An Adventure on the Motatapu Track

The weeks leading up to Motatapu were fraught with stress and worry. The truth is, I don’t really like 50km events, mostly because I’m not that great at the distance. My last two 50km events were pretty disappointing and this race was on a very technical trail with somewhere upward of 2900m of vertical climbing. My coach, Matt, agreed that the distance isn’t my “sweet spot” which in some ways takes the pressure off but also makes me want to prove myself. After my usual freak out 2 weeks before the race, I resigned myself to just giving it a go and seeing it as a good training run, if nothing else.

The morning of the race saw me up at 4:30am, it was a new experience getting to sleep in my own bed the night before a race, but not necessarily a good thing in the end. Being that I am still solo parenting it meant that the night before had been anything but restful, I spent the night preparing everything so my kids would be ok for race day until my friend Rachael arrived to hang out with them and also doing all my usual saturday jobs around the house so I wouldn’t have to do them sunday. In the darkness I quickly and quietly got ready. I left a little early to go pick up another runner, Peter, who had flown in for the race from Sydney and needed a lift and local runner Ruth, who actual won the women’s race on the day. We chatted on the way to the start and I actually found it helped calm my nerves. Once we arrived Ruth and I sat in the car to chat some more, non to keen to get out and stand around in the cold for longer than we needed. Eventually the start line called and we went our separate ways. As I strolled to the start line (obviously not my favourite place) I wandered along side Lucy B, wishing her well for her run and chatting about the views past Fern Burn Hut, the furthest I had been along the trail.

At the start line I found the finish line drop bag trailer and mucked around with my bag, debating whether to start with my fleece or stow it in my bag headed to the finish line in Arrowtown. It was a chilly 7’C but I knew that even at this temp once I got a km or so in I would feel uncomfortably warm and restricted. As they called for the briefing, I made the decision to stash my fleece and rely on my gloves for warmth. As I rocked back and forth trying to keep warm while listening to the RD explain the low river route to Arrowtown I looked around, hoping to see a glimpse of my running idol, Anna Frost. Unfortunately it was not to be. With 2 minutes until the start I found a space, did a warm up routine and tried to quieten my mind. I was worried about the first cutoff, about the run along the dirt road to the trail and about how my body would hold up after it had felt niggly and tight all week.

As the airhorn rang out I was glad we were started. I switched on my headlamp, a little glad for the cover of darkness as it felt easier for some reason. I was ignoring heart rate until I hit the first cutoff point so I settled into what felt like a comfortably hard pace. I let a lot of people go, trying not to let the mind games start and found a few people sitting around my pace and just stuck with them. The road went quickly, all I really remember is my light on the legs of the people in front of me, the dust being kicked up by my fellow runners and the grunts and mumbled words of those around me. Sooner than I thought we hit the trail and I immediately felt calmer. I had run this part of the trail in the dark and felt comfortable, enjoying being able to push a little harder than usual on the trail. I knew the flow of the trail and while others ran past me, working hard, their breath heavy, I felt like I floated finding a flow, a rhythm. I didn’t care that others passed by at this point, I knew it was going to get harder ahead and as I hit the deer gate marking the entry to the The Stacks Conservation Area I glanced at my watch, happy with the time it showed, comforted that I should be able to make the cutoff point if I wasn’t held up too much. At the beech forest the trail became more technical, but I knew that and while I kept things comfortably hard I was buoyed that I was obviously more comfortable than many ahead of me, as I crept up behind and asked to pass here and there. I was delighted as my headlamp flashed upon the big red fairy mushrooms here and there. I hadn’t been on the trail here for over a month and had never seen these delights here in the forest before. I smiled, thinking of my friend Liv, fairy houses deep in the beech forest for sure. As I stepped across a tree root my ankle reminded me that it wasn’t 100% happy and I made sure to watch my footing. We began to climb out of the forest to see that the sky had lightened and I was slowed by a long line of people. Although I knew I could move faster I hesitated to ask to pass, as the line was so long it would have mean asking 10-15 times. I figured a slow in pace for a bit would not make me miss the cutoff and would help with the coming climbs. Eventually people stepped off the trail and I was able to move at my own pace, I came across another runner who was removing clothing and stowing in her pack, she fell in behind me and introduced herself, saying she knew me from Instagram, that made me laugh and we chatted as we jogged along. As we came around the corner Fern Burn Hut came into view and I let out a little whoop of joy, happy in the knowledge that I had beat the cutoff. I wondered what gear they would be checking, as we had been told there would be a mandatory gear check and went through my checklist in my head to see if I needed anything here.

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Views back to Glendhu Bay, where we started.

As we got to the hut we were informed there was no check other than to make sure our mandatory SPOT tracker was on, so I walked on through, excited to see the top of the next climb as it would be completely new territory. As we climbed I pulled my pace back and began watching my heart rate. The sun was just starting to touch the tops of the surrounding mountains. I was trucking along comfortably, being passed here and there but also passing others. The climb continued and suddenly I was aware that I could see my breath, looking at my feet I saw frost on the plants around the trail and mist rising off the small creek I had just hopped over, it was a bit of alpine magic. After a nice little punchy climb I was disturbed by a whirring sound and noticed a drone in the sky, coming around the incline we were greeted by a helicopter. I smiled and said hi to one of the volunteers standing nearby and headed over and down the ridge. On my left was a steep drop, beautiful but a little scary. If you go to the Motatapu Ultra page this ridge is the photo banner.

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A small dirt path lead down into the shadowy valley, the runners ahead of me looking like colourful specks, yes it was that far and steep. I concentrated on my foot placement, not really looking at the drop worried that fear would overtake me. I slipped once, just slightly and reminded myself to breath, to watch my feet and keep moving, stopping was not an option. We hit the valley floor and crossed the creek to be met with a wall of mountain. I knew that after this climb we would descend again and then be at the second checkpoint. I reached up to move some hair from my face and my hand banged my headlamp, I quickly added that to the list of things I needed to deal with as I began the climb/scramble up the hill. I chatted to other runners, talking about the views, the steepness, the way we had to hoist ourselves up the trail using the branches and grass – it was so freaking fun! At around this point I caught up to Ricky who had overtaken me awhile back and along with a female ultra team (there is also a race for teams of two over the ultra distance), we jogged into the second checkpoint at Highland Hut. My GPS was reading 17km, although I knew from the website that the Hut was meant to be 15km, so I made a note to add 2km to the distance for each following checkpoint.

At the checkpoint, the volunteers welcomed us and pointed us in the direction of the water. Ricky and I set up side by side. I removed my headlamp and swapped it for my hat, tying my buff onto my front pack straps for use later on and set about refilling my bottles. Ricky made a comment about my “elicit white powder” and we had a little laugh. Filling my bottles I got my pack on and moved to leave, as the vollies shared that the lead male had just gone through the last checkpoint – holy crap that’s fast! Across the creek, I jogged along the flat enjoying being able to move with more rhythm I started to catch up some others. The next 2 big climbs are a a blur of chats, of watching my feet, of looking across mountains in awe of the space I was in, watching lizards run around my feet and butterflies flying across my path, basically feeling like I was the luckiest person in the world.

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Valley views from the top of one of the climbs

In between the two climbs there was a steep descent down into a valley of beech forest and some welcome shade. The sun was now high, the highlands have no cover other than the waist high tussock grasses and due to past experiences of heat stroke in races I was very mindful of my temperature. As we hit the bottom of the valley and crossed the creek flowing through it, I removed my buff and drenched it in icy water, washing my face and neck, I plunged it in again and then reattached it to my pack. As we climbed I would use the buff to keep me cool whenever the breeze dropped and I was left in the belting sun. At the top of the third climb a dirt road far below came into view, I could see very (very) small figures and the woman just ahead of me commented that it was probably the marathon runners and mountain bikers, whose paths we would cross up ahead. Soon we were descending and on a small scramble, that reminded me of one of my training runs, I managed to overtake two women, another ultra team. Further down the descent I overtook two men and was caught up by one of the women I had just passed. She commented on the guy with the deck chair on a flat section below, as we got closer it became apparent he had a camera. The woman I was running with decided to hang back and wait for her team mate as I ran ahead. As I passed I thanked him for being out here and I sincerely meant it, generally the photographers have packed up and left when I run through.

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Happy to see the photographer!

