Category Archives: trailrunning

Are You Mad?

In January, I shared how I was going to start chasing points to get into the lottery for the UltraTrail Mont Blanc 100miler (UTMB) – you can read that post here: Big Scary Goals.

I had already accrued 5 points from my run at UltraTrail Australia 2016, but to gain entry to the lottery I required a further 10 points from a maximum of two more races by the end of 2017. After scouring through the racing calendar and working out what races were doable for me, I settled upon the Northburn 100km in March (5 points) and the Alpine Challenge100km in November (5 points).

About 4 weeks before I was due to run Northburn, which still to this minute has not had its point status confirmed, Alpine Challenge announced that their UTMB points had changed and you would now only qualify for 4 points when running the 100km. This kinda set a spanner in the works, along with Northburn not yet receiving its points status, I was a little worried my plans were going to be thwarted. I was already committed to running Northburn and truth be told, I was rather excited about taking on this tough course, so I put the thoughts of UTMB points aside and concentrated on completing Northburn. I figured, worst come to worst it would be good practice for the future, plus I was getting to run in New Zealand mountains, I was hardly about to start complaining.

At Northburn registration, Terry the RD, confirmed they would definitely have UTMB points and that it was just an administration issue which would be sorted in time for the lottery. You can read my full Northburn account here: One Good Day – Northburn 100k

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Northburn was amazing

About two weeks after running Northburn, I travelled up to the Gold Coast to speak to my coach, Matt from Judd Adventures, with the plan of discussing how Northburn went and then where I would go from here. I left home early that morning to light rain, the creeks were low and both hubby and I figured I would be back well before expected rain from Cyclone Debbie hit.

I had pretty much settled on sticking with the current plan (Alpine Challenge 100km in November) and then possibly doing Northburn 100mile the next year to get my required 15 points from 3 races, whilst applying for the CCC (UTMB’s little sister covering 100km) using my current points. As we sat talking, Matt surprised me and suggested that I do the miler at Alpine Challenge, worst case scenario I would DNF and still have the points to apply for the CCC regardless. I was a little stunned to be honest. At the same time though, the thought of doing that distance excited and ….. well….. terrified me. After chatting about Northburn, a bit more about UTMB points and future training we parted ways. I was excited to get home and share the news with my hubby, Sim, but mother nature had other plans.

I rang hubby to let him know I was on my way home and he told me that the creeks were rapidly rising and it was doubtful I would get home, he was about to leave to go get our kids from school and was unsure if he would make it back himself. He was in a panic and had to leave so I told him I would head to a friends and talk to him later.

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A wee bit stuck

So, I was stranded at a friends and I had this big exciting news to share. I told my friends Jill, Claire (who had lovingly given me a place to stay) and her partner Pat (who said he already knew that was going to happen) along my super support crew from Northburn, Sarah and Maz (who both confirmed I was crazy but that they were excited for me). I still hadn’t had a chance to tell hubby due to him having low battery power on his phone and communication being strictly crucial info only (he was also stranded at a friends house, closer to home). I also hadn’t done my usual “look what I’m doing next!!” on social media, mostly because the idea was and is still really terrifying. Then, when it became apparent that I was going to spend a second night at Pat and Claire’s I sent him a text telling him about moving up to miler distance. The convo was hilarious, mostly as he didn’t read the whole message the first time (a regular occurrence for Sim).

 

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So, now, a few days later, I am home, the clean up from Cyclone Debbie is in full swing, I am finally sharing what’s next and hubby has come around to the idea. He says he is excited for me, but thinks I’m crazy. And me? I am ridiculously excited (how unusual, right?) but I am also terrified out of my mind, to attempt to go for an extra 60km past what I have previously done. It is going to be such a long 2 days. I only have this life though and if nothing else I know its something I want to attempt, so why not now? Its just a little sooner than I thought it would be. I have all sorts of imposter syndrome and not good enough going on, but hey, as I said to Matt in my meeting, in for a penny, in for a pound. I may as well go the whole hog now and see what happens. If you never try, you never know.

Yes, I probably am mad, but in a good way. Right?

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One Good Day – Northburn 100k

For the week leading up to the race, Terry, the Race Director (RD) for the Northburn100, had been posting on the Facebook page about how the Cromwell weather was saving up all its bad days for the race. Northburn is a notoriously tough race, in fact it’s tag line is “You don’t race it, you survive it”. It is known for its challenging weather conditions, as well as its difficult, off-trail terrain. In fact, the weather was one of my main concerns leading into the race.

My training, under the direction of super coach, Matt Judd, had been my best to date leading up to an event. I had mimicked the terrain as best as I could guess from Strava profiles from previous years and despite an ankle injury in early December, I had missed very few sessions and reached race day feeling strong and confident that I had all the tools I needed to finish. Of course I knew, from past experiences, that it all comes down to what happens on the day and that the smallest thing can turn a good day into a not so good day or a disaster.

I travelled from home in Australia to New Zealand with my dear friends, Sarah and Maz, who had volunteered to act as support crew for the race. We spent a couple of days before the race exploring the surrounds of Cromwell, including Wanaka and Queenstown, and with each new vista my love for the New Zealand mountains grew stronger and stronger.

On Friday, the day before the race, we took the 10min drive from Cromwell to Northburn Station for race registration and gear check, to be followed by the race briefing later that night. As I walked up to the registration desk the RD, Terry recognised me from our Facebook messages over Northburn’s UTMB point status. I was surprised and a little embarrassed but Terry was lovely and reassured me that points were definitely on offer before sending me on my way with my bib. After being weighed for medical and having all my gear checked we headed home to prepare for the coming day, before heading back out for the race briefing.

We had had a crew meeting the night before, so when we got home my wonderful support crew set about readying everything they would need to support me in the downstairs area while I set about my own preparations upstairs. I began doling out my TrailBrew powder that I use for liquid nutrition, along with my solids of Clif Bars, Bounties, Snickers, Chips and chocolate covered coffee beans. As I divvied up my TrailBrew into bottles and baggies it dawned on me that I only had enough electrolyte for 24hrs. My heart sank, what a stupid miscalculation, it was a big ask for me to finish under 24hrs on such a challenging course, in fact that was my B goal for the race. Whilst trying to keep calm and not completely freak, I messaged my wonderful friend and seasoned ultrarunner, Jill. We chatted about working the problem and possible solutions. I figured I would plan to finish under 24hrs and I could use aid station electrolytes or more solids if need be. It wasn’t the end of the world. I finished packing up everything, put together my drop bag and sat back to reread my prerace email from Matt, whilst my crew packed some extra special things in my drop bag.

At the briefing we sat listening to the safety instructions. Both Terry and Tom reiterated the toughness of the course, the remoteness, the lack of dangerous wildlife but also that every plant has it in for you and will cause you pain. After going over what to expect on each section and what the course markings look like, Terry’s last words of advice were “Prepare yourself for the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but know it will be worse than anything you can imagine”. Reassuring right?

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The dreadful Spaniard Speargrass

With the briefing done and the fear of Northburn firmly instilled (if it wasn’t already), we set off to try and grab some sleep  before waking in the wee hours for the 6am race start, in the dark.

We got back to the house to our slow cooked dinner and as we ate and chatted about the race and the hilarity of the briefing, the nerves started to creep in. My crew took care of the dishes, in fact they had been taking care of me all day with such love, it makes my heart burst when I think of it. After dishes the crew set to work with some henna messages on my hands and arms to help me not feel so alone out there and to make me smile.
I then readied myself for bed, wondering if sleep would come easy. I reread over my notes for my race plan, a plan that Matt and I had nutted out the month before. After making sure I knew what I was doing, I spoke to my family back home and my hubby sent me a message so I could reread it in the morning before the race. I fell into bed exhausted but excited for the morning.

Late that night we were woken by a very loud, drunken party next door. It was, of course St Patricks day and the people next door were celebrating hard! As I lay there, trying hard to sleep despite the noise, I heard the garage door open and wondered what the hell was going on. I got up and Sarah assured me it was all under control and to go back to bed, Maz (bloody legend!) was taking care of it. She gave them a stern talking to and I was soon asleep only to be awakened by my alarm.

Race day morning is a bit of a blur. I got ready determined not to let waves of nerves get the better of me. We were trying to time our leaving for the startline so we were there without too much time to wait around but early enough not to stress about being late – its a fine balance! I dashed for the bathroom for a last minute nervous wee. Ugh! Blood… Great… One more thing. I walked out and announced to Sarah and Maz “And! I have my period!” Whilst shaking my head. Once this would have sent me into a panic, but thanks to such random occurrences as my period starting without warning on the startline (Tour de Tambourine) and halfway through a race (TNF50), along with discussions with my friend Jill about the hormonal advantages of bleeding on race day, I just accepted it and decided to bleed through as I was wary of chafing.

