The Shift

I have always wanted to be “more”. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be the best at whatever I chose to do. Its an ongoing theme in my life. I always feel like there is this inherent darkness inside myself that I am trying to overpower or that I need to prove to myself that I am good enough, worthy enough, loveable enough, fast enough, insert what ever action I feel inadequate about on the day. It is a constant in my life.

Since falling in love with trail running, I have always struggled with feeling a sense of belonging in the trail and ultra community. This has been obvious to people close to me. The friends who I am reluctant to run with because I’m not “good” enough or “fast’ enough. My coach, who is constantly reminding me that I have a place in this community and that I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. The constant need to post on social media, to gain approval for the things I have done. Its funny, because if you put me on a trail in the mountains on my own, I rarely feel more at home, more at peace, more like I am where I should be. That sense of belonging in the mountains is a feeling that has increased more and more over the past months. Yet, I still question my place in the community.

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That big blue arch in Chamonix

Part of the reason I wanted to run UTMB (other than the fact that those mountains are just SO fucking awesome!) was because I wanted to win and by win I mean take my place in the ultra community, to prove that I belonged. I wanted to be “that woman”, the one who took on one of the ultimate mountain races and finished. So, when I fell short of my goal, when I finished my race at 100km instead of 172, you would expect that I just proved to myself that all those negative beliefs that I have, that I don’t really belong, would ring true. For a little while they did. There was a sense of knowing that this was always going to happen, what was I thinking? How could I have thought, even for a moment that finishing was possible? I don’t belong here.

Luckily the story doesn’t end there. As well as my wonderful friends and coach who bolstered me up after this experience, there were a few, seemingly small, things that happened that changed my perspective.

During UTMB you are unlikely to go down the street without at least seeing one of the rockstars of the trail community. I was lucky enough to meet a number of my running idols during the time before and after the race. It was encounters with one previous podium finisher, whilst waiting in line to register and with two amazing runners after the race, that made me see that maybe I am ok as I am and that I do have a place in this community.

Standing in line to register is a nerve wracking experience. For someone who is unsure they belong there is always that worry that you are going to turn up at the desk and they are going to say “Sorry, there’s been some mistake”. When I spotted the famous runner ahead of me, it was a case of “just breath”. My crew encouraged me to go say hi and get a pic and seeing as it was a once in a lifetime chance, I stepped up. After a photo, we chatted about our respective races. He looked at me when I answered I was running UTMB and instead of being incredulous the question was “Have you run it before?”. It seems innocuous enough and probably had very little thought behind it, but the fact that I could even “look” like someone who might have run that race before kind of shocked me.

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Super nice guy in the rego line

The two separate encounters with the two runners who had not finished for different reasons, were also surprising. As I stood talking to each of them about their race, I was struck by a few things. The first was that they felt the same things I did. There was a profound disappointment and sadness. A questioning of why and what if? They also both seemed to have a need to debrief, to go over what had happened, how they had done their best but it hadn’t worked out for them on the day, all things that I also went through and felt. They wanted to share their experience with someone who had also been there. The second thing that actually surprised me and made me realise that other people don’t see what I see about myself was when both of them then asked me how my race ended, what happened, would I be back? Those moments of commiseration, where they put me on their level. I was just a peer, another runner who had also shared their experience. I was a part of their community.

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Post race discussion with this guy

It probably seems silly that it took these encounters to start to feel a true sense of belonging but these were, in hindsight, a culmination of something that had been building over the months leading up to the race. Where I had slowly started to let people in and take the risk of running with others, where I started seeking out others who had run the race and asked questions and where I had begun to allow people in, to encourage and bolster me without dismissing anything they said about me that was positive.