I could now see Roses Hut and behind it the final big climb to Roses Saddle. Trying not to dwell on the climb ahead, I made my way to the road below. At the road we headed right against the flow of marathoners and mountain bikers. Making sure I smiled and said hello to each person, I was starting to feel the tiredness creep in, the hello’s and hi fives helped buoy me along to the checkpoint. Greeted once again by cheerful volunteers, I took off my pack and busied myself refilling flasks and my bladder with the help of one of the volunteers. There were a number of others sitting on the steps, one person dealing with some large blisters, others eating or resting. The checkpoint had the usual chips, crackers, lollies and also a big tub of chocolate brownie. As I shoved everything back in my pack I contemplated the brownie but decided that just before a big climb it was probably not a good idea. I set off again as quickly as I could, I was hot and tired and was worried that if I paused it would be for longer than required.

I took the next climb slow, mostly because I was tired. I focussed on the people ahead, making sure I wasn’t falling behind and trying to catch them if I could. Around now two things started happening. A slight cramp had been developing in the middle toe on my left foot and when I placed my foot in a certain way pain would surge through the ball of my foot, so I watched how I put my foot very carefully in each step, thankfully my ankle had stopped hurting. Despite staying on top of my nutrition I was starting to get dizzy whenever I looked up or around. As there was nothing I could really do about it, I decided that I would rather be dizzy at the top than half way up the mountain and kept my head down and kept moving. The last climb started out fairly easy, then halfway up the mountain we proceeded straight up the ridgeline. My fellow runners were all also battling the mountain by this point, with people pulling off to sit by the side of the trail, some shaking their heads, others with their head in their hands. Despite my tiredness and the heat, I actually felt ok, just a bit out of pep. At the top I was excited to see the river below and the thought of sinking into it helped me find the energy to run down the mountain at a decent trot, overtaking a couple of people.

At the base we were greeted with two signs, one pointing to the “High Water” route, the traditional poled route and the “Low Water” route. At the briefing we had been advised to take the low route, which looked a lot more inviting at this point, we were also told that while we would be in the river there would be streamer markers to show where we could hop out and move along the bank. I stepped into the river and was soon in up to my knees. There were no visual markers and the two people ahead of me were slowly picking their way along close to the bank. I figured I was wet anyway so I waded along the river, I had the biggest grin on my face as it was just so damn fun. The water was that clear alpine blue, with a rocky, pebbly bottom, it reminded me of rock hopping at the creek back in Australia. It was slow going, every now and again we would see some pink flagging tape and jump out of the creek, gingerly pushing our way through the spiky matagouri and rose bush only to be back in the river in 20-50m. Did I mention fun! I absolutely loved this section, although it was slow going between finding footing, keeping an eye on the river banks for tape and making sure I stayed upright. Tiredness had well and truly set in but there were people around me constantly, which made it easier to keep moving. After about 4km of this we hit the next checkpoint. From here on we were only crossing the river, running predominantly on 4 wheel drive tracks. My legs were starting to hurt, the pain in my glutes reminding me of the latter stages of Alpine Challenge. My mind was also turning to my kids and my bus home, which I was obviously not going to make. I had an hour to get to the finish to be within my own expectations for the run and to catch the bus, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was jogging along ok when around the corner I spied a pole marker. Unsure of whether to follow the poled route or the 4 wheel drive track I stopped to get out my course map to check. Before I could properly check another runner came along and confidently announced “this way” and in my tired state I just went “ok”. I should have known better. 200m in I knew it was the wrong way and turned around after shouting these thoughts ahead. The other runner came charging back, apologising as he passed, I jogged along, feeling a little defeated and silly for my mistake. I began to spiral a little here. The length of time on feet, combined with worry about how I was going to get home plus my steps off course were building up in my head. Seeing it as another sugar low I started into my emergency m&m’s and willed myself to jog everything I could. The last 7km were tough, the lengthening shadows were a constant reminder of how long I’d been out there and although the 4wd track had pretty outlook on the mountains I was finding it quite boring after all the mountain majesty of earlier in the day. I was running well on the downhills but ups that I would normally run were now being hiked and the flats were a constant negotiation between my head and legs.

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Charge to the finish!

With the finish line in earshot, about 1.5km away, I resolved to run the rest of the way, I was happy that I did but so very tired once I crossed it. It was also kind of bittersweet. I had just been on a most amazing adventure, but it was the first ultra I had run without having anyone I knew waiting for me at the finishline. Instead of revelling in what had just happened, I walked as fast as I could to the info tent to find out if there was another bus I could catch and where my drop bag was. Once the bag was found, I had changed and the bus was sorted I sat down and was greeted with messages from family and friends who had been watching. That made it a little easier. When I got home I also got a hug from my friend Rach, who had given up her saturday arvo and evening to look after my kids – thats just how awesome she is.

Despite the amazing fun I had out on the course (seriously, I was so happy out there until the last 8km), by Sunday afternoon my run time had clouded my joy. I was disappointed, I had had higher expectations of myself and my ego was a little battered by the result. Luckily I have an amazing support network. Thanks to my dear friends, who indulge my mental frailties, and my wonderful coach who always hears out my whinges and then tells it like it is to give me some perspective, after a few days I was able to move past that detail. In fact the joy has come flooding back and I am really looking forward to heading back out on the Motatapu trail over the coming months of training (or that could be the recovery induced lack of training talking).

So, to sum up, Motatapu Ultra was a most amazing adventure. It was everything I expected and a little more. It is easily the hardest race I have ever done (including Shotover and the 50km legs of Northburn and Alpine Challenge) but also the most fun I’ve ever had running a 50k race and was stunningly beautiful. In fact if I had to encapsulate it in three words it would be epically, brutally beautiful. You should totally run it!

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Having the best fun ever

Gear
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 2.0
Injinji socks/hat/buff
Derby Skinz skirt
Aldi compression shorts (seriously my favourite!)
Inov8 trailroc 245’s
Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Nutrition
TrailBrew
Clif Bars
Snickers
Potato Crisps
M&M’s
Fresh red apple
Fresh Pineapple

Thanks to
Injinji Performance Products and TrailBrew for their ongoing support on my adventures
My coach, Matt from Judd Adventures
My hubby and kids for encouraging and supporting my running
My support crew who were with me in spirit all day long
My friend Rach, who looked after my kids so I could go have an adventure.
The crew and volunteers from Motatapu for such an amazing event.

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There Is No “Only”

I recently signed up for my first race of the season, a local mountainous 50km, the Motatapu Ultra. Whilst discussing it with a friend I confessed I was rather freaked out about running this race. In her efforts to console me she exclaimed “But you ran three times that distance at Alpine Challenge, this is only 50k!!” While I appreciate the sentiment, the truth is that there is no such thing as ONLY 50km, just as there is no such thing as ONLY 1km or ONLY 5km or ONLY 10km. In fact I have taken to jumping on people (not literally jumping on them, but correcting their wording) when I hear the word come out of their mouth.

People seem to think that because I have done some longer races that the shorter distances suddenly become a breeze, its “only” a 5km run…. For me, the shorter distances are harder in a lot of ways. My strength lies in my strong, consistent pace over a long period of time. I count on my ability to outlast my competitors as it were, to do the tough bits (hello, electrical storms on the alpine plains) and not give up. 50km does not give me time to catch my competitors, I will no doubt be firmly at the back of the pack, in fact I am once again living with the fear of meeting the first cutoff point. As for anything shorter, the idea of running a 5km race scares the absolute bejesus out of me! I have never run a 5km race, I have never done ParkRun, but even when I have to do a hard 5km in training I stress out about it to the max. I know how much it is going to hurt and I also know how stuck in my head I get about my pace.

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There is also this thing we do, where we diminish what we have accomplished by using words such as “only” or “just” (Lucy Bartholomew wrote a great post on social media about this last week). Its sad that when people find out I run and we start chatting, that they will say “I only ran 5km”. Dude! 5km is a heck of a long way. I spent most of my life not being able to run 200m! Or “I only run a km, then I walk, then I run again for a bit”. You only run a km? What the? You RAN a km! Do you have any idea how often I walk, in both training and racing? There is no only! All that really matters is that you set out to do something, you set your own goals according to your abilities and you celebrate the wins. Yes, I have run a heck of a long way a few times, but that does not, in anyway, diminish whatever distance you ran or want to run. Every distance is hard for its own reasons. So please, stop saying only, you did awesome.

Now I’m off to go stress about a certain run in 4 weeks time….

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The 2017 Run that Changed Everything

Having run both Northburn (you don’t race it, you survive it!) and my first 100 mile race you would think those would be pivotal runs and that one of those would have been the most important run of my year. Or maybe the run where I broke my 5km personal best? Or my 10km best time? No. None of those were it.

The most important run of my year happened on July 24th. The kids and I had flown out to our new home in Wanaka just 7 days before. We had had a whirlwind week of travel, settling in to our unfurnished house, with nothing but the things we brought in our suitcases. My coach, Matt, had set me a “Welcome to Wanaka” run. It involved summiting  the quintessential Roy’s Peak and Matt warned me it would involve snow and possibly ice, warranting a quick trip to the local outdoor store for some microspikes.