At the startline, geared up and ready to go, 100k runners were informed they would now have trackers. These were crammed into already full to bursting packs and I was reassured that my crew would know where abouts I was, meaning I could leave my phone off unless I needed to contact them. I warmed up, had my last minute hugs and lined up at the back of the pack with a mix of miler, 100k and 50k runners of all ages.

We stood in the dark, waiting for all the trackers to come online, nerves slowly rising. I listened to the seasoned runners around me chatting, whilst trying to keep warm, not panic and reminding myself I could do this. I hate starts!

The start itself was very subdued. Terry and Tom counted down from 10, I flicked on my head torch and we were off on a 5km loop that would take us back through Base Camp before heading out onto the course proper. As people ran off up the hill, I stuck with a fast power hike, determined not to go out too hard. I tried to ignore the usual fears bubbling up inside (last again) whilst it seemed everyone rushed passed, constantly reminding myself that it is 100 very steep kilometres to the finish and to take my time. I ran, jogged, hiked in the dark, glancing at my HR to make sure it wasn’t crazy high, but not yet being stringent about it, knowing adrenaline was playing a big role right now.

About 3km in I could hear someone behind me, I figured they were stuck so I called out that they could pass. Aaron, who I would run with throughout the race, called back that my pace was good and he would stick with me for a bit to stop himself going out too hard. We ran and chatted and were soon passing through Base Camp where I waved and called out to my crew that I would see them soon. I dropped back to a hike as we started uphill again, passing Terry who was noting race numbers and congratulated us on “Being sensible in hiking the ups”. It was hard to tell whether he was joking or not…

At this point I decided I needed to click into strict MAF heartrate zone, so Aaron took off to run his race while I hiked and ran along, now watching my HR as much as possible. The sky was now starting to lighten a little and there were hardly any people around, although I could still see others ahead here and there. The grade of the track began to change to a bit steeper uphill, we were on four wheel drive farm tracks now, and I made the decision to get out my poles, I didn’t stow them again for the entire race. As I pulled out the poles, two men who were doing the miler passed me and commented that they were saving theirs for later. Fair enough, I thought, you have an extra 60km to do so why not wait! I was still feeling pretty sluggish and my legs were complaining more than I would like so early on, but I put it down to menstrual cramping more than anything else and tried to focus on the outside instead of what was going on in my legs.

The sun was now up and I was able to stow my headlamp and switch to my visor. The views were gorgeous, but it was still cold and I was glad for my thermal keeping me warm but not hot. As we continued to climb it was interesting to watch the different strategies. Some people seemed to pick a pace and just go with that constantly, whether it be up, down or flat. Others were hammering the hills and then walking the flats and short downs. I was being dictated pace by my HR so would hike the ups and do a gentle run down and either hike or jog the flats. I was also starting to yoyo with a few people including Amy (100k) and her friend doing the miler, as well as Marina and Andy (both doing the miler) who passed me whilst deep in conversation about UTMB – I may have been a little starstruck at that point!

We took a sharp turn behind a rock and the track curved steeply up to a ute serving as a waterpoint. I could see people off to my right and figured I was finally at “the fenceline” a notoriously steep climb from the first loop. I actually got really excited at this point, because it looked just like the steepness of my training fenceline at Mt Gipps in northern NSW. After a short chat with the volunteers and filling a soft flask, I clambered through the fence and started up the course. You will note I didn’t say track. That’s because there was no track. We were now just following each marker. There were sheep tracks to follow, but they didn’t always lead to the marker, in fact at one point I got so engrossed running along a sheep track that I looked up and it had lead me away from the markers on my left. So, up we climbed. It was here that I started to really feel comfortable, my legs knew what they were doing and I have to be honest, I loved the technicality of being off track. I was now jogging happily along any flat or non steep bits, enjoying having to pick my way between rocks and the spiky spaniards of death (super spiky plant that was everywhere higher up on the course, it has poisoned razor sharp leaf tips that sting really bad). I was also being buoyed by the fact that I was now starting to overtake people and holding my own. It was here that I passed Sam and Adele, two amazing Brissy women who were undertaking the miler. We had a brief chat and I kept moving, my HR now happily within the zone and actually having to work to keep it there at times.

As it started to flatten out a little (I use the word flat very loosely) the terrain changed to being more rocky and less vegetation. It was here that I caught up to Amy and her friend. We ran/hiked for a bit together and chatted about Northburn (the friend doing the miler had done it before) and food – as you do. I stopped and decided to take off my thermal as I was hot and then moved past them up the hill. It was getting cloudy now and there was a slight breeze but I was warm enough thanks to the steady incline, interspersed with small clambers over rocks here and there. As I reached what felt like the top the cloud descended and I put my thermal back on as the temp dropped. I stood up and scanned for the next marker, taking a few steps in the direction I thought it was before it appeared through the mist. Huge shapes in the form of rocks also appeared through the mist as I ran to each marker, they were epic and other worldly and ahead I could just make out the shape of a ute and a group of people. I had reached the next aid station.

As I came into the station the volunteers welcomed me and took down my number. I busied myself refilling my flask and noted the two men also refuelling were those that had commented on my poles earlier – ok, I’m doing ok, I thought. I was as quick as possible , although my hands were shaky with cold at this point, the aid station workers commented that the temp had dropped at least 5degrees in the last 10min thanks to the cloud and also that we had just missed the photographer (seems to be the story of my racing life in New Zealand!) So, after a thankyou and checking I was going the right way I headed over another fence only to stop immediately and put my gloves on – my hands were freezing! My nose was also starting to drip from the cold, so I wound a buff around my wrist as a snot rag and set off again.

When planning my race the lack of possible beauty was something that Matt had brought up a number of times. I run because I love it but also I love the things I get to see and experience during the run, whether it be training or racing. Plus, a pretty waterfall or gorgeous treeline can change how your feeling when things get really tough. I had prepared myself for a lack of beauty. Lying in my bed in Cromwell looking out over Mt Dunstan and Mt Horn it all looked like brown mountainside. Not particularly beautiful or inspiring. But in truth there was so much beauty up there.

The next section was my absolute favourite. It was stunning and I really wish I had taken at least one photo but I was trying very hard to just stay completely present and I was feeling good and didn’t want to stop and possibly ruin that feeling. I was now running beside a small alpine creek on spongy, mossy ground. As I looked at my feet it seemed like an undersea scape with all different types of corals. The mosses and grasses grew right to the very edge and sometimes over the stream which was crystal clear with small granite type pebbles at its bed. Here and there I would jump over small star shape flowers, smaller than a 5 cent piece and bunches of what looked like small white tulips. All this in an increasingly misty valley with nothing to hear but my breath and the creek bubbling away. It was seriously like something out of a fairytale or Lord of The Rings. I was also still having to guess and search for markings thanks to the thick misty cloud, but kept Terry’s words in my head that if there was an obvious path to follow it, the path in this case being the creek. After heading down for a bit I then switched across to another creek and began heading back up. I stopped here and there to have a sip of the icy water and tried to take it all in as much as I could while continuing to steadily move up and out.

I don’t actually remember the transition up off the creek but I was then climbing over another fence and back onto four wheel drive track. I was now half way through my first loop, which in my head was just half way. I was doing two 50km runs, not a 101km race. Here we started to steadily descend. Nature called and I began to look for somewhere, a big bloody rock basically, that I could hide behind. Finding one where people couldn’t see you was difficult! I was also starting to catch more people, but was cautious of running as hard as I felt I could because I knew that along with a lot of ascent there was much more descent to come. Finally I found a big rock and found some relief. It was getting warm now and I figured I had enough water to get me through to close to 40km, keeping a steady pace I headed down off the mountain, chatting in short sentences here and there to those I passed, wondering if my watch was right as far as km’s and beginning to think about the 50k aid station stop with my crew. It was definitely warm now, and all my warm gear was stowed away.

At the 40km we came to a waterpoint within view of Base Camp, it was tantalisingly close but from here we headed back out away from it along the Loop of Deception. Hiking along the up, I rang my crew to let them know where I was and some extras that I would like if they could get them (my toothbrush and some magnesium oil to rub my legs – I had both in my 80k drop bag but thought they might be good now). Sarah answered and exclaimed they could see me on the tracker and I wasn’t far off now. I laughed and said I reckoned at least another 1.5-2hrs and then made my requests. Getting off the phone I had been boosted by the short conversation and started really pushing.