Another thing that happened was a few days after the race, when most of the runners had left the Chamonix Valley. I got up in the dark, just as I had so many times during in training, and went to climb a mountain on my own. In the dark, on the single windy trail that climbed up from the valley opposite Mt Blanc, I found a sense of utter belonging. I knew, really knew, deep within my being that this was my place. Where I wanted to be but also where I belonged. As the sun poked above the mountains my heart was full to bursting. As I ran back down I came across an older gentlemen, looking to be in his late 60’s at least, his poles clicking along the trail and he purposefully moved up the steep trail to La Flegere. He paused when he saw me and smiled and yelled “Allez! Allez!” as I ran past. I grinned “Merci beau coop, monsieur!”. Inside thinking, I want to be just like you when I grow up.

I know the moments of wavering will still come, I know the doubts will come and go about whether I belong. I also know I will forever hold a little sadness over the time I ran UTMB and did not finish. On the flip side though, I am glad I went, I tried, I learned and I feel I finally found my place.

I may never be the woman in first, second, fifth or tenth place but I have truly found where I belong and I intend to keep showing up, for a long time to come.

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On the trail in Chamonix

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UTMB race report

I could start talking about all the training and sacrifices yada, yada, yada – but if you’re reading this you’ve probably heard all about it, so let’s get straight into race day.

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Race check in – not nervous at all

After arriving in Europe just 11 days before, I woke at 4:30am on race day. My body clock was still slightly out of whack, but much better than it had been the first few days after the change of time zones. If it had been the usual early morning start to the race, as we are accustomed to in the southern hemisphere, this would have been perfect, for a 6pm start it was not so great.
Most of the morning involved last minute race prep, scattered with distraction by watching carpool karaoke on YouTube, phone calls to family and the attempted at a nap. We also had a video call with the third member of my support crew, Marianna, who couldn’t be there in person to help Kirsten and Rebecca as originally planned.

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Ready to fight

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Reminders for when I forget

Around lunch time I was notified that the race organisers had called the cold weather mandatory gear, due to bad weather coming into the mountains. I wasn’t too phased by this as it was mostly stuff I carry when I’m in the mountains anyway, although I did revise my race outfit as a result.

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Trying to calm the butterflies

Around 5pm we set off in the drizzle to the race start, runners had to be at the start line by 5:30pm. The streets were packed with supporters and runners alike. My two wonderful support crew came with me as I made my way around the back of the start line, trying to find a spot in the middle half of the pack. I was under strict instructions from my coach not to stand at the back of the start, as is my usual tactic. I was going to be under a lot of pressure to meet the first few cutoffs and I didn’t need the added pressure of  being held up by other runners.
As we stood there, dealing with a last minute drama with my phone that saw me have a minor panic attack but was quickly dealt with by my crew, a fellow Aussie came up and introduced himself. We knew each other through social media and mutual friends, but had never actually met and it was rather astounding that we had ended up standing next to each other at such a packed start line. As my crew said their goodbyes and left, Dylan manouvered himself over to me (we were packed in like sardines) and talked me through what craziness would occur at the actual start, having run UTMB already the year before. We stood and soaked up the moment. If there is one thing the French know how to do, it is build the drama and atmosphere!

After the playing of the traditional UTMB song (I may have got something caught in my eye) there was a physical push and bunching up of the runners and then we were off! The start was frenetic and frantic to say the least, as 2000+ runners funnel through the start chute and onto the course. The streets of Chamonix are lined with supporters, 6 deep in places, all the way along to the first part of trail.

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Race start from my crew’s perspective

My race plan was to go as hard as I could sustain for the first 50km and then see how I go from there. This was very uncomfortable, mentally and physically, because usually when you start such a long race, you start quite slow and try and keep that pace the whole way through. For me though, I needed to start hard as the cutoffs for the first few stations were a major concern. So, I ran, I tried to keep pace with those around me. As we ran through the streets of Chamonix it was start-stop as runners bottle necked in narrower sections, but I was grateful for this as it allowed me to get my breath under control.  The cheering crowds were amazing, I have never and probably will never again experience such an exciting start. As the streets began to widen, I heard my name and for a split second saw my crew, but the pace was too quick for more than a glance. We soon hit the trail and I was glad of it, I felt myself relax and told myself to just keep pushing. To be honest, this race report is one of the hardest I’ve ever had to write because I was so focussed on moving quickly that it is all very much a blur. I don’t really remember much about the trail between Chamonix and Les Houches, except that it was muddy and very runnable. We soon popped out onto an over pass and this was the first chance I had to walk as we traversed uphill into the town. With the slower pace, people were able to read our bibs and as I passed I would get an “Allez, Allez Jo!” or “Go Australie!” and I would smile in thanks. As we went through the checkpoint in Les Houches, I didn’t stop. At 8km in I had no need and I knew time was crucial. Here we began our first climb, starting on road, which soon turned to a path winding its way up the hill under ski gondola lines. Locals were still out cheering, some with bowls of lollies and sandwiches, others with jugs of water for runners – I’ve never seen anything like it.