I had just dropped all three kids off for their first day at their new schools. It was probably good that I had been so busy dealing with all their anxieties about the coming day as it left me very little time to worry about my own endeavours. This would be the first time I ever ran in snow, the first time on the Roy’s Peak track, first time using microspikes and first time doing a long training run whilst solo parenting here in New Zealand. If I had really thought about it I may have been overwhelmed and backed out of the run.

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Less than a third of the way up – clouds coming in

When I got the start of the trailhead, I rang the local DOC (Department of Conservation) office to check the conditions. Having never run in snow or alpine environments before, I was being cautious. The climb was amazing, the views breathtaking. As I climbed higher the temperature continued to drop and snow patches lay on the ground. The snow deepened and became ice across sections of the track, prompting me to try out my new gear and attaching my microspikes to my shoes. I stopped twice to take urgent phone calls from the kids schools, checking on details and making sure we had all we needed for the week ahead. My hubby called to make sure everything had gone ok. It was a less than perfect “run” but it was real and it was cold and it was something I never thought I could do. As I reached the deep snowline, I began post holing my way to the summit.

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Above the snow line but not in deep snow yet

Checking my map and telling myself I could do this. Plenty of people do this every day. The snow was wet and cold. My toes were frozen. The views off the back side of Roys were steep and testing my fear of heights, but my head was firmly set on making it to the summit. There is a sense of relief as well as accomplishment to reaching a summit. When I reached the top I stood alone and just gazed out at the clouds in amazement, there was no view to speak of. I was amazed at what I had just done, that I was there, living in Wanaka, and that I had just summited a real mountain, alone, in the snow. That I could do that. Me. The hippy mum from Northern NSW who liked to run in the bush.

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Views thanks to a momentary break in the clouds

The run down was no less epic. I ran (as opposed to hiked) through snow, I felt the childlike thrill of freezing cold air on my cheeks, wet and frozen toes and the heat of my breath and body making steam around me. Then it started to snow. Just small delicate flakes, lasting less than a few seconds on my skin, but snow nonetheless.

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On the way down, jacket off and pink cheeks despite the cold

I finished my run. Breathless and exhilarated. I cried, the tension and anxiety of doing so many new things in such a short space of time coming out as tears. I looked up at the mountain, the peak fleetingly visible here and there between the clouds, in awe that I had just been up there.

That run changed a lot of things. It showed me I could do these new and hard things without someone there to hold my hand, to lead me along, to show me the way. I could be my guide. It didn’t mean being reckless or dangerous. I could be methodical and thoughtful. Prepare myself and take my own lead. I could do the hard thing and I could do it alone if need be. It was on that run that I learnt how much I love the mountains, the real mountains. I thought I did, but being there in that truly alpine environment that is such a start and scary beauty made me feel like this is where I belonged and I knew I wanted to spend more time there. I found that there is something about the challenge and the tinge of fear of doing something new, something outside the comfort zone that I love, that I take strength and joy from. Sometimes the mountain allows you to reach her summit and sometimes she doesn’t. I have hiked and run up a number of mountains since then, both here in New Zealand and back in Australia. The views from some have been amazing, easily better than that first run up Roy’s. Some have been little more than a trig point at the top of an alpine grassland. A few I haven’t made it to the top of, despite my best efforts, due to my fears getting the best of me or my time being short. Each has been an experience that I took something away from. Each has made me grow.

That first run up Roy’s Peak though, that was the run that changed everything. Its when I began to understand who I truly was, what it was I was searching for and where it was I wanted to be.

“The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly” (John Muir) for I still have so much to learn….

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What do you eat?

I’ve been asked by a few people what it is I eat, both in my races and in every day life. This question always kinda makes me baulk for a few reasons. The first is that my relationship with food hasn’t always been a healthy one, there were many years where I binged on food as an emotional replacement, as a reward and I also restricted food as punishment. The other is that I find the discussions around athletes and food confusing to say the least. We are bombarded with so many things we should eat, things we need more of, less of, shouldn’t eat etc. I’ll be the first to admit I listen intently to what my running idols eat, but thankfully, my relationship with food has changed to the point where I feel comfortable with how I do things and the most that will happen is I will find a new way to eat something and not go into a full blown overhaul of my everyday diet and racing nutrition in the hope of yielding better results. That was something I tried in the past. It just doesn’t work.

So, where to start. Both my everyday and race nutrition have been a long, slow evolution which is still always changing. What works for a while doesn’t necessarily hold forever. I am also always reading and learning and will try new things, some stick and become the norm, others are thrown to the side after a few weeks, some I read and just think “nup, not even going to go there!”.

Everyday Food

My everyday diet now is what I would call pretty normal. I eat a lot of different stuff, mostly unprocessed. I was vegetarian for a good ten years of my life but before I had kids I started eating meat again. When I first started running, in the throes of trying to lose weight and get “healthy” I went low-fat and then went low-carb in the extreme sense but both were unsustainable for me. I have learnt a lot about different carbohydrates, different fats, sugars, vitamins and minerals but I am also aware that I have barely scratched the surface and most of you reading this will know just as much as me, if not more. I do tend to err on the side of low-carb which makes some of my meals a bit different to what the rest of the family is eating. For example if we are having spaghetti bolognaise instead of pasta I will have a bowl of baby spinach, capsicum, mushrooms and whatever else takes my fancy, with cheese and bolognaise sauce. Similarly for curry, I have salad with curry over the top. If its a big training week I might add 1/4cup of pasta or rice to the mix, but I don’t have any hard or fast rules. Our family meal plan is pretty stock standard. Breakfasts tend to be eggs of some form, with veg and occasionally toast or my other go to is yoghurt with fruit and granola. Lunches are leftovers, soups or salads, although the occasional cheese toasty will creep in in winter (cheese toasties are a weakness of mine). Dinner is meat and salad/veg, curry, stir-fry, ‘pasta’, burgers and all the usual fare that you make because you know at least 2 of the 3 children will eat it!

Race Day Fuelling

My race nutrition has also been a learning process. In the depths of my low-fat/low-carb time I did races where I only used honey and dates for fuel and had water with coconut water, lime juice and salt added to it in my hydration pack. I know now that this probably what contributed to some pretty epic lows out there on the trail which saw me death marching as a blubbering mess. I have tried gels, I have a real problem with even swallowing them without gagging so gave up on those pretty quick. There have been various electrolyte drinks and food combinations. I have done calorie challenges to try and work out just how much I can stomach on the run, that was possibly one of the grossest things I have ever done. I have also had epic fails of nutrition and body management which has seen me on the side of the trail hurling my guts up quite spectacularly numerous times (you can read my UTA report involving that if thats something you want to hear about!).

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My sports hydration of choice

My current nutrition is all about variety. I use TrailBrew (a hydration, electrolyte and energy drink) in bottles in the front of my pack so I can monitor my intake and make sure I am getting enough calories. I have water in my hydration bladder as well, so I can drink to thirst. I also eat a lot of different solid foods. My strategy is to eat and drink small amounts every ten minutes, throughout the entire race or training run. On any training run that is 3hrs or longer I do this, to practise and to make sure my body is on board with the way I am doing things and the foods I am eating. I have a lot of different options because what is palatable 2hrs into a race may not be at 20 or 30hrs in. So what do I eat? For my recent race at Alpine Challenge I had about 5 different flavours of Clif Bar (Choc Almond Fudge is my favourite) but by half way through my race they tasted like sand and I was struggling to swallow them, despite rotating through my other options as well. I found the same thing happened at Northburn, so now they are relegated to early on in the race nutrition, yet another evolution. As a side note, I was so over them that the next morning after my race I practically through my leftover (unopened) Clif Bars at my pacer, Kirsten, as I didn’t even want to look at them. The rest of my race food is made up into ziploc bags of food portioned for an hours worth of calories, usually divided into 6 pieces to have over an hour – the less thinking I have to do about what I’m needing to take in out there the better!