It was super hot now and despite moving well it seemed to be taking forever to get to the next waterpoint. I started to worry that I was going to run out of TrailBrew, I was down to a quarter of my last flask. I had been staying well on top of my nutrition at this point, having half a flask of TrailBrew and half a Clif Bar or a funsize chocolate every hour along with extra water and I really didn’t want to stuff it up. After a nice short steep descent we began to climb again and I saw the waterpoint, much to my relief. I filled up my flask whilst answering questions about my interesting henna and then set off again, determined to keep moving. The tracks were much more dirt road like now and easy to run and I clicked along at a steady pace, catching people here and there and not feeling too tired considering the 50k I had just run.

As 50km ticked over I wondered where the hell Base Camp was, thinking around each corner I should see it, but couldn’t. At the same time I was feeling absolutely stoked at my progress, knowing I was coming in at the fast end of my time estimates for the run. Then, just as I remembered that the first loop was 51km, Base Camp appeared up ahead. I could see people waiting on the hill and as I got closer I heard cheering. Emotions welled up but I put my game face on knowing that the hard work was just about to begin and that I needed to not get too comfortable here with my crew. Sarah met me on the hill and cheered me down to Base Camp where Maz was waiting. As I walked into the tent where the crew had set up, they had everything laid out and ready for me, I spied Aaron and said hello.

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All the gear

I dropped my poles, I took off my pack and pulled out all my flasks and the bladder, put my watch on to charge and then Maz held my hand and walked me to the loo while Sarah refilled everything for me. Having the loo and loo paper to clean up was SO good. I was relieved I wasn’t bleeding too hard but it was still messy – oh the joy! Maz and I walked back into the tent as she asked questions about what I’d seen and what I needed to do. Maz gave me a rub down on my legs while Sarah and I sorted nutrition to pack in my pack. I emptied out one shoe which now had a hole in it thanks to a spiky spaniard attack, then Maz suggested she wet me down as they had been hearing reports that the next big climb was very hot. I stepped outside the tent and Maz doused me with 2L of water. It was freezing on my hot head, but oh so good as well. Quickly back into the tent and everything was repacked, pack on, teeth brushed and out the door. As I got to the dirt road, one of them yelled out that my butt looked sexy in those shorts (go the duds!) and I yelled back that they forgot to make me laugh – to which they both flashed me, bwah ha ha ha! That did it! What an awesome crew. As I ran past a caravan where one of the 100miler crews were sitting they also yelled out that my butt did look sexy in those shorts, which made me crack up again. Then I headed up the climb, away from Base Camp.

Soon after Aaron caught up with me, we chatted and hiked and having company helped pass the time. I was finding it hard to hike hard enough to get my heartrate up now, despite it feeling like I was working really hard. We were moving nice and steadily though, we caught up to Marina and had a brief chat about how we were practically neighbours (she is from Mullumbimby) then we kept hiking and hiking and hiking, going up and up and up. Aaron started talking about how I was keeping such a good steady pace and pulling him along and that I should do the third loop for him as his pacer, too which I laughed and said I wasn’t that crazy. As we got to a small flatter spot, with the sun starting to set, I pulled out a note my crew had given me at Base Camp. It was from my best friend, Tui, I had been instructed to wait until I was somewhere really beautiful to read it, this was the spot. Tears welled up as I felt her love in those words and the connection burned bright. I stuffed the note away and turned determined to get to Leaning Rock before night fall.

Soon after we decided to stop, put a layer on and get out our torches before it got too dark. Marina caught up to us and I helped her change the batteries in her torch before we ran together for a bit to get to Leaning Rock. As we headed up and up the sun began to set proper, treating us to a spectacular pink and orange sunset with snow capped mountains far on the horizon. We reached Leaning Rock aid station just as it became really dark. I refilled and grabbed some apple slices, although I was still keeping on top of my nutrition I was finding it harder and harder to chew and swallow solid food, particularly as the bars were so hard in the cold. I was ready to go and Aaron was happily chatting so I called out that I was off and headed out. Aaron caught up to me and reiterated that I was to be his pacer, which I laughed at again and we went in search of TW, the next major aid station and my drop bag point.

I was still jogging all the downhills and hiking well on the ups but my heartrate had not been within the MAF zone for quite sometime. I could feel tiredness starting to keep in and my knees were a little sore, but Aaron’s constant chatter was a distraction in the now extreme dark. In the distance we could see the lights from Clutha Dam and cars driving along the highway well below, the stars were also amazing, but mostly I saw rocks and rubble and grass, concentrating on each step. TW seemed to take forever to get to. In reality what was only an hour seemed a lifetime. Unlike at Base Camp, when we entered TW I became the Queen of Faff. I got my bag, unpacked stuff, looked for things that weren’t there and were unneeded, went to the loo, read my notes from friends (thank you everyone) but barely took it in. Although Jonathon and Barry you made me laugh and Tina, I read yours out aloud and everyone in the checkpoint thought it awesome!
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I had a cup of pumpkin soup and then, just before we were about to leave I decided I needed to get something warmer on. The volunteers confirmed that the temperature was dropping quickly so I decided to change from shorts to 3/4 length tights. Once that was done we were out of there, way too much time had passed, but that is in hindsight. During that time, Marina had been in and out and we caught up to her again in a couple of kms. Aaron was beginning to have stomach trouble and I was now needing to pee every 30-60min, probably because it was now so cold. We would power for a bit and then hit a low spot.

I was starting to struggle with having constant company. I’m not really used to running with other people and Aaron was starting to get increasingly negative. I think the realisation that he was only about halfway through was dawning on him. He kept telling everyone that I was his pacer and I seemed to take that on, whether intentional or not. It was a weird place to be in, mentally. I am a slower runner, to be honest knowing that I was keeping someone going, who can run 10ks at least 20min faster than me, was probably a bit of an ego boost. I was starting to feel a sense of duty to get him at least to the 100k but also feeling like I was losing time that I could be making up.

The climb to Mt Horn, which on the race profile looks innocuous after the two big climbs we had just done, was nothing short of arduous. I refused to stop though, my whole plan to get to the top of that bastard without having a break. So we climbed and Aaron began talking about dropping at 100ks, I shut him down, not wanting to hear any negativity, trying to keep my own thoughts about how hard and cold it was or how sore and tired I was at bay. The need to pee seemed constant and I past the point of modesty, taking a single step off the track before dropping my daks. At one point another miler runner ran past and called out “Still peeing? Thats a good sign”, just your normal every day conversation….

Finally we reached the top and then dropped down to the Mt Horn checkpoint. Here, I refused to go in the shed where the heater was set up and as soon as I was restocked with water I bullied Aaron back on the track, my sense of duty still strong, although it was hurting me at the same time.

As we did our last steep descent, I was really beginning to hurt. My ankles and knees refused to run due to pain and I was sure I was starting to get butt crack chafe, the worst kind ever. Picture me standing on the side of the trail shoving handfuls of PawPaw cream down my butt…. Hiking, however was fine and I was setting a good enough pace that Aaron would hike behind me for awhile and then jog to catch up. All I could think was I should be running this downhill, so I would start running but the aches would stop me within a few hundred metres. The path was overgrown and slippery because of the dew, markers were becoming hard to find again thanks to the terrain, long grass and fatigue. I kept seeing cats sitting on the side of the trail only to find they were in fact tufts of grass as I got closer. Then I had my first ever encounter with a hedgehog! The cute little guy was sitting in the middle of my track, at first I thought I was seeing things, but Aaron assured me no, it was a hedgehog. So cool! We saw a mother and baby a few kilometres later. Climbing over fences and styles was now comical and at one point I commented how they had put the fence crossing right in a patch of spaniards, sadisitic bastards! Only to check the other possible pass point and see that it was much worse. Bloody spiky shit!!

It was getting harder and harder to choke down my solid food, but I persisted adding a small pinch of potato chips after each bite, which seemed to calm the nausea

Aaron was now saying I was going too fast for him and that I should wait. At first I protested and told him to just keep up, but he was fading and not long after the 90k waterpoint he decided to stop. I couldn’t wait any longer, I just had to go. I cautioned him against getting too cold, to make sure he put another layer on if he sat down and then I set off, hiking as hard as I could, wanting to catch Marina if I could, after being told she had left the last waterpoint in the group before us.

Now I was doing my own thing. I was hiking hard but my heartrate was still low, I had in fact given up looking at it. The dark and quiet was lovely, not scary as I sometimes think it will be. The tiredness was seeping deeper and deeper in, food was hard to eat but the chocolate covered coffee beans I had broken out at 3:30am were keeping my eyes open.