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Somewhere between Les Houches and St Gervais

It was beginning to rain and about 3/4 from the top it began to get dark enough to pull out my headlamp. I stopped briefly then kept moving, my poles now also out, knowing I had a long night ahead.

The rain had made the dirt track quite slick and as we began to descend it was hard to find decent footing. I knew I needed to move quickly but was playing a balancing game of moving quickly enough but not wanting to risk an injury that would end my race. In the process I fell twice, the first was not too bad although it resulted in a nice thick coating of mud over my left leg, the second saw me elegantly twist 180 degrees and hit the ground with a resounding “FUCK!” but I was fine, straight back up and off again. We wound through the back streets of Saint Gervais and popped out into a slick and brightly lit square. I walked through and got my reusable cup filled with water and said “Merci” to the volunteer but kept moving, I would see my crew at the next stop.

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The profile between St Gervais and Les Contamines looks like a couple of little bumps compared to the bigger climbs to come, however those short sharp climbs, in the dark on slick ground were a little wearing. I had purposely not taken notice of actual cut off times and was moving as quickly as possible. The fact that I still had plenty of people around me was heartening. We passed through farmland here and at one point we had pigs on our left and some awesome looking pumpkins and brassicas on our right, you could hear the people behind you call out in astonishment as their headlamps lit them up. After a few ups and downs, where I made sure to run everything that was either flattish or downhill, we popped out into the town, the shining pavement worrying me more than the muddy trail. Locals were still standing outside their houses to give us encouragement, which was happily received. We could hear the check point well before we saw it, the path seemed to wind past the sound and then back again. As we turned uphill I realized we were very close as the people grew in numbers and next I saw Becca, standing at the top of the pathway waiting for me. After a quick hug she told me to get inside to Kirsten who was waiting for me.

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As part of UTMB you are only allowed one support crew member in the support tent, each runner is given a support crew ticket corresponding to each support point and the crew member is only allowed in 10 minutes before their runner is expected to arrive. No ticket – no entry. Inside the aid station tent it was full on. There were wall to wall people, I was unsure of how exactly I was meant to find Kirsten when I heard her calling my name and then saw her waving and jumping up and down. She quickly set to work, going through our practiced routine and checklist. The only thing we hadn’t counted on was that support crew don’t have access to water, so I had to go and fill my hydration bladder in the next tent. Seemingly as soon as I had arrived it was time to go. I tried to put on a brave face and so did Kirsten, as she sent me back out. We had kept our stop to 10min, I didn’t know it at the time but I had gotten out with only 12 minutes to spare. Becca met me as soon as I hit the barricade and walked with me, I was putting on my gloves as I walked and almost passed her one of my poles but then remembered outside the tent assistance wasn’t allowed. As we walked Becca told me our list of predetermined info that I would want – I had 8km to the next aid station, it was going to be very cold on top of the coming climb with below zero temps and winds and she would see me around lunch time at Courmayer. Feeling myself wanting to stay I told her to head back and tried to run. Winding again through the streets and reserves of Les Contamines, I was pleased to find I could run quite well and tried to force myself to run as much as possible, before the real climbing started. I had now been running in the dark for over 4hrs, I came up behind a fellow Aussie (every runner has two race bibs, one to wear on the front and one to wear on you pack – with your name and country on them) and said hi, then kept running along the road, trying to make the most of it.