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Nutrition for 100 miles for me

For Alpine Challenge those bags had apple slices (added to the mix after having an apple from an aid station high up on Cromwell Station during Northburn), fresh pineapple pieces (I stole that idea from my friend Liv), potato chips (the food that settled my stomach at UTA), Vegimite and butter on white bread with no crusts (I crave salt in latter stages of the race), Vegimite, avocado and lime juice wraps (its a weird combo but it works!), Snickers (they really satisfy!), Mars Bars (they help you work, rest and play) and M&M’s. I tend to leave the chocolates for the latter stages of the races, they give me something to look forward to food wise and they are great for when I really need a sugar hit. I also carry jelly beans, in case I need a real quick sugar boost but can’t bare to eat chocolate (it has happened!). I will also use bits and pieces of aid station food and on the really long races my crew has food for me that isn’t portable. I have had mouthfuls of noodles, clear chicken soup (salty and delicious!), fruit and nut chocolate, coffee (I love coffee!), bananas and oranges. Unfortunately I can no longer stomach watermelon during races after a few gross incidents.

 

Prerace food

The only other food related thing I wanted to share was my prerace food. Mostly it isn’t that different to what I do every other week. I don’t carb load at all. I figure if what I ate through training worked, why would I change that in the lead up to my race? After all, the purpose of practising my nutrition in my long runs is to mimic race day and that includes my prerace nutrition as well.

The only big change I make is that 3-4 weeks before a really long race I take caffeine completely out of my diet. I run all of my morning runs fasted anyway, but I miss my post run coffee during that time! It also means no chocolate for a few weeks, but I do enjoy them on race day then. The reason I drop caffeine is, partly because its a prerace habit, partly because it means I sleep better (I have a very low caffeine tolerance) and partly because it means I can enjoy a good hit in the race when I really need it. I try and wait until I am in the last quarter of a race and then I will have some chocolate covered coffee beans or a strong coffee, (the one I had at 102km in at Alpine, with double cream was DIVINE!!!) and it gives me a good kick to get me going in the harder stages of the race.

As for my prerace meal? It’s really simple and boring. Roast chicken, with roasted veg of all types and some salad on the side. It’s nourishing, it’s comforting and it gives me everything I need. I also mimic this in training, having a similar meal the night before my longer training runs.

Post race? Ahhhh. The amazing and tasty cheese toasty. I seriously dream about them before race day as I love them and try not to have them that often. Washed down with a couple of cold chocolate milks. It really is simple and delicious. There is also the celebratory meal, once I’ve slept! It usually involves steak and oysters, usually bought by my ever supportive parents, although I do wonder if its just an excuse for my dad to have oysters…..

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Typical post race celebration meal

So that’s my training life on a plate. Like I said, this is what works for ME right now. It is always changing, I am always trying new stuff. I think people can get a bit evangelical about what they eat and try and ‘convert’ people to certain rules and diets. Likewise, in the pursuit of getting better we can like to think that if we eat the same way as someone we can get faster, go further, climb higher. In my experience it’s all a big experiment, it’s just as well I love food and am happy to try new things.

Alpine Challenge – My first 100 mile race

You’re just going for a really long walk in the mountains and you’re going to have to get around it” – Anna Frost

This story really begins in a coffee shop in Surfers. I was having a catch up with my coach, Matt from Judd Adventures, to discuss what I should do next after running Northburn 100k. I was currently chasing points for UTMB lottery qualification but unfortunately the race I planned to run next, Alpine Challenge 100k, no longer provided enough points for me to qualify. There was another race that would provide the points, but it would mean going 60km further than I had ever gone before, something I wasn’t really sure I was ready for yet. Sometimes though, all it takes to make you believe you can do something is for someone else to suggest it. So, when Matt suggested that I “give the miler a crack” I wasn’t sure if I was excited or completely shocked. So there it was, I was going to run 100miles, or at least try.

Fast forward a good 7 months. My family had moved across the ditch to Wanaka in New Zealand, bar my husband who was tying up loose ends in Australia. There have been countless emails to my coach and messages to my friends and crew about training and fears and whether I can actually do this. I have run up and down many new and beautiful mountains, I have run around lakes. I have changed jobs. I have lost two possible pacers. I have solo parented my three kids while we sort out everything. You see life doesn’t stop to train for such an endeavour. You work it in and around life. Sometimes that can be messy and tiring and just damn hard, but if you want it bad enough, and I really want it bad, you make it happen and so, I did.

I flew into Melbourne after a full day of travel, unfortunately there had been no direct flights to Melbourne on a Thursday, so I had travelled via Auckland making it a long bloody day!! Here I met with Maz, my dear friend and crew chief, who knows me so very well and Becca, my lunch buddy and friend from Kyogle. After having some lunch/dinner, we picked up the crew vehicle (a light commercial Prado with the added bonus of a flashing light on top),

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Best Crew Vehicle EVER!!

did some grocery shopping and set off for the mountains. It was a four hour drive so I napped in the back as best I could, despite wanting to chat with two friends I hadn’t seen in months.

Next morning saw me do my last little shake out run, with Bec keeping watch over me, she explored the power station at the bottom of the hill while I ran backwards and forwards on the only flat part of trail and road I could find. I was loving smelling the Aussie bush again, along with the sounds of all the birds I had grown up with. After cooking my crew breakfast, kind of a tradition as they spend the next few days looking after me and its nice to do something for them, I set about getting my drop bags and pack ready for registration.

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Packing for the unknown is hard!

Its really hard to get your head around what you might want or need 30hrs into a run in the mountains, so between my pack, various drop bags and my crew I was trying to cover every eventuality.

About an hour before registration opened, Kirsten, one of two people pacing me for a section, arrived. I had never met Kirsten before, although we had chatted extensively on line through Operation Move, where she is a running coach. We got along well from the get go and I knew we would be fine out on the trail together. Once Kirsten had unpacked, we set off for Falls Creek to hand in my drop bags, pick up my race packet and get my gear checked. As we walked into the rego/gear check there was a huge board with examples of the items of your race packet tacked onto it. I picked up my packet and got my gear checked, with the volunteer from Alpine Search and Rescue telling me he would see me at Cleve Cole Hut tomorrow some time. Shit was getting real!

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Gear Check and Registration

After leaving my drop bags in the designated places we met with my second pacer, Jacqui. Jacqui had run the 100km and the 100miler at Alpine Challenge before. Having someone who knew the course and the area really well gave me a lot more confidence, so after the Q and A session we headed home for the traditional post race dinner, roast chicken and veg, lovingly prepared by Bec and Maz and then it was off to bed. Surprisingly I actual slept. I think I was in denial.

When my alarm went off I just pottered round doing all my usual prerun things, lube here, suncream there, shoes, pack, the butterflies becoming bubblebees in my stomach. My support crew were there if I needed but the tone was subdued, trying not to be to anxious or excited. Maz rounded us up, time to go, and up the mountain we went. On the way up we stopped to check the turn off the road onto the trail, I had been worried about where exactly it was and was seriously worried everyone would have sprinted off and I wouldn’t find it. We pulled up near the start line and the moment I got out of the car those pesky comparisons started. “Oh geez, these people are so fit”, “I look ridiculous in all these colours”, “ugh, what was I thinking I don’t belong here”. Have I mentioned I don’t like startlines? Fortunately, my crew were all over it, as usual. Seeing me turning inward they made me laugh and cracked jokes as I did my warm up, trying to ignore the circus forming at the startline.

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Not looking at all nervous

The call was made for us to check in and line up. Getting my name ticked off I quietly made my way through the crowd to the back of the pack, standing there quietly, listening to the chat around me “Its much warmer than last year”, “hopefully we get views from Bogong this year” has everyone done this before?!?! Maz and Bec came to rescue me from myself, more jokes and inappropriateness. My crew is seriously awesome. The RD, Paul announced that the severe thunderstorm warning for that night, something I had been worrying about all week, had been revoked – crowd goes wild – but there was still a thunderstorm warning, oh well.

Then with a 3, 2, 1 we were off down the road toward the trail. I was trying to not get dragged along, keeping it as easy as possible, the road was shit and I knew there was no point in looking at my heart rate just yet, so I listened to my breath and just tried to not get to carried away while checking my headlamp was set right for the trail. As we hit the trail, we settled into a conga line, my heart rate settled and I was able to start running the way I normally do. I would periodically call out to the person behind that they could pass as I slowed to hike on any incline, nervous of holding people up but also of using up too much energy too soon. My eat/drink alarm was already going off every ten minutes and I diligently nibbled and sipped, as I would for the next day and a half. I felt a bit self conscious, not seeing anyone else doing the same, but I knew this was what worked for me so I needed to just do it. When we switched from the downhill Packhorse trail and ran up onto the Spion Kopje Firetrail, I dropped back to a steady hike and watched as what felt like everyone, pass me. Determined to stick to the plan I settled in and told myself I had to run my own race if I was going to finish and that this was the first hill of many mountains. On the run down to the first creek crossing, I got to know a few of the other back of the pack runners. We chatted about the run, what else people had done and where we were from. Everyone looked shocked that I had chosen this as my first miler and that I had never run on any of these trails before, I tried to ignore them. We hit the first crossing and I barrelled through, quietly giggling at people stopping to take their shoes off. By now it was daylight and my headlight was off, but I decided I wasn’t stopping to stow it, part of the plan today was not to faff about at all. No unneeded stops. So I would wait until the first crew checkpoint to remove it. As we started the first of 6 big climbs throughout the race I was steadily over taken by every single person. Here I was, last again. I sent my crew a message at 13km, letting them know I was going ok but I was last. I started going through all my tools, making sure I didn’t get anxious, keep moving,, don’t let it get to you. As I rounded the next corner I looked down to see a lyrebird feather on the trail. This gave me a tremendous lift, lyrebirds are one of my special creatures, I usually see them when I am “on the right path, but in some hurt”. To be last already in such a long race was playing on my mind but with that feather I knew I was right to stick to the plan, keep my heart rate low and just keep moving. Over the space of the climb up to Spion Kopje I managed to pass a few people, all the while keeping my heartrate low and my movement steady.

