc.  I wasn’t familiar with the H105 course, so in the month leading up to the race, I ran most of it in sections.  One section was run in rain and strong winds, where I struggled to keep warm enough even in a waterproof jacket, while other sections were run in strong heat.  In terms of equipment, I knew I had to be prepared for either.  In the week before the race, the predicted temperatures for race-day ranged from 26-32C and it became obvious it would be a hot day with no cloud cover.  My hot weather plan included drinking plenty of water, ice cubes under my cap at each aid station and sucking on them as I ran to cool my core temperature.  I also decided (unsure how much difference it would make) to wear white to reflect the heat and opted for short shorts.  My partner Sarah had agreed to be my support crew and to meet me at or near the official checkpoints with a car-load of food, drink, blister kit, and moral support.  A week prior to the race, we drove to all checkpoints from start to finish, typed some obscure road-names into the GPS, and generally made sure Sarah wasn’t going to get lost on race day.  A friend Mike generously loaned me his hand-held GPS unit with topographical maps in exchange for showing him how to download maps onto it.  I’ve always been a map-and-compass person, but navigation was a means to an end in this event.  I knew if the GPS worked, it would be worth the extra 170g of weight – anything that reduced the amount of thinking required on the day would help.

Things started to feel real a week before the event at the pre-race dinner/briefing.  I arrived late from work to a packed room at the start of a lecture on basic map-and-compass navigation.  We had all been given beautifully printed colour A3 maps of the course and worked through some examples.  This was followed by two excellent safety presentations by Mike.  The first covered bush-fire safety, based on his decades of experience in the Country Fire Service.  Lessons I learned re. bush-fires were: never run uphill, hide in the lowest point available, and put as much rock between you and the radiant heat of the fire-front as possible.  This provided the link to the snake-safety presentation, as I imagined snakes hiding under the rock with me.  Mike threw a plastic snake at the feet of the audience, talked about snake behaviour, then gave a practical session on snake-bite treatment.  A gory lesson learned here was that red-bellied black snakes often bite more than once and have proteolytic venom that breaks down flesh.  It was around this point that I made a definite decision to wear knee-length hiking gaiters during the event.

I had planned on an easy few days before the event but work was busy and I never quite seemed to catch up on sleep the whole week.  2-3 days before the event I had planned an easy run with some brief speedwork.  However after a 2-week taper (“taper fatigue” = the strong, ill-considered urge to run brought on by the withdrawal of tapering) I was raring to go and against my better judgement thought I’d knock off an 8km hilly trail fast enough to finish before dark (no head torch).  Not a good idea and I still had sore quads on race day.

In terms of preparation, I had made multiple lists of dropbag and rucksack contents well in advance and packed the rucksack, but we didn’t start packing the rest and loading the car until Friday after work, which meant I got to bed after midnight.  Something to avoid next time.  Once in bed, I felt a surge of adrenaline as my thoughts looked forward to the event.  Despite this, I was so tired I fell asleep quickly.

At the Start Line

Some people camped at the finish line on Friday night, but we opted for a comfortable night’s sleep at home, a slightly longer car journey, and getting up at 4.30am.  We arrived 30 minutes before the start and a row of vehicles already lined the road with runners and families/support crews making last minute-checks on plans and gear.   It was hard to gauge the general mood of the runners, but there seemed to be a mix of apprehension, excitement, and that pre-race tension that begs for a few kilometres underfoot before evaporating.  Unfortunately there were no toilets at the start, and I saw people running down the road to “warm up”, then darting sideways into the bush.  I collected my race number and had the last of my mandatory gear checked off.  I talked with a few people and was glad the time went quickly, as I could feel doubts creeping into my mind (reasons I wouldn’t finish, sore quads, will the knees hold out?).  Shortly before the start, race director Ben gathered everyone together for a briefing, then at 7am we were off heading north up Halls Creek Road.

Approaching Mt. Magnificent

Approaching Mt. Magnificent

Newland Hill (Start) to Inman Valley (CP1) (21km)