As I hit 98km I began to get excited, in that totally exhausted way. I knew that if I kept moving I would finish before sun up (my C goal) and possibly under 24hrs (B goal). I watched as the lights of Cromwell got closer and then further away. I was on a dusty track now and could see footprints everywhere, which I took as a good sign despite the markers being few and far between. I clicked over 100k at exactly 22hrs59min, 1min and 15sec faster than my UTA100 time, I had hit my A goal as well! I had a little celebration and then my stomach decided it was all too much and I frantically searched for a tree or rock, I found nothing, it was just lucky no one came past right then. I got up and buckled down. Less than 1.5km to go, tears were starting but also the wistfulness of it being over. Just then I saw a headlight and recognised Marina, heading out on her 3rd lap. From watching her all day I’ve learned that being super fast at stops makes all the difference, she was lightening fast at each checkpoint and that made a huge difference. She congratulated me on finishing, asked where Aaron was and said she would see me tomorrow at the miler presentation before heading off on her final loop. I jogged, power hiked as fast as I could towards the now visible lights of Base Camp. I finished, oh so happy. I had met all my goals and as Terry congratulated me I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Of course the story doesn’t finish there. My crew gave hugs and chicken soup, messages were sent to family and friends who were sleeping in Australia and I was bundled up to be taken home for a shower (Oh my how I did stink!) and the much anticipated cheese toasties and chocolate milk.

After a brief sleep, I woke to be told I was currently the second female, by Pat who had found the preliminary race results on Facebook. I was incredulous. How exciting! That is one of those “its never gonna happen to me” things, you know? At the presentation, I received my medal, a bottle of Northburn Station Pinot Noir and some Gurney Goo, a hug from Terry (#terryyoubastard) and smiled. However there was a level of disconcertion growing.

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At the presentation, Terry was a bit surprised at my request for a hug (bloody hippy!)

I didn’t feel I deserved this. I was so slow and we had amazing weather. Any other year in the usual, tougher conditions that Northburn is known for, I would have been lucky to be top 10 in the women (its always a very small field).

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Recovery food – doing it right!

As we stood in the lake at Wanaka, trying to bring down the inflammation in my legs and just cause we all loved Wanaka so much, I voiced these thoughts to my crew, who of course immediately slapped them down.  My coach had similar stuff to say, about stopping with the comparisons (a common theme for me) and relishing it for what it is. I still feel like a bit of a fraud, for taking the 2nd place. I know its not my decision, and its funny because I’ve always wondered what it must be like to get a placing. How much brighter the accomplishment must feel. If anything its made me feel awkward because its not the 2nd place that has brought me so much joy. It is, in fact, the conquering of Northburn, an epic adventure if there ever was one and meeting all my goals, something that I haven’t been able to say about a race for a very very long time.

It was a very good day.

Gear
Shoes – Inov8 Trailroc 245’s
Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight crew
Poles – Black Diamond Carbon Z flick lock
Pack – Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta
Nutrition – TrailBrew, Clif Bar (Choc Chip/Coconut Choc Chip/White Choc Macadamia), Funsize Bounty/Snickers, M&M’s, Zentvelds Choc Covered Coffee Beans, Apple, Pumpkin Soup

Thank you’s
My hubby, Sim – for always encouraging me to do whatever makes me happy, for looking after the kids so I could go play in the mountains and for always being there when I doubt myself
Sarah and Maz – for being the best support crew and travelling buddies. You took all the stress out of the trip and the race for me. I love you both and am so happy to have all those wonderful memories that we made together.
Matt (super coach) – for getting me to the start and finishline of this and many other races. For listening and caring and for believing in me, even when I sometimes don’t.
Mum and Dad – for always instilling a sense of adventure and for supporting my crazy adventures which I know are a bit outside the box.
To my friends who sent messages of support throughout training, the race and after – knowing you’re there holds me up when I feel down, helps me get out of bed when I don’t want to and makes me smile when it’s hard.

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Upping the Ante

When I started my journey in the world of running I was somewhere in the vicinity of 90kg. I’m not really sure how much I weighed as we didn’t own a set of scales.

When I realised I couldn’t even run the 200m to our property gate without stopping for fear of dying I knew I had to do something. On the recommendation of some friends I joined Michelle Bridges “12 Week Body Transformation”. With the combination of a very low calorie diet and a high intensity program of cardio and weights I quickly lost weight, a lot of weight. Unfortunately though I was of little use to anyone after most sessions as I suffered from severe exhaustion as a result of so few calories and a body adjusting to, what seemed at times, the punishment of exercise. I also took the increased activity as an excuse to reward myself with alcohol. My youngest had now weaned, my partner worked away all week and I was depriving myself of the thing that I used to deal with my emotions – food, so alcohol took its place and then some.

Not the healthiest existence, but from the outside it looked like I was getting on top of my weight and moving more, so what did that matter.

Once the 12WBT finished, I was left to my own devices. The alcoholism stayed, but I at least realised that the way I was eating was not sustainable. The biggest blessing was that over the course of the 12 weeks I had discovered that I loved running.

Without the money to continue with the Michelle Bridges plan, I turned to friends who knew about nutrition and running. My running progressed and I began to run farther and discovered trail running and races. My nutrition jumped around, I did strict paleo, Low Carb/High Fat and then settled on a cobbled together diet from what I read in books, internet articles and various sporting websites.

At my lowest weight, some 30kg lighter than when I started, I was faster than I have ever been but I don’t think I was truly healthy. I looked gaunt, I was slow to recover after big days and my drinking was now pushing over into my daily life.

Events were an excuse to drink as much as my body could handle, I would fast to increase the impact of the alcohol and I would think nothing of planning a 30min drive with the kids just to pick up a bottle of wine and vodka. Its not something I’m proud of, but it is my story.

Around this time I started a dialogue with some close friends. I knew my drinking was unhealthy but didn’t know how I could unravel myself from it. It was also around this time I found my coach. The regular routine of running was a comfort. The drinking however, continued. It took me over a year of attempts to get alcohol out of my life. In that time I learned that I cannot moderate myself with alcohol and I also learned how much good friends can help you and be there for you, when you need them.

During the process of eliminating alcohol from my life, I used food and drink (milo) as a substitute. I figured these substitutes were a lesser evil than alcohol. At the end of the Coastal High 50 in 2015 a friend made a comment about me drinking chocolate milk while everyone else wandered the field with beer in hand. My reply “Yep, thats how I roll!”.

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Mmmmm – chocolate milk!

Of course, like everything, chocolate milk is great in moderation, something I don’t seem to do well. So I again jumped back into the world of online diets, downloading programs that would work for awhile but didn’t seem all that sustainable. By now I had a good basic knowledge of food, nutrition and fuelling, but felt I was missing key elements. I trained for and ran my first 100k and another 50k. Meanwhile my weight slowly increased, I tried to remember that fuelling my body was important and that starving myself for the sake of decreasing my weight would likely be detrimental, but in the back of my mind I wanted to be better and fitter and more and I knew my nutrition played a part.

After my last 50k, I spent most of my recovery time trying to work out where I was going wrong. Why was I gaining weight? I was also reading a lot on running (as you do) and there is that whole thing of the less you have to carry the faster you get, to a point. As anyone who follows me knows, I’ll take any increase in speed I can get.

So, I talked through my thoughts with my hubby. He was, of course, worried about me going back to my previous unhealthy weight and also about the toll it would take on my training, as I had just started training for my second 100k race. He suggested a nutritionist or dietician might help, something I had talked about before. My thought processes about getting professional help for my diet were sadly similar to what I went through with getting a coach. It seemed somewhat indulgent, plus isn’t that something only elite athletes need and do? I sat with the idea for awhile and after another few weeks of no shift in weight and feeling like I was doing everything I possibly could to improve my performance, I approached my running coach for his thoughts and also contacted my strength coach to see if he could help. We decided it couldn’t hurt.

A few weeks later I saw a dietician recommended by my strength coach. I prepared myself to be told that I had to completely change what I was doing to get results. I also felt really nervous, it feels like this is the last little thing I can do to influence my running. It probably seems silly to those looking in that I go to such lengths, particularly when I’m nowhere near the front of the pack. It really is hard to explain why I do expend so much energy on trail and ultra running. Maybe its just that it brings me such joy, I feel driven and compelled to do everything I can to be the best I can be, even if that ends up being mediocre.

So, it turns out I was mostly on the money with my nutrition. Working with how I eat everyday, the dietician moved around a few elements to aid recovery, reduced some key foods and increased others to give me the balance she feels I need. I left feeling excited that I could do what I need without becoming unhealthy again but also nervous.

Its scary when you feel like you’re truly putting everything you can into it when you toe the line, but I figure I only get this life so I may as well live it the best that I can. So, I am upping the ante. I am taking on Northburn 100k in 7 weeks and I hope to be the absolute best athlete I can be by the time it rolls around. I am ridiculously excited, as always, and very nervous, but feel I am truly covering all the bases that I can think of this time round and thats the best I can do.