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On top of Spion Kopje

Along the top toward Warby I was leapfrogging with people, catching them on the flats and downs, only to be overtaken on the climbs, but I was tremendously happy with that as I was still within sight of other runners most of the time. As I walked into Warby Corner, the first checkpoint and crew point, I removed my headlamp, took out my used bottles and rubbish and started looking for Bec, who had hiked in with my gear. I had now travelled 24.5km.

Both Bec and Maz were well versed in the fact that my crew point plan was to be fast and efficient. No chit chat, get in, get what I need (both physically and emotionally), get back out again. As other people stood around and chatted we went through my pack list, I got rid of my skirt, which was pissing me off, and within minutes I was ready to go again. I young guy, who had ridden his pushy up from Melbourne the day before (yes, seriously) asked if he could run out with me as he didn’t like running alone. I said sure, but quietly knew that wouldn’t last long. With a hug from Bec, off I went, within 2 min Melbourne man was going way too fast, so I dropped to a hike and told him I’d see him later and to have a great race. Having had such a great stop (thanks Bec!) I was now within sight of dozens of runners, we were still on firetrail, with very little cover so I could see a fair distance ahead. I felt like I was finally settling in and was able to just trundle along enjoying the scenery. Soon we were back in the scrub, I was noticing wild flowers, wondering what they were, thinking I should take pics for my friend Buff but adhering to my self imposed no faff rule. As I got close to Ropers Hut, I pulled my map out just to double check I was on the right path, yep, keep moving. Passing a few more people I was no longer feeling any pressure to keep ahead or to worry about position.

It was starting to heat up and as we started the steeper part of the descent to Big River I heard a sound I had only heard via video messages from my friend Jill. I affectionately call Jill my big trail sister. She is an amazing runner and one of the few people I personally know who has run 100 miles. She has been, not only an inspiration but a mentor of sorts, always happy to discuss training, running and life. It was Jill who got me to calm down and work the problem when my stomach went south at UTA100, with a well timed phone call. The sound was that of black cockatoos, Jill’s special creature. Just the sound made me smile, I knew Jill was with me. I scanned around to see if I could see them, knowing they were off to my right, but mindful of not taking my eyes off the now rather technical trail. Resigning myself to just hearing them, I focussed ahead, only to have a pair fly across my path, making me get goosebumps and buoying me in a way that only those who get those special moments will understand.

I caught up to two men who had passed me earlier, we had a chat, keeping a steady pace and then reached Big River. Again, no faffing, I filled a water bottle and kept moving as I tightened its lid, knowing I had another large climb and wanting to keep myself going forward. By now it was getting hot and although it became more exposed as we climbed there was thankfully also a breeze. As we neared Cleve Cole Hut we crossed a small stream and here I stopped to fill a bottle and also douse myself with freezing water. We had been warned that there could be water shortages for those in the back of the pack, so I was filling up whenever I needed to as soon as I found clear water. Here two other guys were resting in the shade and I offered one the use of my cup to pour water over himself as he wasn’t looking good. He declined and put his head in his hands. I moved on, glad I felt better than he did. Just over a kilometre on and I walked into the Cleve Cole Hut checkpoint. The heat was obviously hitting people hard with people lying in the shade of the trees eating and napping. I chatted to the volunteers while I waited to fill my other empty bottle then quickly moved on out of the checkpoint and headed for the summit of Mount Bogong. As we cleared the saddle, the views became apparent and I took out my phone to take some photos for the first and last time.

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On Mt Bogong

It felt like we were on the top of the world and every step I wanted to drink it in and then capture the moment. That’s when I realised I couldn’t take any more photos, between getting my phone out, taking the pics, putting it away I was wasting time I didn’t have. So the phone was stowed and I began the descent down to the second Big River crossing. By now the heat was starting to bite and I was over the technical single track. I knew I would soon hit firetrail and it couldn’t come soon enough. At the turn where the single track came out onto the main track I stopped at a stream to throw water over myself and quickly check my map to make sure I was heading in the right direction. A few hot kilometres later I hit the river and it was bliss. I took off my pack and lowered myself into the water, rather noisily as the water was freezing, much to the amusement of a fellow runner already sitting in the flow. I knew I had another long climb up to get back up to Warby and so I wanted to make sure my core temp was nice and cool before I started as it would be hot and exposed. I also made sure my dreads were completely soaked and put my hair up off my neck. Once I felt I was cool enough and wet enough, I got my pack on and started the hike up the firetrail.

It was carnage. The heat was clearly effecting many runners, people sitting in shady spots along the trail or just stumbling along. I passed at least two people afflicted by upset stomachs and had to keep hiking as one dry wretched just after I passed, worried my stomach would go as well if I stuck around. As I came toward the top I hit my first low. I was worried I was going too slow, that I would miss the Warby time cut off. I had purposely not committed the cut off times or my “hopeful” times to memory but now I was worried that I would miss it as I fought the heat. I messaged Maz as soon as I had reception, the crew however were having a much needed sleep in preparation for a big night of driving and support. As my 10min timer for food and drink went off, I diligently nibbled and sipped and remembered the advice I heard on a Gary Robbins podcast, about needing more calories if you’re hitting a low, so I pulled out a chocolate and had a munch. Not long after Maz replied that I was ahead of schedule, but by now I was back in a steady run – walk pattern and I could see the checkpoint in the distance. Knowing that less than 10km from there I would see my crew spurred me on and the runs got longer and the walks shorter.

I strode into Warby with a smile on my face, grabbed some water and some fruit and nut chocolate from the awesome volunteers. While I repacked, the member of another support crew gave me a run down on the track through to Langfords Gap where I would see my own crew. After thanking him and the volunteers I began jogging out of the station, smiling knowing I had 9km until I got hot food and hugs. I had now been on my feet for 12.5hrs and had travelled 64km. As I jogged down the trail there was more carnage, I passed at least three people resting less than a km from leaving the checkpoint. In the distance I caught glimpses of Pretty Valley Pondage in the distance. It was surreal to think that I had almost 90km to go before I would get there.
After a km or so, I left the fire trail moving onto a short single trail that wound its way through the heath and brush. My feet were starting to hurt, they had been wet for most of the day. It seemed to be taking longer than it should but there wasn’t much I could do except keep moving. The flats were getting hard to run, but I was moving well and willed myself to run walk as much as I could. As I came around the corner I could hear Maz and Bec before I saw them. The emotions welled up, as they always do. Maz hugged me and told me I was doing great while Bec took my watch to give it a quick recharge while we dealt with business. I sat and took my shoes off, to change my socks, drank my cup of soup and went through what I needed to take and needed to do before I left.

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Going over pack contents in between eating

Maz rubbed me down and also put anti chafe all over my torso. My feet were creasing due to the wet but felt better for the dry socks. I put on my longer tights, knowing it would soon be nightfall and that temperatures would drop. I debated whether to put my thermal on now or not, but I still felt hot so decided against it. Finishing off my soup and eating a few berries, Maz announced it was time to get going and the tears welled up. I knew it was going to be a long cold slog, alone in the dark before I saw my friends again and I was a little scared. Maz grabbed my hand and made me look in her eyes (it was a bit Kath and Kim) and told me “we will see you REALLY, REALLY soon”. I jogged out, in tears, I still wasn’t even half way. I was tired and sore and the night hadn’t even begun.

I made it about 500m down the track, in tears, when the wind came up and I started to feel cold. I decided to stop and put my thermal on, the no faff rule was still in effect but I  was mindful that it was about to get dark and that I was in the alpine high plains. In the past a lot of people have dropped out during the night due to either getting too cold or from the sleep deprivation.