This was the only section I had never run, and I was relying on signage, following other runners, and GPS.  The route climbs through grassy hills, eventually leading into pine plantation, and much of it feels quite remote.  Within the first few kms, the front-runners were starting to separate from the pack as they followed the fence-line around the fields.  I was in the front quarter of the pack but thought to myself that really had no meaning at this early stage.  I knew I would take a while to warm up and there was no pressure to go fast at this stage.  I had heard too many stories of runners (especially men) going out too fast, comparing themselves to others rather than having confidence in their plan, and having to DNF after half the distance.  My plan was to maintain a slow, easy pace for the first half of the race, to forget I was racing, in order to avoid burning out later.  But I also knew I had to take advantage of the flats and shallow gradients to make up time.  I ran behind Barry and Maurice, and soon Howard caught up with us and we chatted for a bit before he pulled away.  He looked very relaxed on the steep ascents and gave me some good advice about fast-walking versus running steep ascents.  This had always been my plan, but it’s always good to hear it confirmed by someone more experienced.   We caught up with a German runner, Bernd, from Victoria about this point, who was making fast progress and resembled a stick insect, using two Leki walking poles with great skill to reduce the load on his legs.  The day was still fairly cool at this point but I could feel the impending heat, and with no cloud cover I knew the sun would be relentless. On Hancock Road I enjoyed a panoramic view north and south over the surrounding hills and we passed several historical farm buildings and an old machine for turning hay.  Arriving at Checkpoint 1 (Inman Valley) at about two hours, a great crowd of volunteers and others were cheering the runners.  Sarah was there to meet me with water and other resupplies, including ice cubes, which I stuffed under my hat and one in my mouth.  I think Barry passed me at this point, as I faffed around, and this leap-frogging continued for most of the day.

Inman Valley (CP1) to  Myponga (CP2) (16km)

Approximately 2km north of Inman Valley is the biggest climb on the course, about 230m of ascent over Sugarloaf Hill to the start of Myponga Conservation Park.  Just after crossing the style at the start of Sugarloaf, a brown snake slithered across the single-track about three metres in front of me and stopped once it reached the safety of a grassy field.  It stopped briefly with its head raised above the grass, looking impressive and obviously ok with the idea of both of us minding our own business.  I fast-walked and ran the rest of Sugarloaf, passing one runner on the way.  The challenges were the steep gradient and lateral slopes, which invited blisters.  Coming out onto the dirt road that leads into Myponga, the brother of a runner (Roo) shouted encouragement.  He re-appeared frequently along the course and at one point ran for about 100m holding a bag of ice cubes on the back of my neck.  Other runners had similar stories about this guy, who definitely deserved a Supporter of the Year medal.  Going through Myponga I was on my own.  The climbs were longer than I remembered and I tried not to overdo it, remembering how much longer I had to go.  I focused on keeping moving, rather than speed.  On Nunn Road I was glad to leave the fields and get up some speed.  At this point I saw Dej Jamison a few hundred metres ahead of me.  He was going strong and on Causeway Road he vanished ahead.  About 30 seconds after he passed a big gum tree, there was a loud crack and a huge branch fell off to block one side of the road.  Shortly afterwards I arrived at the 37km mark, Checkpoint 2 at the corner of Causeway Road and James Track.

Myponga (CP2) to Mount Compass (CP3) (22km)

At Checkpoint 2 I knew I had to stock up on plenty of water for the next section to the Victor Harbour Road crossing, which took many runners 3 hours to complete last year.  I realised at this point I had lost my race number, which had been attached to clips on a race belt.  Luckily someone found it and I got it back at Checkpoint 3, but back to safety pins next time.  I set off up the hill from James Track and past the house with the barking dogs into Yulte Conservation Park.  This turned into a single-track which wound uphill, leading to a huge descent to a creek.  The track was so narrow with dense scrub on both sides that it was hard to balance without snagging arms or legs.  I ran with Dej through part of Yulte, and he said he was struggling with cramps.  Coming out of Yulte, I missed a right turn and had to double back.  The rest of this section blended into running along fairly flat fence-lines, past a farm, then into a section of felled commercial blue gum forest.  This section is tough, with a vehicle track of soft beach sand and long, gentle uphills for several kilometres.  It was hard to know whether to run or walk some of this section and I opted for alternating running with walking.  I was at a low point here about 6-7 hours into the race and although I had eaten plenty of gels, even the thought of them was starting to make me nauseous.  I had tried to eat a vegemite sandwich which felt so dry I couldn’t swallow it, even with mouthfuls of water.  This was the only solid food I had available until Checkpoint 3.  In addition I had been using electrolyte tablets and my hands felt swollen.  I had a huge thirst and was using up my water at an alarming rate, which can be a sign of dilutional hyponatraemia and I wasn’t sure if I was underhydrated or overhydrated.  Looking back and thinking of the conditions, it was obvious I was dehydrated (and was probably imagining the swollen hands) but I had been careful to drink a lot of water and couldn’t believe I needed to drink even more.  I had planned for 600ml an hour plus what I could drink at checkpoints, which was an underestimate in these conditions.  In the first five hours I drank 1L per hour not counting checkpoints.  I was feeling sicker by the minute and only had a small amount of water left, despite having planned for the distance and heat of this section.  From here, sand gives way to a dirt road with a few ups and downs, then more fields, and here Hayley caught up and we ran together until Wood Cone Road with Howard who disappeared off ahead.  I kept going but my pace had slowed and everything was a huge effort.  I noticed a goat standing on the grassy verge, staring at me.  It wasn’t behind a fence or tied up in any way.  As I stopped to photograph the goat, Hayley ran past and out of sight.  I kept going and met Sarah shortly before Checkpoint 3 at approximately 58km.  I sat in a shaded camp chair, retaped my feet and changed socks.  I felt like continuing immediately but I knew ten minutes spent on feet and food could potentially save a lot of time later on.  My sickness subsided and I managed to swallow a sandwich and a fruit bar.  Solid food made a huge difference and I started to feel the energy almost immediately.  I stuffed some fruit bars into my pack for the next section and drank as much fluid as I could manage, and set off.