Big Scary Goals

About a month after finishing my first solo 100km race I emailed my coach and told him what I wanted to do next. I was sure he would mail me back and tell me that I was getting ahead of myself. That such a goal was way too big to think about, especially considering I hadn’t exactly blitzed my first 100km race. What with the 50 odd km of vomiting and slow movement in the middle, it was hardly a raging success? Instead he replied with “Let’s do it, and if you really want to do that then let’s work towards the big one! What’s the saying? “Shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”?”

You can see why he’s a great coach, right?

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And then I got scared..

It’s one thing to fantasise in your head about doing these big crazy runs, but when someone turns around and says “Sure, you should do that” and you suddenly go from daydreaming to actually working towards it, sinking your time and energy into it and sacrificing events with friends and family to make it happen, it can be a little confronting. More so, because this particular race is a long term project. It’s not a case of pay your entry, train and go run it. In order to get an entry I need to accrue the required qualifying points and then be one of the lucky few picked from the lottery.

On top of all the qualifying and entry malarky there is the whole “imposter syndrome” thing to deal with. I’ve talked about it plenty before, the feeling not good enough to do these big amazing races that “real trailrunners” do and the struggle with being a slow runner. The thing is, making it to the finish line of Ultra Trail Australia 100 taught me that although I’m not the fastest, I am strong and in the races that I am drawn to, that counts almost as much as speed.

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Finding my strong at UTA100

I’m also blessed with a husband who has always had a “give it a try” attitude. When, at the start of my discovery of moving my body, I asked what he thought of me doing Tough Mudder on two consecutive days, he looked at me like I was mad but replied with “Sure, if that’s what makes you happy”. That pretty much is the theme for us, if one of us wants to do something crazy, like paraglide the french alps for a week, or run around the bush for 8hrs on a training run, the other is there to support them in doing so, which with three kids is important.

I haven’t always been the “just give it a go” type person, for a long time I stuck to what I knew I could do and what wouldn’t cause stress or require the help of others, but I’ve come to realise, with the help of my husband, my friends, my coach and my experiences in trailrunning and life, that life is too short to not give stuff a try and if things don’t work out? Well, it will still be an adventure.

So, what is my big scary goal?

In 2018 I’m hoping to get an entry into The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 100mile trail race. Whilst this isn’t exactly a secret, it’s not something I have really put out there because, well, it scares me! Despite all I’ve said above there is still that part of me that worries that people will look at this and think “Really? You really think someone like you could do that race?” Not to mention that it is 100miles (not kilometres!!), with insane technical trails that scale ridiculous amounts of climbing and descent! But I’m getting ahead of myself, because first I need to qualify, and that in itself is scary!

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With completing UTA100, I garnered myself 5 UTMB qualifying points. To qualify I need 15points from a maximum of 3 races (have I lost you yet?). Getting these points is no easy feat. My coach, Matt from Judd Adventures, and I sat down and poured over the qualifying races, trying to find ones that I would be capable of finishing, within the cut offs. Qualifying races for UTMB are typically steep and 5 point races are 100km or longer. So, this year, 2017, I am looking at two 100km races to get my required points – that in itself is both exciting and scary!

My first qualifying race will be the Northburn 100k on the south island of New Zealand. With 6000m+ elevation gain, not to mention battling the elements of heat, wind and cold (it has snowed on top of the mountain in past years) it will definitely be an adventure! Then in November I hope to take on the Alpine Challenge 100k, running through the Victorian Alps.

Its’ kind of scary even just putting it out there that I have this long term plan, because what if I fail? What if it goes wrong? A DNF, a missed cutoff, an injury, they could all throw a spanner in the works. But hey, I figure at least I’m giving it a red hot try.

So, over the next year, I will be climbing lots more mountains, trying to improve my mountain legs on both the ups and the downs. I will be getting ridiculously excited about each step forward, towards my big goal and if I don’t qualify or don’t get a lottery entry then I have a back up plan, but hopefully these dreams will come true and if they don’t? Well at least I will have had one hell of an adventure in trying.

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What’s your current, big, scary goal?

It is the Community as much as the Running

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Runner Nation, last week and it got me thinking about my own journey of running and what has kept me going. Yes, I love running in the bush for hours on end, I love feeling strong within my body and challenged by what is without, but it is the community that keeps me engaged in the sport as a whole.

It seems a little strange, I guess, that a sport that sees me running for hours and hours, mostly alone, has such a strong community feel. This past year I feel like I have been blessed to experience this community from every possible facet. In my head I have tried to categorize these experiences, but the easiest way to share the highlights of my community is chronologically, throughout the year. These are, by no means, the only times community were part of my sport. On training runs and races and even outside in everyday life, in fact almost everyday I will be touched by our awesome community in one way or another. Things like sharing a photo on social media, asking a trailfriend for advice about a problem you’ve had, or sharing directions to a waterfall with a fellow runner. I have even had short little messages just asking if I was ok when I hadn’t popped up on strava for a few days. It all counts.

In February of this year I went to my first overseas race, the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon. I was travelling with a group of runners, but being from the bush I only knew a few of the group, mostly from a handful of races and social media. There is an inclusiveness with most trailrunners. We were all here to run the same race so yeah, come along to the pub and have some lunch, hey where do you want to go for dinner, want to grab a coffee in the morning? Even out on the course there were cheers of encouragement from people I barely knew and many good friends were made, in a trip that barely lasted 5 days. Even now we seek out each other at events to say hi and catch up on our lives in between.

In May I took on my biggest solo challenge to date at UltraTrail Australia. My community of trail friends rallied before the race had even started. Friends volunteered to keep me company on long training runs, into the night and through holidays when they could have spent time with other family and friends. There were messages back and forth of encouragement from friends around the globe. I borrowed gear from a dear friend who had never actually met me but with whom I chatted to regularly via social media. During the race, a woman I have come to think of as my big trail sister, rang me the moment she knew I was struggling, to offer me support and help me work through the problem. We have met in real life less than a handful of times, but barely a week goes by that we don’t chat. There were hugs, high fives and shouts from people I knew and some that I didn’t, offering support, help and encouragement. Not to mention the messages of support that popped up on my facebook each time I made it through a checkpoint, unbeknownst to me at the time. Then there was the finish. I still get teary whenever I talk about it. To hear the cheers of my trail friends as I crossed the line at 6am, after each of them had run their own races in the hours before, is something I will never ever forget.

In July I was honored to be on the other side of an event as support crew in the gruelling 96km Kokoda Challenge. I have completed the challenge myself and know how important support crew is. This was my second time crewing at this particular event. There is a special kind of energy when crewing for a long event for a team. There are long pauses of waiting, not sure of what may be happening out on the trails, then frenetic energy of heading to the checkpoint, setting up, the bustle of dealing with your team as quickly as possible while doing everything you can for them and then its pack up and wait to go to the next meet point. We had a team of 4 support people, so we got to know each other pretty well over our 30+hrs together, plus we met and chatted with other support teams and there was the cheering on and offering of assistance to other groups as they passed through each checkpoint. Standing at the finish line waiting for our team was one of the longest waits I have experienced and holding my dear friend Sarah moments after she finally completed Kokoda on her third attempt rivals the feelings I felt crossing my own finishline at UTA.

In September I was once again able to “give back” a little to my community as I volunteered at a local ultra. I say give back, but my experience probably gave me more than I gave to the participants. As course marshall at the main creek crossing at the Wild Earth Coastal High 50, I got to see many members of the community pushing their limits and enjoying the trails. It gave me a great perspective of my own experience in races. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my youngest son and he probably said it best when he said he loved volunteering because “helping people and making them smile made him feel good inside”. He was handing out the red frogs so got lots of smiles!

Community has been able to expand to not just those physically present in the moment of our events and training thanks to technology. In September I was able to cheer my big trail sister on from a far as she ran her first 100miler in the Glasshouse Mountains and a few weeks ago I watched many friends compete in races of various distances at Blackall. Through tracking, text messages and phone calls my community was brought together, through triumphs and tribulations we shared our experiences. Thanks to Instagram, Facebook and Strava, I can now share my often solo and remote running with friends, both near and far. I don’t feel alone in my running.

This past weekend I raced what is likely my final event for the year, I also celebrated my birthday. I arrived at the race to be greeted by familiar faces, smiles, hugs and surprises. After the race there were more hugs, I was joined by friends (both from the trail community and life in general) to wander a favourite trail and share food. I am forever grateful for finding my community, my tribe in trail runners. Every time I run they are with me, in my heart and in my head. They are the impetus to continue when the going gets tough, they are there when things go wrong and they celebrate the triumphs with me, most of all. If you are part of my trail community thank you for making this thing called trailrunning so special and such an important part of my life, and if you aren’t yet a part of my community I’d love you to join me.