I knew I had to change paths a few times in the next few kilometres. Being an unmarked course I was now holding my paper map and notes in my hand, as well as checking the phone map app, to make sure I was on track. I made the first turn and as I headed up towards Cope Hut some big fat drops of rain started to fall. I stopped again and put on my rain jacket, silently wondering if it were warranted or if I was just faffing. My alarm went off and I dug in my pack for my next nibble, Clif Bars were now tasting like sand and hard to swallow so I was cycling between all my other options, I realised I shouldn’t have picked up more of them at the checkpoint, I wasn’t going to eat them.

As Bogong High Plains Road came into sight the heavens opened and it absolutely poured down, so much for my dry feet. I crossed the road, watching the rain jumping back up off the bitumen after it fell, it was that heavy. Following the poled Australian Alps Walking Track, the terrain felt similar to where I had been running back in New Zealand, very bare and exposed, with poles marking the route. The trail was fairly obvious for the most part, although in places it was a stream or I was hopping on stepping stones just above the sodden ground. It was now dark and my headlamp was the only light I could see. My hands were freezing and everything below my jacket line was wet. I made the decision to get out my ski gloves, as I was pulling them on I was debating whether to bother with the waterproof pants in my pack when the sky lit up with lightening, followed by a boom of thunder. Decision made, keep moving and get off the plains as fast as possible. I’m not sure how long the storm lasted. I just remember trying to move as fast as possible in the dark while counting the time between lightening and thunder, trying to make sure I was moving away from the storm. I got to Cope Saddle Hut and spent about 5 min trying to work out which way I needed to go. The map was clear but the written instructions were confusing me. It was dark and I hadn’t seen another headlamp since leaving Bogong High Plains Road. After doubling back on myself a few times I made a decision and moved on, getting out the phone app to make sure I was moving along the right path. I now started counting poles, being dark there was no real view except the tunnel of light of my headlamp on the tussocks and stepping stones along the path. I finally caught up to a headlamp, grateful to see someone else, although there was no friendly banter just acknowledgement of each other and the constant forward movement. In the distance a strobe light appeared. At first I thought it was a headlamp but realised it was flashing and I hoped against hope it was the Pole333 checkpoint. I had now passed half way, some 85km into the run.

The Search and Rescue volunteers welcomed us into the tent, out of the wind and I tried to get my bottles and powder out as quickly as possible, not want to get too comfortable in the shelter. I was still cold but the wind had dried most of my clothing. Unfortunately my feet were starting to sting in the creases that had formed, but there was nothing I could do about that here. I remember taking something to eat here, but I’m not sure what and as I left I double checked with one of the volunteers I was heading the right way, thanking him for being out there in the middle of the night. He smiled and said it was nice to see someone still smiling out here (I may have been faking it).

As you leave the Pole333 aid station you are greeted with a sign announcing that you are entering the infamous “Mortein Alley” this is where the majority of miler competitors “drop like flies”. I was, from the very start, never really racing this race, it was always about beating the cutoffs. So, determined not to miss the next cutoff at Loch Carpark I moved as swiftly as I could with 90 mountainous kilometres already in my legs. I was getting very tired now, although my body hurt, it was of no real consequence, it was just background noise. In my tiredness I was very worried about getting lost, the trail crisscrossed with a number of side trails and wasn’t always well defined. I was thankful I was at the back because I could see the where grass had been stamped down forming a path of sorts between the trees and poles. I was now stopping at every possible junction to check I was headed the right way. At some point I came across a Chinese runner coming down the wrong path, obviously having taken a wrong turn. He confirmed the right path with me and took off into the night. As we descended down into the valley it became a pattern of me taking my time to get to the next junction only to meet the same runner and have him confirm the right path and take off again. He was obviously struggling to navigate and I was happy to have someone to second guess my directions.

We hit the valley floor and started the climb up to Loch Carpark, the next crew aid station. Although this is the shortest of the sustained climbs on the course it felt like the longest. I was getting so tired and the ongoing stairs were getting to me. I got a message from Maz to say they were waiting for me and were wondering how I was doing, I told them they would be waiting a long time as I was crawling up the mountain.

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Super crew waiting in the cold and dark at Loch Carpark

I then passed the Chinese runner sitting on the side of the stairs, head in his hands looking shattered, I kept moving, determined not to stop until I was at the checkpoint. Not long after my watch died, so I was left to try and gauge on my maps how far to go and trying to recall the elevation map in my head as I seemed to be forever climbing. I kept eating and drinking whenever I could remember to. As I came out towards the top, onto the ski fields (I think?) the wind became horrendous and cold. I was still constantly checking the maps as the trail didn’t really seem to be a trail and I was second guessing myself, the tiredness felt bone deep. Somewhere between the ski field and the checkpoint I realised I had just beat by previous 100km time from Northburn. Of course with no watch, I really didn’t know by how much but a PB is a PB and I let the knowledge buoy me along. I soon came across a volunteering walking towards me on the track , he said hello and pointed up to the checkpoint and the flashing lights on the hill. It was a relief to see them but at the same time they seemed so very far away. Trudging up the hill I could see one headlamp and then I heard Maz asking if it was me. I was so happy to hear her (it was pitch black other than our headlamps) I had made it to Loch, 102kms, but the fight was only just about to begin.

My number was recorded and as I swapped gear, I changed my light weight UD jacket out for my heavier duty Patagonia one as I was starting to have trouble with my core temp, put on extra layers and we attended to my poor feet, Bec went and woke Kirsten who was pacing me for the next section. I tried to eat some noodles and surveyed my feet, probably not a good combo in normal life, but I was so tired it didn’t bother me.

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Checking the damage to my wet feet

In the corner another runner lay sleeping but other than that it was just us and the volunteers. Rugged up I went to the bathroom – an actual toilet was a luxury at this point – and brushed my teeth. My crew taped my knees in preparation for the coming descent and Kirsten burst into the room full of nervous energy and chatter. I smiled, if nothing else she would be a welcome distraction. Maz prompted me to have another mouthful of noodles and I slipped on a new pair of shoes and socks, my feet felt normal for a few minutes. As Kirsten and I made our way out the door after our usual hugs, we were hit with the blast of cold and wind and I was reminded this bit was going to be really tough.

My brain was pretty much fried at this point and I told Kirsten point blank that I needed her to find the trail for awhile. In hindsight this was probably not the best decision on my part, poor Kirsten has run very few trails at night and not done a hell of a lot of navigation, it should have been a collaboration but instead I left it up to her. This is one of the harder sections to navigate, particularly at night, to the point where, despite it being an unmarked course the race director had made the decision to put pink flags at key points. So our cry of “pink flag!” could be heard every now and again with a sigh of relief. Usually followed by Kirsten yelling “Breakfast!” to remind me to eat and drink as I no longer had a watch alarm. At some point along the Razorback we missed a flag and headed slightly right where we should have gone left, we quickly descended down a goat track and when we suddenly hit the bottom and a grass path with an arrow pointing towards us we realised our mistake. I was devastated and the tiredness made it worse. I asked, or maybe I told, Kirsten to go find where we needed to be and I slowly trudged back up the hill we had just descended. Kirsten moved swiftly ahead and I lost her headlamp. Tired and dejected, for the first time I sat down on the track. I got out my map, trying to make head and tail of it, where we had gone wrong, when Kirsten called out. I could hear the worry in her voice, she had found the place we had gone wrong. I hauled myself to my feet, anger and tears welling up, her headlamp seemed so high on the hill and now I had to climb all the way back up there, so much wasted effort. I shook my head, realising that was unfair and decided that despite having just eaten, a kick of sugar would be well used right now. So I opened a snickers and trudged back up that bloody hill. By the time I got to Kirsten I was back in a decent head space, we checked and double checked the turn and headed down Bon Accord Spur. The sun was starting to come up which was a blessing and was beautiful, but the tiredness was getting worse and I was feeling so down as the descent wasn’t overly technical and I felt I should have been making up time running down but I was barely able to walk without tripping and kicking rocks. The next few kilometres were a blur of me looking at my feet, trying not to fall asleep and listening to Kirsten as she tried to keep me engaged and awake. The cutoffs at Harrietville were looming in my head and I was worried that I would either miss the cutoff or just feel worse and worse and not be able to continue.

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Someone is wide awake and it isn’t me!

