“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),
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Approx 7000m gain and descent
Official time 40hrs15min
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.