Mount Compass (CP3) to Blackfellows Road (CP4) (15km)

After Checkpoint 3, I crossed the Victor Harbour Road and followed the track up a hill to the left into the infamous grassy field – the only field on the whole H105 course which is crossed diagonally, rather than along the fence-line.  Several Heysen Trail signs are placed across the field but on previous years I had heard it was overgrown with grass, and two weeks previously the markers were hidden by a crop of oats.  Today (of all the days they could have done it!) a Ford tractor and harvester were cutting the oats into rows.  Crossing the rows of oats meant lifting the knees high every time like PT drills and I was glad to exit the field onto a flat sandy path that winds through forest for several kilometres.  After a brief stretch of road and a climb up Stones Ford Road, I was feeling reasonable but still very thirsty.  Thankfully I had managed to eat a couple of fruit bars.  The approach to Finniss Conservation Park was picturesque, fording the Finniss River, then leading up to an expanse of grass like a golf fairway.  Earlier in the race I had been dreading this hill, but when I got there I focused on moving forward bit by bit.  The last 5km of this section really dragged and I didn’t seem to be making any progress.  My feet were hurting going along the final section.  I was happy to see Checkpoint 4 at 74km, which came into view suddenly on Blackfellows Road.

Blackfellows Road (CP4) to Kuitpo Forest HQ (CP5) (13km)

Leaving Checkpoint 4, the crowd gave welcome encouragement.  After the 22km section of CP2-3, the next section of 13km to Kuitpo Forest Headquarters seemed very do-able.  I could see Barry further up the hill ahead of me as a single-track climbs up the side of the ridge.  I focused on maintaining a sustainable pace that wouldn’t bust my quads for the final section of the race, which is rumoured to be flat but isn’t.  This was a beautiful section of the route with single-track winding through mixed forest, some fields, and eventually entering Kuitpo Forest Park.  Entering Kuitpo was a big psychological boost – partly because I hoped there would be shade, but also because it was the beginning of the end – entering the same forest as the finish line.  It was like a science experiment watching my pace slow by 1-2mins/k on the Garmin as my body burned up carbs.  Then within ten minutes of eating another fruit bar, the pace increased again without consciously changing my effort.  With plenty of carbs on board, the long flat dirt road section of Kuitpo was just a matter of ignoring the continuous discomfort in my feet and knees, and keeping going.  Another boost approaching Checkpoint 5 was that I had arranged to meet Julie, my buddy runner, there.  I knew this would help in the final section.  I ran into Checkpoint 5 at a good pace and met Julie and Sarah for a final pit-stop at 87km.  I knew I didn’t need much for the final section except mandatory gear.  I had been debating whether to take a light-weight headlamp or a heavier, brighter Ledlenser H14 that I’ve used on rogaines.  In the end I decided the brighter light would help my confidence on uneven terrain in darkness, and would give more of an advantage than the saving in weight.  I filled up on water and a fruit bar, and set off with Julie on the final 18km to the finish.