We could finally hear the creek at the bottom of the valley and I was starting to be able to get a little jog up, by little I mean 100m at most, at Kirsten’s prompting. We got to the river to be greeted by the sweeper and the chinese runner I had left on the stairs before Loch Carpark. It turns out that when we took our little detour we had been overtaken. The sweeper assured us we still had plenty of time and that she had got going because everyone else behind us had dropped out. This was enough to break my stupor and we waded through the creek, welcoming the fresh water and splashing on my face. From here Kirsten began making me work, prompting me to run (jog) as much as I could. I wanted to get to the road as I knew from there it was a short distance to the checkpoint and my first coffee in over a month. So the next few kilometres we ran, walked, I asked Kirsten “How far to the bloody road?” and also tried to palm off my unwanted Clif Bars. We hit the road and Kirsten pushed me to keep running, telling me we were running 9min kilometres, I was now over 115km in. I was amazed I could run, although it hurt and I was oh so tired.

I was so glad to get to Harrietville. I had figured all along that this was my no turning back point. If I got there and out under cutoff I could finish. Overwhelmed with tiredness I became a complete mass of sobs. Maz took my hand and lead me to the car as all my fears of being so tired and missing cutoffs spilled out. She and Bec became all business, they put me in the back of the car, ordering me to lie down and sleep or at least compose myself, removed my shoes and left me to rest while they got me a coffee and took care of my pack. I lay there, sobbing, unable to sleep, my mind whirring. I was scared, I wasn’t tough enough for this, I was going to disappoint everyone but more than anything I wanted so badly to be the kind of person who could do this, in my heart I thought I was that kind of person, but what if I was wrong? After a time my sobs stopped, I realised I wouldn’t be able to sleep so I may as well get up. I took a deep breath, I needed to at least try, I sat up and opened the door. Maz was waiting with my coffee and she and Bec kept things light and efficient as I once again repacked and changed socks. I don’t remember if I ate, but the coffee was so damn good.

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My two awesome pacers watching over at Harrietville

My pacer from here was Jacqui. Jacqui has run both the 100k and 100miler at Alpine Challenge and was working on the Harrietville checkpoint that morning before starting pacing me. She knew the pressure I was under to meet cut offs, having been there herself when she did the miler but she also knew what I needed to do. I got up, said goodbye to my crew, the next time I would see them I would be under 10km from the finish.

Jacqui and I set off to start the climb up to Feathertop. This is the longest sustained climb in the entire race and it starts at 120km into the race. I pushed those thoughts out of my head and concentrated on right now. This became my mantra for the next 9 hours. Yes 9 hours. Jacqui and I got to know each other, having only spoken in person twice before and in a handful of messages on Facebook. While running/hiking with Kirsten, I had worked out that having my pacer in front of me, having to “catch them” worked best for me. So Jacqui hiked ahead, keeping far enough ahead to make me work.

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The grind up to Feathertop

Every time my head started to tell me I couldn’t sustain this pace for the rest of the race and I would retort with “but I can do it now, so just keep doing it”. I was also keeping at the front of my mind how hard the hiking reps, which Matt had prescribed I do on Mount Iron, had been and that I had always completed them, despite the uncomfortableness. So we hiked, stopping once, I think to remove or add layers. As we reached Federation Hut, the sweeper again caught up with us again and I found out the Chinese runner had dropped out at Harrietville. I was once again last.

We had a quick stop at the toilets Federation Hut and then pushed on to the summit of Feathertop. It was here that we caught two other runners. It sounds awful but I was glad to see some others at the back with me. The views were amazing, but I didn’t take long as I wanted to get it done.

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Working hard on Feathertop

There was, what Jacqui calls a “fake cut off” (an unenforced, but suggested cut off) that I wanted to meet for Diamantina Spur and we were cutting it fine. I had hoped to make up time on the descent but what I hadn’t accounted for the fact that the trail was as much a downward scramble and on tired legs it was challenging and slow. As we reached close to the valley floor, in my mind I decided I wasn’t going to meet the final cutoff. In my mind I quietly accepted that I could only go as far as the race organisers would let me, but that I would try my hardest. I voiced this to Jacqui, that we weren’t going to meet the cutoffs and this is when she became the star of a pacer that she is. Jacqui stopped and looked me in the eye and told me not to give up yet. Her words were something like this “You can do this, you have a finish in you but you are going to have to work really hard up this next climb, you aren’t going to stop. When we get to the creek I will take your bottle and refill it and you will keep moving”. And so, that’s what we did. I grinded my way up that hill, Jacqui in front pulling me along, while I willed myself to catch her. We caught another runner and then another, each person buoying me. Jacqui had to stop to help get another runner on course but I pushed on some more, knowing she would easily catch me. I finally reached the top alone, coming out onto the plains under snow gums and to the sight of more wildflowers, knowing I couldn’t be far from Pole333.

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At the top, Feathertop in the background

Here I met a group of Search and Rescue volunteers heading down to meet the sweeper. We had a quick chat and then, as Jacqui caught up to me we spotted some brumbies in the distance. I smiled, I had now had the full Alpine experience in my opinion, stinking hot weather, icy creeks, thunder storms in the high plains, mountain views, gale force winds and now the elusive brumbies. In the distance I could see the checkpoint and we pushed on, past the sign to say I had indeed survived Mortein Alley, cheered by the knowledge that in 5km I would be at the last crew point.

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Happy to have survived Mortein Alley

The same volunteers greeted us and Jacqui split a banana with me then sent me on my way whilst she refilled a bottle for me. We set off down the trail to be met by the brumbies we had seen in the distance. A beautiful stallion was protecting two mares, each with small foal, which was oh so gorgeous. Cautious of them being aggressive we detoured off the path to make our way around them, then off in the distance we saw lightening and thunder, it felt like an epically wild experience.

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Brumbies on the high plains, in the rain. 

We turned onto the fire trail that would lead us to the last crew point and I knew I was going to finish. A sense of relief swept over me. I tried to run as much as possible but my my glutes just hurt with every bounce. Our overall mood was cheerful now and Jacqui and I chatted as Pretty Valley Pondage came into sight. Jacqui pointed out the last climb I would make before the finish, up to Mt McKay. It seemed so much further than 5km away. A flashing orange light flashed in the parking lot and I smiled, my crew were waiting. As we crossed the pond Maz came out to meet us, she told us she had heard our voices on the wind through the valley and it had brought her such joy. It was smiles and joy all round. I was going to make it.

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Things getting a little silly at Pretty Valley

I changed shoes and socks for the last time and got ready to leave with Kirsten. I thanked Jacqui for her tremendous help out there, she had pushed me hard right when I needed it and it had made all the difference, but she needed to get back to her wee daughter Claire. I debated taking my poles, I really didn’t want them, Kirsten decided to carry them for me just in case, she ended up carrying them all the way to the finish.

We headed up the road to Mt McKay, I was obviously better company than the last time we had run together, with the conversation being much more of a conversation than a one way monologue on Kirsten’s part. The climb to McKay was hard on tired legs that were sick of going up, but it passed relatively quickly and we were soon at the top, enjoying the sunset.

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On top of Mt McKay – the last big climb

The last few kilometres to the finish were uneventful but seemed to take longer than they should, as they often do in long races. I lamented every up as it hurt and I thought I was done with ups and was annoyed I couldn’t run for long before my butt cheeks hurt to the point where I needed to walk, so mostly we just did a nice steady hike into the dark and toward the finish. The “run” down to the finish was also a walk thanks to the grass which was wet from the rain we had had off and on for the last few hours. When we finally reached the finish line, where I had started 40 hours ago, I was so relieved more than anything. I had finished, I was done, and geez I was so bloody happy. There were photos and smiles and I was tired but happy. We did it.
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The Stats
164.5km travelled

Approx 7000m gain and descent

Official time 40hrs15min

Shout outs
To Matt, my awesome coach. Thank you for holding my hand not only through the training involved for my first hundred mile race, but also through the upheaval of moving countries with my family and finding new trails to run. For your kind and supportive words every time I wobbled and your sometimes cryptic but often hilarious GIF responses in our facebook messages, reminding me not to take myself too seriously.
To Maz, my crew chief. Your love for me and your dedication to doing everything you could to get me to the finish means the world to me. You were tough, you were efficient, you were everything an awesome crew chief could be. We really need to get you that hat.
To Bec, super support crew. Thank you for giving up your time and money to come support me on my adventure. You worked away quietly in the background at every stop, making sure I had all I needed. It didn’t go unnoticed.
To Kirsten and Jacqui, my amazing pacers. To help a virtual stranger achieve a selfish goal such as this takes a special type of person. You are both rockstars in my eyes.
To TrailBrew and Injinji Performance Products, thank you for your ongoing support in my adventures. I had no stomach issues thanks to TrailBrew and my feet were fine, the only issues I had was due to my constantly wet feet.

Don’t You Get Scared?