After a good 4km of mostly runnable stuff we started to sharply climb. I had a guy from Portugal come up behind me and comment on me being an Aussie woman and that I had travelled so far to be here. We started chatting about where we were from, who we were here with (he had three friends doing UTMB and they were running together) and where we ran while training. We would leap frog each other for most of the climb to Col du Bonhomme, exchanging words each time we saw each other.
As we hit a more runnable section I began running and a woman I passed decided to keep pace with me, I picked a fence post in the distance, that seemed to be where it began to climb again, and decided I would run to there. As the woman, who was from Canada, dropped off before we got there I called out and told her to keep going, just a bit further, we could run to the climb. So, she did. She thanked me and we kept pace with each other, talking when we could. Chatting made the climb easier and before I knew it we were at La Balme. As my fellow runners pulled into the aid station I decided to keep moving, I had no need to go into the aid station and wanted to keep moving while I felt good. My coach, Matt, and I had worked on a strategy to talk to someone in each aid station, to get me out of my own head if I was stuck in a bad place, so as I passed through the timing point I thanked the volunteers for being there.
From La Balme the climb up to Col du Bonhomme was steep and rugged. I don’t really remember much detail about it except that it was raining, sometimes windy, sometimes foggy. There were sections of the trail that required us to boulder and climb, reminding me of Breast Hill back home, in New Zealand. There were big slabs of icy snow that we passed around and over and streams with slippery footings to be negotiated. I would look up and see head lamps through the mist ahead and think we must almost be at the top, only to find it was a false summit. Climbing still felt good, I wasn’t feeling sore in the legs and was eating and drinking really well but the continual darkness and waiting in line over the more technical sections was wearing thin at times.

As we passed through a timing point I took note of the elevation sign which also told us the cutoff for the next checkpoint. This cutoff was not in race time (that is, not in the hours and minutes we had been running) but in chronological time. Realising I had no idea how I was doing and whether I would make the cutoffs, I changed my watch over to chronological time which gave me something to shoot for. Soon after, the descent into Les Chapieux began and it was great! I had fun running down the mountain, picking my path and passing whenever I could, I also knew I was a bit ahead of the cutoff and making up some time so that buoyed me. As I came into the station and passed through the timing point I stopped. I hadn’t beeped – usually as you go through a point it beeps to say you registered. I yelled out to the guy monitoring the screen “Hey, I didn’t beep!” he looked up and laughed and told me I registered and to keep going. Laughing I made my way into the aid station. I had made it to the 50km checkpoint and I was ahead of the cutoff, I had been unsure I would make it this far, so that was a big relief.

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Chatting to the volunteers at Les Chapieux

This is where I started to see carnage. We had been running for a little over 10hrs now, mostly in the dark. I grabbed a cup of water and walked through the tent. It was packed with people sitting staring or sleeping with their head in their hands. I stopped and leaned my poles up against the table so I could get out my rubbish and readjust some nutrition, then quickly moved to get out of there before getting too comfortable. I lined up to use the toilet and noticed the woman in front of me trying to eat a sandwich but shaking uncontrollably. I rubbed her arm and asked if she was ok? Did she need a hug or something to get warm. She thanked me and showed me she had a flask full of hot tea up against her chest and she was sure she would warm up soon. As soon as I used the toilet I headed out. I got about 300m down the road when I decided to stop and empty out my shoes, I hadn’t realized how full of dirt and stones they were. That done I started run/walking up the road and soon we ducked off onto a trail. I don’t remember much about the next few hours except it was dark and we were constantly climbing, I remember taking a caffeinated gel around 5am and reminding myself that the sun would be coming up soon, the tiredness was starting to creep in. As we reached the summit of Col de la Seigne it was beginning to lighten, I could make out the mountains and more of the path than just what my headlamp showed. It also began to snow. Big fat flakes started drifting down from the sky and as I wandered on I was struck by how magical it was, to be here, in Italy now, on top of a mountain, watching a sunrise while snowflakes fell around me. I was also glad the sun was coming as I hoped the tiredness I was feeling in my head would begin to lift.