Kuitpo Forest HQ (CP5) to Rocky Creek Hut (Finish) (18km)

The start of this section went well and I was able to keep up a good pace on the flat due to the food I’d managed on the previous section.  I had never run with a buddy runner before and by this stage even acknowledgements like “aha”, were too much effort.  I felt bad for not talking, but I realised that by this stage I needed my full concentration to keep moving and focus on the route.  Although people had told me the final section of the H105 was “flat”, the combination of a sustained gentle climb with soft sand after running 90km is exhausting.  Here we passed Hayley and her buddy Bec.  After this section there are more flat tracks, then road, where we gradually caught up with another runner who had been moving considerably slower than we were for some time.  As we tried to pass he sped up to 5 min/k pace and was obviously determined to keep ahead of us.  I was aware that with a buddy I had a big psychological advantage, which made his pace even more impressive.  After a few minutes I conceded that I couldn’t maintain this pace to the finish and slowed down.  Impressively, although the other guy slowed ahead of us, he still managed to sustain a good pace and soon disappeared.  This final 8km section was tough, even though it was on flat bitumen and dirt roads.  Not excruciating, but a constant, low-level feeling of pain, exhaustion, and thoughts of, “Why am I doing this?”  I realised I had left my fruit bar on the table at Checkpoint 5, so I had no solid food to eat on this section.  The tank felt pretty empty and it took a lot of effort to maintain my pace.  The distance on my watch went up painfully slowly.  About 800m before the finish we caught up with the same runner who had sped away from us earlier and had slowed down considerably again.  Knowing we were within reach of the finish, but without knowing if my legs would respond, I gave it all I had as I ran past, hoping I remembered to take the correct turns at the final confusing T-junctions and trying not to fall over in the dark.  I heard Julie shouting behind me to keep going, which made me think the other runner was trying to do what he had done the last time we had met.  (I later found out Julie was shouting because she had fallen over in the dark.)  I didn’t look back, but despite feeling like I was going to vomit, kept the pressure on until I saw the finish banner and heard cheers and a cowbell.  I crossed the finish alone, and when the other runner came in congratulated him on a great run.

Finish Line

The second I crossed the finish line at 105km, Sarah and various volunteers came up with smiles and congratulations, offered food and checked I had warm clothing to put on.  I learned that the winner had gone into hypovolaemic shock and required IV fluids in the back of an ambulance, so Susan the nurse was carefully observing every finisher from the sidelines and people were being encouraged to rehydrate and wrap up in warm clothing.  I had a dropbag with a complete change of clothes, including a down jacket.  I put on everything and sat in my chair by the finish line wrapped in a woollen blanket with my feet up on the eskie.  I felt so happy just to have finished and to sit down for good this time.  I was told I had finished in 13 hours 12 minutes 36 seconds, and in fourth place overall.

There was a jubilant atmosphere at the finish, which was in a clearing with a generator and floodlights.  Everyone was waiting for any sign of voices or lights from the forest, and when they thought a runner was approaching, everyone would start cheering and clapping, and someone banged on a cowbell.  I was told that unfortunately up to 20 people had pulled out of the event, which meant that no one would cross the finish line for long periods.  We stayed behind until after 11pm to see as many people finishing as we could; unfortunately camping had been cancelled due to a total fire ban.  Maurice, who is a professional chef, cooked pancakes and barbecued sausages, eggs and bacon for everyone, which was great.  It was the first time I had experienced an atmosphere of that kind at a running event with so many people staying behind afterwards.

medal1

Next Time

Even with my plan to go out slow, I probably still overdid it a bit and paid for it on later stages with reduced speed on downhills.  I will also stick to my taper plan, and have more awareness of the strong temptation to overdo sessions during the “withdrawal” phase.  In terms of fluid intake, I was definitely being too cautious and could easily have drunk a lot more.  This would have helped with food intake and could have prevented such a low-point at Checkpoint 3.  The other thing that would have helped at that point in the race would have been a sugary drink without caffeine like Ribena.  Coke helped in the later stages of the race but it would be easy to overload on caffeine.  With food, it’s probably good to take more than one solid food option in my pack so I am not totally reliant on gels if I can’t eat it.  I also realised the importance of sticking to a nutrition plan, or at least if you go off plan, to make this decision rationally, rather than letting it slip for several hours and getting into problems like I did.  My plan for feet worked pretty well with a few small blisters only on the toes. Overheating due to knee-length gaiters probably contributed to this and my shoes could have been a half size bigger to accommodate swelling in the later stages.  Bodyglide, leukotape, and a single pair of socks did pretty well overall.  Psychologically I think I managed to balance running competitively and enjoying myself during the event.  But I have reminded myself that although it’s tempting to compete against other runners, everyone in ultra events is running their own event and competing firstly with themselves.  As in everyday life, it is often fairly meaningless to compare oneself to others, even if we all do it.  Under pressure or stress, compassion and consideration for others can go out the window even in the kindest of people.  Seeing so much encouragement and selflessness during the event, and even now hearing the stories of runners helping each other keep going, reminds me of how I want to run my next race.

Links

Official race site.