It’s a common question. When people find out where I run and that I do so alone there are usually a few standard responses, either “I wish I could do that” (you totally can), “Your husband lets you do that?” (Seriously? WTF? That’s a WHOLE other blog post) and “But, don’t you get scared?”.

The answer is yes, I do get scared. We all get scared, don’t we? There are things that create fear in our hearts and minds, but it’s a choice as to what we do about that fear. How much power we give the fear and how we listen to it.

I run alone and at the moment I try and run every long run somewhere new, in an effort to mimic what will happen on race day where I will be running on ‘new to me’ trails and needing to navigate along the way. This can be scary, there is a chance I will get lost, or hurt, but I can’t let that fear dictate my life. I am a planner and I mitigate the danger as much as I can. I have a planned route. I tell at least two people where I am planning to run, how long I should take and when to start worrying if they haven’t heard from me. On every mountain or long run I take a full pack of gear, I always have, whether it be here in New Zealand or back in the subtropical National Parks of NSW and South East Queensland. In my pack I have dry thermals, a raincoat, beanie, spare food, water, a bivvy sac (think sleeping bag made out of space blanket material), first aid and a headlamp.

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Planning for any situation helps mitigate the fear.

Knowing I have these things in place helps me manage the fear. I usually have more fear before a new run than during. I will stress about running in a new place or if I know the conditions aren’t going to be the best, but nine times out ten, once I am underway the fears drop away.

But this doesn’t mean I blatantly ignore that fear. A month ago during training I decided to take on a particular trail near Lake Hawea called the Breast Hill Track. It gets a bit scrambly up the top and anyone who knows me will know I have a fear of heights. It was a cold and windy day, there were showers forecast, but I thought I would give it a go. As I got to the start of the first short scramble the wind came up the face of the mountain and hit me. I sat and calmed myself, willing myself to keep going. Yes, I was scared. This willing myself forward, getting beaten back, trying to quell my fears went on for about a kilometre. Then I reached my point of “no more”. The fear was too great. The wind was too hard, the trail too slick and my heart could find no joy, no reason to continue. Why? Because I no longer felt safe. Not just scared but also not safe. So I listened and went home and found a different trail to finish my run on.

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Rain, wind and fear on Breast Hill

Running alone as a woman also brings a special fear, one that is instilled in us from a young age. That fear that we shouldn’t do something because of what other people might do to us. There is, unfortunately, a culture of telling women to adjust their activities to keep themselves safe from men who may be out to do them harm. There have been many posts written about this, many debates about victim blaming and putting the onus on victims instead of perpetrators. It is also one of the main reasons many women who find out I run alone tell me they don’t feel safe to do the same. In five years of running, predominantly alone, on trails I have only felt unsafe twice because of the people I met on the trail. The first, I believe, was unfounded fear. I was doing my first solo night run and toward the end of it, when I was tired and already stressed, I crossed paths a group of men in their early twenties who were bush walking. They did and said nothing that would warrant fear, but still I was scared and put as much distance between them and me as I could. The second time, is the one time I feel something could have happened, but I listened to my gut and took steps to make myself safe. As I came off the trail at Mt Barney, a young guy pulled up in his ute and hopped out and approached myself and a man I had been chatting to about sport watches as we had made the final descent to the carpark. As I set about doing my cool down at my car, thinking about my snack waiting for me on the front seat, they had a short conversation and the you guy called out to me a comment about me looking super fit and threw me a look. Alarm bells went off, so instead of getting my snack and sitting at the picnic table like usual I hopped in my car and drove down the road to a spot where I could eat in the car. Less than 5 min later the ute pulled up beside my car, so I packed up and left to drive to the nearest town. But I didn’t let that fear control me. I was out on the trails again the next day.

So yes, I do get scared and when I get scared I try and work out if that fear is a socially instilled fear (women should not run alone), a fear fed by a phobia (this is too high) or a fear stemming from something I need to listen to for my own safety. I get scared. Sometimes terrified. I will have tears running down my face. Then, I will stop, take a deep breath and try and look at the fear, where is it coming from? Do I really have something to fear? And what should I do about it? I try to keep a level head and make sure I’m not letting irrational fear or fear caused by the unknown or worst case scenario thinking, stop me from having the adventures and experiences that I crave, whilst being mindful that fear is useful tool and we feel it for a reason, to keep us safe.

 

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I won’t let fear stop me from experiencing things like this!

Don’t Mistake My Highlights Reel for Real Life

I like to think that I post on social media quite authentically. If I have a shit run, I will generally share the what and the why quite honestly, but I have a tendency to try and find the silver lining or see the lesson and post that as well. Just as I will post how awesome a run was or what amazing things I saw. Thing is, this, social media, is not real life. It is a snapshot and I can colour it how I like. Whilst I shoot for honesty and authenticity, I don’t exactly want to whinge and whine and highlight all the bad things as well as the good.

As those who follow me on social media will know, our family has recently made the move across the ditch, to an amazing place on the south island of New Zealand. This is a dream come true for both my hubby and myself. If you were to just browse through my instagram you would probably think my life was filled with mountains and adventures, but these are a snapshot of maybe 40min, maybe 4hrs of my day or maybe even as short lived as a minute.

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The reality is dreams take work, lots of hard work. The last few months have been tough. They have been tough on everyone in our family in one way or another. Being a mum to three young people, adjusting to being uprooted to a new town, new schools, new country has been hard. My husband is also doing it tough, still living in Australia, working his job to help pay for this dream whilst spending every weekend getting our home ready in the hope of selling it. Not to mention finding a new job that I can do in school hours to help with all our costs. These are the things you don’t see behind the scenes. You don’t see the eldest child, constantly melting down because he is so far out of his comfort zone he just can’t cope, the middle child in tears because she misses her friends or the youngest child refusing to go to school because he doesn’t have any friends. But then again, I don’t share them because I don’t want people to think I’m ungrateful, I’m not. This was our choice and there is so much much that is great and amazing and better for our family here, but that doesn’t mean it is all easy, all sunshine and rainbows.

And then there are my goals and dreams for my running. There have been times over the last few weeks where my 40mins has been a saviour but there also times where it has been a huge stress. The fact that I am currently training for my first 100 miler is stressful enough. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love training, I revel in it in fact. I also take it seriously and want to do the training my coach sets me, justice. You see, it isn’t “just running” to me. I don’t know why, I really don’t get when it became so much more but it is important to me that I do my absolute best when I commit to these events and training blocks.

I think one of my running heroes, Sally MacRae said it best when she said “Some people say, “it’s JUST a race…or…that’s what YOU signed up for!”
But I don’t follow that line of thought- running is my masterpiece; a beautiful metaphor to life; and if I devote the majority of my time to becoming the best I can be at my craft, then I’ll never say, “it’s JUST running…or it’s JUST a race.”
It’s so much more- and I believe that’s why it stings so much when I fail.But it’s also what keeps me fired up, and coming back for more…because it’s so much more than “just running” to me- it will always be, and I’m proud of that.” in a recent Facebook post about her recent run at UTMB, you can read the full post here: Sally’s Facebook post.

I have doubts often. About my abilities, about my goals, about my speed, about whether I can finish this upcoming race, about whether I am the runner I think I can be.

It’s not only finding the time to train here that is stressful but the terrain and conditions as well. I am truly so far out of my comfort zone at times, that I am reduced to tears. On Instagram I shared this picture from a recent run to the top of one of the many amazing peaks here:

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On the descent from Little Criffel

Yeah. look at that view! Look how badass I am! But what you don’t see is me crouched on the trail talking to one of my kids advisors about getting them support. Or the hour of slogging through the snow, which should be awesome fun! Right? Except I had tears streaming down my face, stressing about what would happen if I hurt myself and my kids had to deal with that, me being the only person they have here in New Zealand and that I didn’t know what I was doing here and that yes, I was scared because its all so new and foreign to me. Then there are the emails back and forth to my coach about how to fit my actual training around looking after my kids and work. Or phone calls to my husband where I cry from sheer tiredness of being everything for everyone and trying to fit everything in. And then there is the guilt. The huge unadulterated guilt. Guilt for doing what brings me so much joy, while my kids struggle, while my husband spends weeks on end alone back in Australia, for expending energy that maybe I could pour into something for my family instead of for me. Yep, its not all smiles and pretty views.

I don’t regret our move, or how hard it is or the “stuff” we are all dealing with. I wouldn’t change our decision. Life is to be lived and making dreams happen takes time and sacrifice. But I also don’t want people to think that this is a fairytale life. Real life has ups and downs. There is so much good stuff.So, so, so much good stuff and it is in my nature to want to share that and not the harder, less happy things. But remember, what you see on social media is just the highlights reel, real life has a lot more substance to it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.