After the race I would be told we went through some really tough weather and temperatures. I do remember it raining quite a lot and it was definitely very cold, particularly right before dawn, but other than getting very cold fingers, I was thankfully kept warm and dry and don’t really remember it being particularly trying. I think because I had so many bad weather runs in the lead up and I was so used to constantly monitoring and adjusting my gear, it just wasn’t a factor.

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Sunrise coming down off Col de la Seigne

As the sun rose the views were just amazing and despite having promised myself I wouldn’t take any photos except for the sunrise on the second morning, I paused and took a photo – perhaps that’s when I jinxed myself.

We ran down into the valley and after a stop behind a rock to pee again (running downhill has that effect on my bladder), I realized we must be getting close to Lac Combal, the next cutoff point.

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The cutoff was for 10am and by my estimates I would get there an hour ahead of that. I pushed on despite the tiredness, sure I would get my second wind soon. I came into the checkpoint over an hour and a half ahead of the cutoff. I did my usual routine, rubbish, water, get nutrition out and in a place easy to get to. Because of the tiredness I decided to eat an extra chocolate, then I got out of there. I walked and jogged down the road feeling ok and then we started up to Arete du Mont Favre. This is a comparatively short climb but it felt like it took forever. I wasn’t sure what was going on, my legs weren’t hurting on the climbs but I was feeling completely zapped of energy. Still I kept climbing, up through groups of cows with their bells softly tinkling as they moved. We could see the tent up ahead on the hill, marking the checkpoint, a beacon to keep moving and not stop. As I reached the top the woman at the checkpoint asked me to look behind and make way for the people lined up behind me. I must have looked crestfallen (I hate to hold people up) as the guy behind me told me I had dragged him up the hill and that it was ok. Shaken that I had not been aware of holding people up, I stepped aside and walked the start of the descent. I began running and would leapfrog people, frustratingly having to stop and walk as I was having trouble focusing. The tiredness was getting worse. As I got close to Col Checrouit, I began to see people lying in the sunshine sleeping, only one or two but they were there. It seemed I wasn’t the only one feeling tired. I decided to take a moment to gather myself and splash some water on my face in the hope I would wake up. It was just after 10:30am. As I left the Col Checrouit aid station, I knew things were unravelling. I was having trouble actually keeping my eyes open now and on top of that my quads were hurting on the downhills.

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Leaving Col Checrouit aid station

I had taken a revvie (caffeine supplement) before the last aid station but it had done nothing. I messaged my crew and told them I needed to sleep at Courmayer. The descent took me forever. I was hurting but more than that, I didn’t trust myself to run as my eyes would roll into my head anytime I even blinked. I would run a couple of steps then walk, shake my head trying to wake myself and then repeat. As I came into Courmayer I could barely run the even road for fear of falling over, the only thing that kept me moving was knowing I would see my crew shortly and that I could nap.

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Making my way through town to my crew at Courmayer

At Courmayer I grabbed my drop bag (this is the only spot you have a drop bag on the UTMB course) and was disheartened to see so few bags left on the racks. I quickly dismissed that, I wasn’t really racing anyone, I just wanted to finish. I was trying hard to stem the panic, I would feel better after this stop, I told myself. Inside Kirsten and I found a space and I quickly lay down whilst she organized things for my pack. I fell asleep but was soon awake again. I figured if I woke myself I was ready to go. I changed shoes and socks, popped a blister that was forming under a nail and busied myself getting ready. As I went to leave this was the closest I came to tears. Despite having stuck ridgidly to me nutrition plan I felt like shit, I was still tired and now I was scared, I knew I still had some big climbs ahead of me and I also knew that every time I climbed the tiredness felt worse.
As I left the hall, Bec was waiting for me and talked to me as I walked. I whinged about feeling so tired, but she would have none of it. So, off I hiked, trying to put on a brave face but all the time just wanting to close my eyes.