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Going Back to the Beginning

Next Sunday I get to go back to where I ran my first ultra.

It will be the third time I have run this particular race at the 50km distance. A week out I am surprisingly relaxed about it. For the first time since I started this crazy, long distance, running business I’m not stressing out about the run, about what I have and haven’t done in training. I know it just comes down to what happens on the day, as a good friend says “the hay is in the barn”.
That’s not to say that I’m not excited or full of anticipation as to what might happen. There is still a healthy dose of “what the fuck am I thinking trying to do this” going on. A few people have commented “What? Only 50km?” when I have replied that my goal race for the second half of the year was Washpool 50km. Let me be the first to assure you that there is no such thing as ONLY 50km (or ONLY 21 or 10 or 5km for that matter). Yes, I have completed and survived my first solo 100km, but that does not diminish the distance at all. 50km is a very long way on your own two feet. There is also, for me anyway, a big difference between racing 50km and surviving 100km. Plus my goals for this race are different. Different to when I first ran it and different to running my first 100km.

When I first ran Washpool three years ago I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My longest run to date had been 30 odd km along my local roads. I had no real nutrition plan to speak of. My training was a hodge podge of road marathon plans from books and the web. The race was a tough day but, despite breaking down at the 30km mark and again at 45km I finished, in what is my 2nd fastest 50km finish to date.

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The end of a tough day – my first 50km

A year later, under the mentorship of my coach Matt, from Judd Adventures Coaching, I ran the race again. A couple of km in I fell, hard and my race seemingly went to pieces from there. I managed to beat my previous years time by 5min but I wasn’t happy, there were a lot of “what ifs” in my mind.

Two years on I have made the decision to go back, yes I am more relaxed about it, but I also feel like I have something to prove, which could be dangerous in and of itself.
Since that second outing at Washpool I have run two tough 50km races (The North Face 50 and Coastal High 50), a mountain marathon in New Zealand (Shotover Moonlight Marathon) and finished Ultra-Trail Australia’s 100km race in the Blue Mountains. I have trained hard, I have a nutrition plan and a race plan. I have trained on the course, repeatedly and mimicked the terrain in training runs near home. I have more confidence as a runner, I feel stronger than I ever have. I can see, since UTA, what an advantage being strong can be and I’m feeling really focussed on that.

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I found my strength at UltraTrail Australia

The scary thing is I have very specific goals of what I want to achieve next sunday, that go beyond surviving and finishing. Even scarier is that I can see a glimmer of actually achieving what I’m aiming for. Something that previously seemed impossibile for me could be a reality, which is terrifying. It feels as if it is just within reach, if I have a good day. So, it comes down to that. Now I wait out the week and hope that Sunday is a good day. If its not? Well, Washpool has a very special place in my heart and its a beautiful place to go for a run, if I have to go back again it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

It Was Never Meant To Be Perfect – Running My First Solo 100km Trail Race

I stood at the bus stop with Sim, my husband and also support crew for the day, waiting for the bus to take me to the start line of my first 100km race. The same finish line I had crossed exactly year early after competing in the 50km race. Within hours of finishing I knew I would be back next year to take on the bigger race, now known as UltraTrail Australia 100, through the Blue Mountains of NSW.

To an outsider it probably doesn’t make sense, to pick one of the toughest and most gruelling 100k’s as your first race, one where flat is non existent and you are always going up or down, usually steeply. Truth is I suck at flat running, I’d much rather be hiking hard up a steep hill than running along a flat trail, but that’s just me.

In the 12 months, between that particular 50k and preparing to start my first 100k, I had climbed many hills, sometimes repeatedly. I had faced my fear of heights, time and time again, to make sure it wouldn’t be a weakness. I had run in the early mornings before the sun had come up, into the night as the sunset and everything in between. I had learnt more about nutrition, about muscles, about recovery than I had ever cared to know before. There were constant emails to my coach, Matt, about training, heart rates, strategies, fears, fuelling and whatever else crossed my mind that was even vaguely race related. There were also messages to friends who had run longer ultras or TNF/UTA100 itself. That morning, twelve months later, I was different to the person who started the journey to the start line, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

On the bus Sim and I mused at how warm it was this year and how I wasn’t as nervous. I was excited and the butterflies were starting, but I didn’t feel the self inflicted pressure I usually feel at the start of an A-race. I was here to experience and to finish. I had time goals but they were not the most important thing. I wanted to finish, more than anything else, to do that and that alone would be a win. Anything else was icing.

We arrived just as the first wave of runners left and I briefly sent well wishes to my coach on the wind, knowing he was chasing his own big goals today. We found a quiet spot to just chill as wave after wave was called, I was in Wave 6, back of the pack, but I was happy with that. Comfortable in fact. As Wave 4 was called as spotted my friends Pete and Juanita through the crowd. Pete was also doing the 100k, in my wave, and Juanita was taking on the 50. I introduced them to Sim and we chatted while slowly preparing to start. As our wave was called I hugged Sim goodbye, telling him I’d see him at the Six Foot Track checkpoint, then made my way to the start chute with Pete. After a brief photo together and a quick hug from Angie and Kylie who had spotted us, I also bade Pete goodbye, moving myself to the back of the pack, knowing Pete is a much faster runner than I.

As I waited to set off I pretty much ignored everything around me. I kept my head down, fiddling with my watch until we began to move. It had started.

As we turned the first corner I heard my name and got a high five from Travis and Kelly who stood on the corner, so cool to see so many people you know so far from home. The first section is about 5km of road. An out and back, it is a deceptively long little hill and I knew from last year that I needed to be conservative here, so I immediately dropped to a hike. I fell in behind two men who were running the race together. One had done it a few times and was helping his friend to complete his first race today. He commented on how people were working way too hard if they were sweating and breathing hard already, which I have to admit I took comfort in, and that it was nice to see some others were being sensible too. I pretty much cruised the road section, keeping an eye out for friends, watching my heartrate and just enjoying the atmosphere. We finally hit the trail and I relaxed. This is where I wanted to be.

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First view of the Three Sisters on our way down the stairs

It was slow going, lots of stairs (stairs we would meet again in some 94km and going up instead of down) and lots of people but generally moving comfortably. When we hit the section known as landslide, I was starting to get frustrated, I knew I could move faster but people were gingerly picking their way along the technical trail that I felt, for the most part, more comfortable jogging along. After a few “excuse me”s and requests to pass I had clear trail ahead of me and it was glorious. I jogged along, marvelling at the views, then the forest, the gentle curve of the trail and the lack of sounds other than the wind, I almost could fool myself that I was just on a training run. Then I hit the Golden Stairs. I was watching my heartrate carefully, resisting the urge to charge up what I knew was the first of many steep ups for the day. Its hard when everyone else is content to push and huff and puff up the stairs but your strategy is different. I resigned myself to jumping off every landing to let the stream of people through and making sure I kept to my own pace. As we came out onto Narrowneck I breathed a sigh of relief, my race plan was never to look at the whole 100km, I was doing a series of runs from aid station to aid station. The first run to Checkpoint 1, was the one I was most worried about as I was fearful of missing the cutoff. I knew it was only a km of fireroad until I hit the checkpoint and I was positive I could make it in time. I settled into a comfortable hike up onto the plateau, enjoying the view, smiling for the race photographers and passing words with fellow runners.

 photo 6666FD84-EA68-4D51-8D86-4D5F007ECD66.jpgI breezed into Checkpoint 1 at exactly 2hrs. I filled my bottle with help from a volunteer and was on my way again in minutes. I felt good, I was happy I had beat the cutoff by 40min and now I was working my way to Checkpoint 2, Dunphy’s Camp, hoping I would get to meet an Instagram and FB friend who was volunteering there. After running along the Narrowneck Plateau for around 9km we hit single track leading down to Tarros Ladders, a set of aluminium ladders rigged on the cliff face especially for the run.

There was a long line up and we were told that there would be an 8-10min wait or we could take a diversion track of an extra 400m, I decided I would rather be moving and took off down the track, getting some more clear single track which was nice.

I was still getting frustrated on any single track that was downhill and slightly technical as people were moving slowly, slower than my comfortable pace, and I actually find it more slippy when I go slow on the downs, but I kept reminding myself I had a long way to go and taking my time was for the best. As we popped back out onto a dirt road I figured we must be getting close to the next checkpoint. I couldn’t remember how far it was exactly, I hadn’t, for once, memorised exact distances and what times I needed to be where. I was here purely to finish. The times I had figured out a few weeks before were more for Sim, so he had a vague idea of where to find me when. In fact, I didn’t even know what time it was, I had set up my watch so I couldn’t see, although I could work it out from the runtime ticking over at the bottom of my screen.