Mile 27 (blog and homepage of coach and ultrarunner Andy Dubois)

Yumigo! (website of South Australian coach runner and coach Ben Hockings, creator of the H105)

Other H105 (2013) race reports:

Hayley Teale (women’s winner 2013)

Bernd Schiffer (German ultrarunner living in Melbourne)

Success In The Zone (Barry’s blog, race report hopefully on there soon)

The Forefoot of Discontent

April 22, 2012

Home-made Apple Crumble: the next-best thing to running!

After smashing my left foot off a large rock a month ago, running in my Montrails has felt like running barefoot… in a bad way.  With a 60km race planned for the weekend and every run making my left foot throb for days afterwards, I decided to visit a podiatrist.  When I mentioned running 60km, she placed one hand across her face and gave a whimper.  Although she didn’t explicitly say not to do the run, the meaning of the hand was obvious.  The sensible voice in my head kept telling me I shouldn’t run.  Then my girlfriend started repeating the same phrase, which made me wonder if she could hear the voice in my head.  This led to a tense situation, where I was able to take up both sides of the argument inside my own head, and argue against doing the run on both physical and mental health grounds.

So ends a week of little running and much cabin fever.  I ran vicariously through my friends’ Facebook updates.  Instead of running 60km, I did a few hours on the Versaclimber with a rucksack.  Then I made apple crumble using apples picked from my housemate’s orchard.

They look so new and bright here

Night Crawlers

April 22, 2012

“It’s a risky business, keeping fit.  And one that paralyses in time all the other functions such as the brain, the spirit, the appetite, and everything else.”

– Robert Morley (English actor, lived to 84 yrs)

At the start of the week, online chatter began about a group of friends planning their next night trail run.  They’ve done a few in the last month or two, but this time I was excited, because for the first time I wasn’t at work.

TC of Trail Running E-News fame picked me up in his car.  At the time, I thought he was the president of the local running club, so was able to tell my girlfriend, “I have the president on the line!”  This turned out to be untrue – it was another Terry – but it sounded good at the time.

Night Crawlers

TC valiantly negotiated the least straight road in South Australia to the top of Mount Lofty, where we met the others.  Six of us launched into the darkness down a narrow trail, our head torches illuminating the eucalypts that leaned in on both sides.  In the lead was a 69-year-old ultra-runner, WD, who is still regularly running 60-100km races in times that most younger runners cannot achieve.  This is confirmation of a recent study that found that muscle mass in older athletes does not inevitably decrease with age, as previously thought, but remains if the muscles are regularly exercised.  If I am as fit as that when I reach sixty, I will be a happy man!  WD knows the trails well and had planned a hilly 14km circuit for us.

Running down the Long Ridge Track, we came upon two Country Fire Service trucks and their crews, who had mopped up a small fire.  I think it may have sprung up again from a prescribed burn.  One of the CFS guys said wistfully that this was the last time he would go hiking on his afternoon off.  He had seen flames next to the trail and called it in.  Soon afterwards, his afternoon off was a distant memory and he was suited up with his colleagues fighting the blaze himself.

Fire Service Trucks On The Ridge

We ran up Waterfall Gully Road, where WD pointed out the old Coach House and stables.  At the closed-up café, a friend pointed out several orb spiders, which were “hanging out” by the outdoor chairs.  He assured me they could bite but weren’t poisonous.  They started to crawl back up their bungee cords to escape from our lights.

The Waterfall Gully track itself was uncharacteristically quiet – in daylight hours it usually has enough traffic to make it the trail equivalent of the three-lane highway into Adelaide.  We did pass one lone runner enjoying the solitude and darkness.

At Second Falls we stopped to enjoy the waterfall, then it was onward and upward onto Chinaman’s Hut Track, which led all the way back up to Mount Lofty summit.

Chasing Waterfalls at Second Falls

Clare Half Marathon 2012

April 3, 2012

“Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.”
– Helen Keller

Image

The scenic Clare Half Marathon course runs along the Riesling Trail, an old railway line and part of the 800km Mawson Trail (Photo: Nina Zeidan)

Sunday morning and the first day of non-daylight-savings time.  I leaped out of bed at 5am with the hyperactive mindset of those who do not know what is good for them.  I chugged down a few mouthfuls of one-day-old, cold espresso and grabbed some muesli bars.  Two friends had kindly offered me a lift to the Clare Half Marathon and I loped with my rucksack to where their car idled in the dark street.

We drove north until strip malls and suburbs gave way to low grassy hills with sparse trees, and fields.  We passed through a string of tiny towns where buildings had cosied up to the road to form a main street and not much else.  The low winter sun gave everything a yellow hue and plumped up the trees, hills and buildings into voluptuous relief.