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Looking as tired as I feel, leaving Courmayer

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From Courmayer there is very bitey climb up to Refuge Bertone, it starts up a street that turns to dirt road and then to trail. Before I even hit the dirt road I was struggling to move my feet and I had begun weaving. Another runner, who I am sure meant to say something well meaning, came up beside me and told me I had to be strong, the second night is always harder – really not what I needed to hear. I was trying to focus on the trail, on my footsteps but all I could think about was sleep. As we hit the trail, people sat or lay on every switchback and I just wanted to join them. I messaged my crew

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The climb was possibly the worst in my life. I dragged every step, constantly having to step off the path to be overtaken and feeling powerless to go any faster. My crew tried to prod me, my dear friend Maz, who had supported me at Alpine Challenge rang me to try and help but the tiredness was just overwhelming. I actually took my pack off at one point and went to lie down but realised that if I did that it was over, so I got back up and slowly dragged myself up to the Refuge. I was now mainlining chocolate along with all my usual nutrition in the hope it would somehow miraculously make the tiredness disappear. Despite moving so slowly and being constantly overtaken, I managed to make it to Refuge Bertone.

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The end of the climb to Refuge Bertone, Courmayer in the valley below

At this aid station I decided to have a coke and then keep going. I haven’t had cola in a long time, and I hoped the combination of caffeine and sugar might help. As I went to leave, a volunteer informed us that as we popped over the ridge it would be very cold and windy. I had taken my jacket off during the climb up to the refuge, so this meant finding a spot to get it out and put it on. I did so reluctantly, as any time I wasn’t moving I had to fight harder to both stay awake and get going again, but within 5min of leaving I was glad I did.
The trail between Refuge Bertone and Refuge Bonatti was beautiful, more of a rolling single track with Mt Blanc across the valley on the left hand side. Not as exposed, we wove in and out of forest and across small streams. It was now late afternoon but we were kept cool by the wind that sped along the valley. I knew I was getting close to cutoffs and was attempting to run where I could but my brain was refusing to cooperate. My eyes continued to droop, despite my legs feeling okay. As we made the last little climb up to Bonatti I started chatting with an English guy, we commiserated on our shared tired stupor and also the fact that we were unlikely to make the cutoff – misery loves company. As we walked into Bonatti the volunteer informed us that we had 15min to be out and to make our stop quick, if we moved quickly we could get to Arnouvaz before cutoff. My British friend and I looked at each other and decided we had to at least give it a crack. I went to the bathroom and grabbed a coke refill in my cup and left, my British friend ran past me 5min later on the trail. I was now focused on trying to get to Arnouvaz before 6:15pm. I had my doubts – I had been on my feet for 23hrs now and had less than an hour to make the 5km trek but I was willing to try.

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Oh so tired but still moving

So, I pushed, I jogged (it definitely wasn’t running) until I would trip and then I would hike. I watched as the minutes seemed to tick by so much faster than the metres. About three quarters of the way through to the next checkpoint and the temperature dropped and it started to rain. I pulled over my hood and thought about getting my gloves but decided against it for times sake. As I started the descent into Arnouvaz I knew it would be very close. I was unsure of exactly how far it was to go when the clock clicked over 6:15pm and I knew my race was over. I stopped jogging and hiked, knowing there was no use to running any faster. It turned out I was less than a kilometer from the checkpoint. As we came into the Arnouvaz, one of the volunteers greeted us and told us they were sorry but the race was over. I just nodded as she cut off my bag and bib timing chips and then hurried to catch the bus back to Courmayer. It was over.

It is just over a week since my attempt at UTMB. There is a lot of introspection and analyzing still going on in my head. I am very lucky that I know others who have done UTMB because it has helped me gain a bit more perspective, it really is one of those races that you can’t fully comprehend or understand until you’ve been there and experienced it yourself.

I have had a few questions about why I got so sleepy. The truth is, I don’t really know. I am still trying to figure that out, but the discussions I have had lead me to believe it was probably a combination of things, including running at altitude (which I have never done before), my body still adjusting to the time zone changes and the evening start.