As I went up and over the fence into the checkpoint I spied Jamie on his phone and gave him some stick about it. After a quick hug, I walked in to refill both my bottles and was out again a few minutes later, looking forward to making it to the ridge at Iron Pot mountain and knowing that I would see Sim at the next checkpoint a little way after that. The climb up to Iron Pot is a steep one and by now it was getting very hot. It was an unseasonably warm day and being out in tracks through paddocks, where the heat reflected off the grass, made it even hotter. As I reached the top of the mountain I could hear the sounds of the didgeridoo and the clap sticks as the local land owners welcomed us into their amazing and spectacular place. Words can’t really explain the chills, the goosebumps or the feelings that welled up as I ran along that ridgeline. Something about the reality of actually being there and that yes, I was actually doing this. As I ran back past the local land owners I thanked them so much for being there, for making that part of the race so special. The elder thanked me back, saying they loved being out there, seeing people enjoy their place and then he commented that I had the most awesome shorts and that he loved the colours. Yep, everyone loves the duds!

The descent down off Iron Pot was again, frustrating, but once I asked to pass a few people I got a run on. I was starting to feel very hot at this stage, I remember hiking past a dam in the middle of the paddock thinking if it wasn’t so mankey looking I would dip my buff in it and how much of a relief that would have been. I was drinking well, having my electrolyte and water but I was starting to feel queasy in the stomach. I wasn’t worried about it. On every long training run and race there has been a point after the 30-35km mark where the same thing has happened. I usually feel a bit blah and yuk for a km or two and then the feeling passes. I was actually surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. We came out onto a road near some farm sheds, which I recognised from one of the many TNF100 movies I had watched, and fell into an easy jog beside a very long legged runner who was power walking. He commented that I was doing a nice steady pace and I replied that I thought he had an unfair advantage with his long legs. We jogged/powerwalked together to the base of the next climb where I dropped back to a hike as he continued to powerwalk ahead. As I began the climb, watching my heartrate carefully, I was hit with a wave of nausea. I was surprised, this wasn’t usual. When I got to the top of the hill I decided to have a toilet break and see if that helped. For a moment I thought it had, I started running down the road at a gentle pace only to find myself holding onto a tree, doubled over, vomiting on the roadside a moment later. A few people called out to ask if I was ok, to which I replied I was just having a moment and I’d be fine. I took a deep breath, took a few sips of electrolyte and then water and started walking, convincing myself that it was a one off and if I gave my body a moment it would settle and I would be fine. The nausea was coming in waves. Every time I started to run it would hit with force. Over the next 3km I vomited 3 more times. I texted my friend, Jill, that I had been vomiting every km and that I wasn’t keeping anything down. I was worried because I thought I had another 3km to the checkpoint at least and I couldn’t work out why this was happening. She rang me back, calm as ever and went through what was happening and what I was doing, while I kept walking as fast as I could bare. I got off the phone, in my head I was trying to work out what the fuck had happened, all while trying to smile for a photographer, when I realised I could see the checkpoint and that Sim would be there.

I walked into the checkpoint only 10min behind my “perfect day” goal time, but I did not know that at the time. Sim cheered me down the hill, telling me I was doing amazing, but he got no smile. I grimaced at him and blurted out that I had been vomiting for the last 3km while I underwent a mandatory gear check.

Sim immediately changed tack. He took me to where he had set up a began repacking my pack while I went to look for some watermelon, I was so happy to see some. I sucked on a piece as I walked back, still trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Sim asked me about the views from Narrowneck in a bid to distract me from getting down and I told him about the magic of Iron Pot Ridge, but I was worried. I was set to go and Sim told me I needed to keep moving, he would see me up top in a few hours and that I could do this. As I walked out of the checkpoint I spotted a guy dousing himself with a cup of water and I remembered wanting a wet buff earlier, so I wet my buff and continued on out the gate, onto the Six Foot Track. I got up to a jog and then stopped to vomit yet again. Dammit! Up came all the watermelon. I was feeling down. I couldn’t work out what had happened, why I was sick. I figured all I could do was keep moving, stopping whenever I needed to spew and get to the next checkpoint. Pulling out wasn’t even a thought, I just needed to stop the vomiting somehow and keep my fluids up in the meantime. It was starting to cool down now and I changed to sipping not only when my timer went but also if I felt even a hint of thirst. I knew I wasn’t drinking nearly the amount I did in training, but I figured keeping a little down was more important. I was also getting really frustrated with my pace, my heart rate was really low, I was hiking everything and continually being overtaken by people jogging or by people walking every time I stopped to “have a moment” with a tree. If I tried to jog or run the nausea would hit with a vengeance, so I walked. I got to the base of Nellies Glen and prepared myself to hurt. This was a climb I was worried about. I put one foot in front of the other, surprising myself at my pace considering my heart rate was still sitting so low. About halfway up I came across a guy lying on his back in a singlet, legs up the wall listening to music. I stopped to ask if he was ok, he said he was having a break and I cautioned him not to get too cold, I had just stopped to pull on my thermal as it was getting chilly. I was still getting waves a sickness but managed to get to the top without another spew, as the ground evened out I started to jog but again I felt sick, so I stopped, pulled out my headlamp as it was now dark and hiked on.

I came around the corner to find another runner stopped still in the middle of the track. As she heard me come up behind her she asked if I could please help her. I grabbed her hand and she explained her legs had locked up and she couldn’t move. Still holding her hand, I started walking with her, as she leaned on me we chatted about how things go wrong sometimes, even when you think you’re doing everything right. She had done UTA last year but pulled out at Six Foot Track, she was sure if she got to the aquatic centre she would be fine after a massage. Able to stand on her own, I picked up my pace and came out onto the road, knowing I must be getting close to the next checkpoint. I stopped, thinking about it and realised I needed my road safety vest, I called back to Fiona to double check, yes. I stopped to get mine out and put it on, Fiona walked passed explaining she didn’t want to stop for fear of locking up again. Once I had my vest on I caught up to her and helped her with her pack and vest and then I jogged off to the checkpoint, hoping the vomiting was gone for good now and that this was a turning point.

I came into the Aquatic Centre and Sim was waiting, cheering me in yet again. I was almost in tears, telling him I was still being sick, that now I was so far behind my goal times (I wasn’t) and that I was so frustrated because I had just walked so much that I could have normally run. He told me I was wrong and that we needed to get on with it. He took my watch off to charge it and I changed into a long sleeve top and clean, dry buff. We debated me taking the spare headlamp in my pack but decided I didn’t need extra weight and I would be fine without it to the next support point. I had a few sips of coke, hoping it would help my stomach like it had at the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon and noticed another message from Juanita on the blanket and smiled.

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I went to the bathroom, checking my pee (as you do) and happy to see it was pale meaning I was still absorbing some fluids at least. I got back to the blanket to my pack being ready to go. Sim handed me my watch and told me I had been there long enough. I stood up, put my pack on and walked across the auditorium as Sim cheered me and Fiona called out “Go Jo!”. I stepped out the door, into the cold and the night and I cried, this wasn’t how it was meant to be.

A little way down the road we turned into an easement that would take us back to the cliff tops. It was freezing cold, so I stopped to put my thermal over the top, worried about the cold making me worse. I started jogging, enjoying the cold on my face but annoyed at the constant drip from my nose. I saw the eyeshine of a fox and watched as it bounded away and then stepped off the path to do my biggest spew yet, getting my shoes and legs in the process, so glamorous!! I continued on the path as it wound its way through Katoomba and when I finally stepped onto the single track, that I knew would take me around to the Three Sisters, I felt some comfort in familiarity, I had done this part before. Up the path to Echo Point we heard the ring of bells and someone yelled “Great job, Jo!” I smiled at the use of my name (it was on my bib) and was met with a smile from Lucy Bartholomew followed by “Go girls!”. In disbelief, I wound my way across the platform to the where the trail restarted only to have Sim grab me for a hug and the man next to him thank me for helping his wife, Fiona. I smiled again and kept moving, worried about what I might say or feel if I stopped.