At the race start area, there was a good crowd; the usual mix of ages, builds, and a kaleidoscope of colour.  On the start signal, the pack started off slowly with the usual rearrangements as runners tried to get ahead.  I am still converting to thinking in kilometres rather than miles, and don’t yet have the same instinctual “feel” for running a pace in kilometres. I didn’t know exactly what pace I could maintain, but I knew I didn’t want to go out too fast and have to slow down.  I had also told myself not to forget to listen to my body; I’ve found it’s easy to be seduced by The Gadget’s endless stream of numbers.  For the first few kilometres I ran a 5-min/k and felt fine, so I speeded up a bit and aimed for 4.5-min/k.  There was a slight upward gradient for some of the course and I promised to ease off if necessary.  I overtook quite a few runners at this pace but on my own terms without getting sucked into little sprints where we’d both go too fast and regret it.

I’m not sure when the front-runners started to pass us on their way back, but Ben Hockings was in front with a good lead and gaze focused on some distant point ahead.

The course was along an old railway track lined by trees, grassy fields and low hills.  Volunteers had stopped traffic at road-crossings and gave out water.  Ah, water!  I felt the urge to pee from the start and decided to wait until at least the half way mark when the pack had thinned out and I was tired enough to benefit from a brief stop.  Over the first 10km I found myself breaking down this manoeuvre in detail: 1). How long would it take?  2). Behind a tree or off to one side?  3). The benefits of proximity to the course vs. delayed onset caused by “performance anxiety”.  4).  I’m glad I’m not a woman (but if I were, would I use a she-wee or is newer technology available?) When, just after the halfway point, I found myself estimating the unnecessary extra weight of my urine (600ml = 600g) and its effect on my finishing time, I knew it was time to act.  As I darted into the tall grass like an Olympic triple-jumper achieving a PB, I caught the eye of the runner behind me, who ran past, laughing.

I leaped from the bushes back into the fray.  Several people had passed me, the most obvious of whom was a woman in pigtails and a baseball cap, who (as a friend said afterwards) didn’t “look like a runner”.  For the whole return leg, she maintained a brutal pace, passing all the runners in front of me, and finally disappearing out of sight.  Even more impressive was a male runner in a fluorescent yellow t-shirt who sped past me, passed the girl with pigtails, and was out of sight within minutes.  I never figured that one out.

As we came back towards Clare, we encountered the runners in the 10k and 5k races, who had started later.  Everyone was very polite and kept out of each other’s way.  Most people wore their race numbers on their front, so from the back it was hard to tell who was running in which race.  I found myself overtaking some of the 5k and 10k runners.  I said a few encouraging words to a young guy with orange hair, who was obviously suffering and had stopped.  He started running again as I approached and we chatted briefly.

In the final 4-5 kilometres it was hard to know how hard (or when) to push it.  Most people were maintaining a steady pace by this stage, and there wasn’t much passing.  On the way back, the same volunteers and spectators clapped and yelled welcome words of encouragement.  In the final kilometre, a volunteer shouted the distance remaining.  I still wasn’t sure if we had to do a lap of the oval before finishing, so I didn’t push it too hard until someone shouted “five hundred metres”.  With the oval nowhere in sight, I upped the pace, hoping I could keep it going.  Then I rounded a corner and the finish was right there, within touching distance.  I heard a beep as the electronic scanner read my number, and it was onward to chocolate milk and bananas.

I waited at the finish line and cheered people on as they came in.  You could see from the look on people’s faces how much the race meant to them.  I recognized a woman in her sixties who had cheered me on earlier and made me smile.  She was there for her husband but, as I told her, she should be on the pay-roll for every SARRC event.  She stood for hours smiling, clapping and yelling at every runner who came in, “Well done!”, “Great job!”, “Almost there!”  I didn’t get her name but that woman deserved her own Spectator Award.

I missed the friend who had run the 5k, but she did really well, despite a recent injury.  My other friend finished in what I thought was a good time, and immediately started berating herself for a Friday night drinking session.  I wondered how many other drinkers had survived booze, sleep deprivation, and still had enough grit to run a half marathon.

Ben Hockings won the race in 1:15.  I believe he had been in the lead for most, if not all of the race.  I finished in 1:34:50, which I was happy with.  The woman with pigtails was second woman home.  Wendy Janssens did a sterling job as race organizer, and there was a tremendous show of local support with the majority of race volunteers coming from Clare.