I guess most people would expect that I am disappointed at ‘only’ 100km of my dream race, which is actually 172km. The truth is, I was always doubtful that I would get past the 30 and 50km time cutoffs, being more of a slow and steady runner. I hadn’t really studied the course past Courmayer in the way that I usually would for a race, so I was happy to get to 100km. Of course I have disappointments and a lot of “what if’s” going on. I have to keep reminding myself that I know so much more now than I did when I started race.

I have also had a lot of people commiserate with me and tell me, I’ll finish next time. That it takes a few goes to get this one right. Maybe that’s true? Unfortunately this was a one shot deal for me. The chasing of points and the travel to the race itself, if and when you get in, is an expensive endeavor and whilst I would love to give it another shot (if anyone wants to bankroll me!) I am content that I got to see those mountains and play in them for just awhile. Plus there are so many other amazing places to run, that are much easier to get to. The list always seems to keep growing!

The biggest thing I have learnt from this race is that mountains truly are my joy, where I belong and want to be. It has been eye opening. I expected to arrive and feel totally overwhelmed by the European mountains, they are so epic, next level to anything I have ever seen, but I never once felt intimidated or scared of them, I just felt excited and wanted to be out there amongst it. So, whilst my journey to UTMB may be over, the adventure that it has sparked in my heart still continues. The mountains are forever calling.

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Thanks to:
My hubby and kids for supporting me in my running adventures despite the time and money it takes for me to do these things.
My coach, Matt from Judd Adventures, for his constant support, for getting me through my training healthy and not burnt out and for always making sure I still found the joy in what I love.
My support crew, Kirsten and Rebecca, for taking time and money away from their families to help support me both before, during and after the race.
Maz, for always being there for me and always asking me the hard questions that need to be asked
Everyone who has come along on this crazy journey with me. Who has messaged me or commented on my social media posts. I have loved sharing my journey with you and I draw on your support whenever things get tough or my self belief gets low.

Gear
Shoes – Topo Runventure 2
Socks – Injinji
Pack – Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0
Poles – Leki MicroTrail Pro
Jacket – Patagonia
Glasses – Julbo Eyewear
Pants – Kathmandu dri-motion leggings
Thermals – Icebreaker

 

Race week fear

I’m sitting in my Air B’n’B in Chamonix and I am in tears. I am so scared right now. That fear is mixed in with so many emotions. I am so grateful for the opportunity to run here, the joy just looking out at these mountains brings is immense, I’m excited, I’m worried, I’m hungry (ask my crew, I’m always hungry 😉 )

People often tell me I’m badass or say that I’m so strong. I never really feel those labels though. I’m just me. A mum who works as a housekeeper and also likes to run a long way in the mountains. I have big dreams, I often feel like they are way beyond my capabilities, but my husband has taught me (by example) that we only have one life to live and and we should try to live without the regrets of not having at least tried. I love him so very much for that.

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To go all the way around Mt Blanc..

So, here I am. I am looking at the cutoffs and thinking about the logistics of staying ahead of them, in the crowds of runners. I so badly want to finish, to see the whole trail around this magnificent mountain. It sucks, because I feel like I can go the distance, its the speed that could be my downfall.

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The start of the PTL (300km team event)

This morning we saw the start of the PTL. The wave of overwhelm as I watched the runners make their way through the streets was chest crushing. As my crew and I sat in the cafe afterwards the fear overtook me, the tears began to flow. I want this, I want this so badly that my whole being screams for it. I want to make it past 30k, past 50k, I want to do this and do it well.

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Part of the magnificent Massif du Mt Blanc

I know the next few days will be shakey. A rollercoaster to the start line. There will be, undoubtedly, more tears, more sitting gazing at mountains, hoping I am enough, that I will make it through. So thankful for my crew for holding my hand and letting me be fragile when I need to be.

This is all part of the experience.

 

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Nothing like a big arch to make you feel really small

 

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.

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.