Running the Yurrebilla Trail or How I went from Crazy to Craz-i-er

October 9, 2011
"There's only one thing worse than running Yurrebilla... not running it!"
- Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Website

My video of Yurrebilla 2011:

This update to Faster Uphill has been delayed by one word: Yurrebilla (That was true a week ago – since then a second word, “procrastination”, entered the picture).  Yurrebilla is a 56km annual trail race through the Adelaide Hills, which follows the Yurrebilla Trail walking route.  I finished in just over 7.5 hours, which I was happy with.  The winning time was a little over five hours.

The race started in three waves with slower runners starting first.  I was in the middle wave with two friends at 7.30am.  Proving the rainy forecast wrong, it was a crisp, clear morning.  I had a video camera on a chest strap in an attempt to record my experience of the race – I had tested it once briefly, but this was still an experiment.  I knew I would have to change batteries half way, and I also knew that the video would never see the light of day if I did not complete the race.

Antici...pation: At the start line

After a short pre-race briefing we shuffled past a small group of photographers then launched off along the narrow, winding gravel and dirt tracks of Belair Park.  Through the tunnel, then we were passing the first aid station.  We were almost at the back of our wave, having deliberately set off slowly, knowing that this race was about the “long game” with plenty of hills to come.  The first hour and a half was pretty straightforward with some hills but nothing too awful.  Nathan took off ahead just after Brown Hill Creek leaving Jeremy and me.  The sections down to Brown Hill Creek and through the farmland before The Old Mt Barker Road were beautiful.  At The entrance to Cleland there was a welcome aid station with RICE PUDDING (!) in egg-cup-size plastic containers and with fruit compote on top.  I don’t know whose idea that was but if I ever meet them I want to shake that person by the hand.  I also had energy drink and fresh fruit.    The well-stocked aid station became a pattern throughout the race, but this sticks in my mind because it was the first.

Then it was downhill to join Waterfall Gully briefly, dodging the weekend traffic, before diverging to the left up the steep ascent to Cleland Wildlife Park.  Now that was a hill!  We cleared the 20km mark at Cleland with Jeremy’s wife and children cheering us on with a “family aid station” featuring moral support and fresh, home-made brownies.  They became my adopted family for the race, which helped keep my spirits up later, when they appeared at various stages of the race with the brownie box and plenty of smiles and cheers.

I had trained on and knew the next section well from Greenhill Road down Horsnell Gully then to Norton Summit.   We continued across Greenhill Road and along a narrow path next to a vehicle dirt road, with a few naughty people following the non-Yurrebilla dirt road and continuing along it in a shortcut.  The Trail proper veers left here by a house and takes a short, scenic loop.  This was a lovely spot offering panoramic views and making Adelaide look like a toy city.   It was laid out so neatly that it looked like you could step directly from the green slopes onto the beach at Glenelg (and I wasn’t even delirious yet!)

We were managing water well – I was carrying one water bottle, which I refilled at aid stations.  I had originally thought of using a running backpack with a bladder, but I was glad I hadn’t taken anything extra, as the aid stations provided drinks, gels, even vaseline.

I met a few people I knew going down into Horsnell Gully, and passed an older man dressed from head to toe in striking orange – including, rather impressively, sparkly orange trail-gaiters.  I found out the reason for this at the finish line, (I couldn’t resist asking!) when he told me his son owned a coffee shop in Melbourne which was painted completely orange throughout.  He had sponsored his father by providing all-orange clothing for the race, but had forgotten the most important part of sponsorship, which was the name of the business.  The ascent from the bottom of Horsnell Gully seemed to go on forever.  Eventually it peeled off onto the road and down to the scenic village of Norton Summit, which I’ve only ever been to when running.

We ran along another stretch of road, then into Morialta, which to me is the most striking part of the route – eventually running along a narrow path which coutours around with a spectacular view of golden cliffs and a ribbon of a waterfall far below.  The route was well-marked and the two easily-missed turn-offs were obvious with red arrows.  At the second were the volunteers of the Best Dressed Drinks Station, whose craziness was almost as great as their kindness (how’s that for a back-handed compliment!).  There was a flapper, a man in an African fur suit and hat, and people blowing party kazoo type things.  A real party vibe, which belied the multiple trips up and down the hill by the volunteers, carrying supplies.  A quick drink and we were off up the hill.

It was on the downhill to Montacute Road that running started to become really unpleasant.  It was as if my downhill muscles were so exhausted that my knees were just cartilage on cartilage.  For the rest of the race I longed for uphills.  We did walk some of the downhills but with a tactical stretch of the hamstrings every now and then, things improved.  The ascent of Black Hill wasn’t as bad as I’d expected – just a matter of alternating walking and jogging, and walking the steep gradient where it turns right at ninety degrees to follow the spur directly uphill.  We passed a few people going across the top of the hill, trying to keep the running going for as much of it as we could.  We spotted an echidna hiding in a ditch just before the start of the descent to Ambers Gully.  It was tempting to join it, but I resisted and it was a long jog down to the finish line.

Laugh In The Face of Pain!

Approaching the finish on a single-track footpath, it was hard to think of a gentlemanly way to decide who should go first.  By coincidence I was in front of Jeremy when the track widened out and I just gradually increased the pace.  Just before the line I heard the crowd cheer and it ended with Jeremy and I doing a sprint finish.  Some of those who had already finished had decided to stay behind to cheer the finishers, which was great to see and there was a fair bit of clapping, cheering, and (as at the aid stations) FOOD and DRINK!  There was a real buzz at the finish with people so happy at their achievement, standing around talking.  I got my finisher’s medal, which is the first time such a medal has actually meant something to me, as I felt finishing really was an achievement.

Yurrebilla has been the high point of seven months of exploring trails in Adelaide, my new home.  This week I discovered Anthony Bishop’s fantastic blog Sweet Vertical, including his entry about running this year’s Yurrebilla.  He talks with obvious love of his exploration (day and night) of various obscure trails around Black Hill.  Hopefully I will explore some of these in the next year.   See also Terry Cleary’s article on Yurrebilla turning five.  I hope to run Yurrebilla again next year and beat this year’s time.  Next on my list is the Six Foot Track if I manage to enter (last year it apparently filled up within ten minutes).

My Hi-tech Leukotape Titling - the date was what was posted on the website but has since changed to 23rd Sept.

My Foray Into Ultrarunning

September 13, 2011

“Pain is your friend; it is your ally. Pain reminds you to finish the job and get the hell home. Pain tells you when you have been seriously wounded. And you know what the best thing about pain is? It tells you you’re not dead yet!”

– Master Chief John Urgayle

How far is far enough?  My running over the last few months has been leading up to my longest race to date, the 56km Yurrebilla Trail Run, which is now only two weeks away on 25th September.

I started running 3-6-mile cross country races as a teenager, progressing to half marathons as a student, and in the last few years have raced up to 17 miles in hill and trail races.  I used to have a fairly limited view of the limits of endurance, and anything over half marathon distance in my mind was entering the realms of the superhuman.  Over the last few years, however, I have met various people who make running up and down mountains look effortless.  The psychological component is important, but what I have realised is that endurance is open-ended.  Beyond a certain distance it seems there is a comfortable pace which can be maintained almost indefinitely.  Someone once said to me that we are always capable of giving more, of going beyond our perceived limits.  I have had some experience of this and always try to remember that, in the absence of injury, what stops us is usually our mental barriers, rather than genuine physical limits.  A few years ago a farmer friend of mine told me about an ex-soldier in his sixties, who stayed in their guest house in northeastern Scotland.  The farm was at the base of a reasonably sized hill and early every morning the man would run up and down the hill.  I found this story inspiring and my aim is to be that fit at the same age, and to be able to break into a run at any time and have the basic fitness to run up a mountain.

So… these thoughts have been my pep talk while I’ve been imagining what it will feel like beyond the 30km mark in a few weeks time.  Great thoughts from someone who has never even run a marathon, and is now taking on an ultradistance race.  But the truth is I really have no idea how it will be, except that at some point I will probably feel so bad that every fibre of my being will want to stop running, and I hope I have the self-will to keep putting one foot in front of the other.   There are aid stations on the way with water and food, and I have a plan for topping up hydration and electrolytes on the way.  I’m prepared.  But with 56k and 1865m of vertical ascent, anything can happen.

Over the last year or two I’ve found running inspiration from several sources, including:

I was inspired by Dean Karnazes’ story of taking up running again after a night out drinking until 3am, after which he put on his shoes and went on a huge run purely on impulse.  The image he presents of being just a regular guy who likes running is disingenuous, and obviously a pose he enjoys, but the book is full of inspiring stories in which his obvious love of running shows through – like running a steep hill and being passed repeatedly by two soldiers with back packs, then reaching the top to find them doing push-ups on the ground.  Then meeting the two again at the Western States 100 mile race, which he completed, even though one of them did not.

So I am running the Yurrebilla race as a test.  I figure if I can run 56km, then with enough training I can run most distances beyond that.  I want to get into running longer distances like 50 miles and in a few years even 100 miles.  Big dreams, but I have to start somewhere, and it’s all about the journey!  (All advice and encouragement gratefully received, so please feel free to comment!)