Here started the stairs. My sense of time and distance kind of get lost here. There were stairs. I went up, I went down. I stopped to breathe. I stopped to keep the nausea at bay. I stopped to spew. People stopped to ask if I was ok. I kept moving. At times it was a slow crawl and others I moved ok, not fast but ok. At 8:30, an hour after leaving the aquatic centre and after yet another spew, I messaged Sim to say I was worried about getting an electrolyte balance or dehydration. Little did I know that was the last spew for the race. I was taking it very slow, I was sipping as much as I could stand and every time I began to feel nauseous I would stop, do some yoga breathing and will myself to keep down what precious nutrition I had taken on board. It was somewhere in here that I had my one and only emotional meltdown, it was fleeting (or so it seemed) and consisted of me whining to myself for a moment that this wasn’t how it was meant to be, but I let myself feel that for a moment then kept moving. Sim met me just before the water point at the Fairmont and convinced me to get checked by the medics before continuing on. It had taken me over 3hrs to cover around 10km, he was understandably worried. I had now travelled a little over 69km.

As I sat at the waterpoint, waiting for the medic to become available, I realised I hadn’t been sick for quite sometime. I talked to a volunteer, under Sim’s watchful eye, and she felt as I was obviously very lucid and talking fine, I was in a much better state than some others she had seen. After explaining to Sim that I hadn’t felt dizzy at all, wasn’t stumbling and felt ok everywhere but my stomach he agreed that I should be ok as long as I continued to take it easy. It was going to be slow but be damned if I wouldn’t finish. As I left the checkpoint I grabbed a handful of potato crisps on a whim and crushed them up to eat, licking the salt off my fingers thinking they were divine.

I was worried about this section, I had found it tough here last year but I knew it was a whole different ball game tonight. I was still stopping occasionally to keep the sickness at bay but in between I was managing a steady jog and I could now stomach more Tailwind electrolyte and water than I had been able to since before the Six Foot Track. I got to Wentworth Falls and marvelled at the emptiness. Last year it had been full of tourists, tonight there was no one, just me. I stopped at the top of the falls to apply some paw paw cream, I could feel some chafing beginning and took that as a good sign, meaning I was moving more. By the time I hit the 75km marker on the Kings Tableland fire road I was buoyed, remembering my excitement at being halfway at this point last year and thinking tonight I was three quarters of the way. As I hit the road I fleetingly thought I should text Sim to let him know I was a few km of road to the checkpoint. The thought was lost as I stopped to breathe again, damned stomach. I jogged most of the way to the QVH checkpoint, happy I could manage that, my legs being willing, feeling good for the run, even and my heart still very low, I’m not sure why. As I ran into the checkpoint the DJ stopped to ring the bell to let everyone know a runner was arriving. There were claps and murmurs of well done, but none of them were Sim. I looked around, wondering if he hadn’t seen me. Not being able to find him I rang him. The conversation went like this:

Him: “Hello?”

Me: “Where are you?”

Him: “In the car on the way to the checkpoint…… Where are you?”

Me (laughing): “Um…I’m at the checkpoint”

Him: “What the hell? How? It took you over three and a half hours to do the last 10km and you just did another 10 in just over two??”

Me: “I’m feeling better”

Luckily I had everything I needed to get my nutrition sorted. We agreed I would sort myself with what I had and if he arrived before I left, so be it. As I got my Tailwind bottles and water sorted, whilst stuffing my face with potato chips and chatting to the volunteers (one of whom recognised me from Instagram – hilarious!!), I realised I would have to wait for Sim.

My headlamp had been stuck on the low setting for at least an hour and I was worried about getting through Kedumba in the dark as it was. I messaged him to let him know and went into the runners tent to relax and eat more chips. I chatted to a woman supporting her hubby who told me I would be done by sun up, which made me smile. One of my goals had been to finish before the sun came up again. It was lovely and warm in the tent, a little too comfortable, so I decided to wait outside in the support crew area. I stood beside the bleachers doing little bits of yoga to keep the blood flowing and checking my Facebook to get a boost from posts from friends. Another woman waiting for her runner noticed me and asked why I was waiting, I explained and she offered to help me out anyway she could, of course a headlamp is a hard one to help with. Sim soon arrived and he was so flustered and apologetic. Poor thing, he’d had a rough day already sending me out when I was obviously ill. I told him it was fine, I wasn’t worried, I was just so happy I was feeling ok, plus it was a little funny. I swapped headlamps to the one Buff had lent me as a back up, I debated carrying my dimmed one as well, but figured I should be fine. Sim checked I still had everything I needed, gave me a hug and shook his head in disbelief as I marched determinedly out toward Kedumba.

As I got onto the flat I ran, and goddess it felt good. For the first time in almost 10 hours I was able to get my heartrate up to my normal training levels. I ran down into the valley, not caring how much my legs ached, how cold it was or how far I had to go. I was so happy to run. I passed so many people who seemed broken, shuffling along, many on poles, reminding me how I had felt in those last hours of Kokoda Challenge (Kokoda Challenge is a 96km team event through the Gold Coast Hinterland) some two years ago. But not today. I was still fighting nausea but I was on the home stretch now, I refused to let it win, I only slowed to walk and breathe now, instead of stopping altogether. I did stop to pee however, another good sign! I knew this section would take time, I started singing to myself, chatting to people I passed, my legs were shakey if I stopped for any reason. Then my borrowed headlamp started flashing. I figured it was a warning so I turned it to the dimmer setting and dismissed it as a minor glitch. Onward I went. My mood was better, I was drinking well, although I was well and truly over the taste of Tailwind, I played a game with myself trying to remember what each section had looked like in the daylight last year, who had I spoken to at this point? As we started up one of the longer climbs I had been hiking along side a young woman using poles, she was hurting but started charging up the hill while I dropped back in pace, knowing this was a long long hill. She looked back startled and asked “how long does this hill go for?” To which I replied “For fucking ever! But that’s not very helpful is it? I don’t honestly know, its just long”. She smiled and dropped her pace as well. So we went up and down and up again, through the dark and cold and sometimes warm night. I took to carrying my gloves in my hand so I could put them on when it got cold but take them off when it got warm. It was easier than stopping to change tops and seemed to keep my temperature regulated. I was hanging out to see the last water point. I knew it was less than 10km to home from there and I could walk that in if I had to.

I heard the generators first, then saw the flood lights. I remembered the trail from here so well, at least I thought I did. Everything is different in the dark. I grabbed more chips and kept going. I was steadily overtaking people know, I moved strongly picking the next light and willing myself to get to it. Still on the dirt road, about 500m before we would move onto trail I passed a guy sitting on a large rock on the side of the road. His headlamp was off and he was gazing out into the bush. I enquired if he was ok and he replied he was fine “Just enjoying the serenity, soaking it in, we’re almost done you know”. He was right we were almost done. Its kind of bittersweet that point, I tried not to dwell on it for fear of crying. I had said all along that I knew if I got to Checkpoint 5 I would finish. But here, now, it was a reality and part of me didn’t want it to end. Yes, it had been a long day, yes, I was tired and couldn’t wait to have a shower and not smell like pee and vomit and sweat and dust and Tailwind, but once I finished it would be over, I would go back to being ordinary little me not an extraordinary person of endurance. These thoughts flitted through my head but I tried to ignore them and keep going with the task at hand.  Up through the sewage works timing point, past the tents of sleeping volunteers and photographers, through ankle deep mud after managing to keep my shoes dry up until this point. Past more people, onto the single track, I kept waiting to see the 5km to go marker, knowing there were markers every kilometre after that. My legs were aching a lot now. Fallen logs and steps going down seemed cruel at this point, although I laughed as I winced negotiating them. Flashes went off at intervals as cameras with movement sensors took photos, it will be interesting to see how those turn out! I expect a few grimaces and shocked looks in mine! It seemed to be taking forever. I was at 4km out and hesitant to try and run for fear of tripping, I had been on my feet for a long time and my headlamp was dim now, so I moved as quickly as I felt safe to. Then the headlamp went dead. My first thought was “Really? Seriously? Are you kidding?” I laughed, ah well, what’s one more thing? I got out my phone for a light and searched for my backup torch. I found it and unceremoniously shoved everything back in my pack, worried that if I lost something I would undoubtedly get a finish line gear check foisted on me. I got to where the stairs up started, not the actual Furber stairs, but the first few little runs of steps. I was happy to find going up was ok, easier than down by a long shot. I overtook a few people struggling on these, shaking their heads as I rhythmed my way up. I passed the bottom timing point, holding my torch in one hand, other hand on the rail and started going up. I knew it would take time, it’s a long way, so I counted the number of stairs, losing count most times before I got to 100, but not caring, it was just to pass the time. About halfway up I messaged Sim to tell him I was almost done.

I was trying to not think about anything but the numbers, not what I had been through, not how far I had come, not that the finish line was so close, just the stairs, how many was I up to?

I hit the wooden ramp and I knew I was practically there. I ran past another timing point, perturbed it didn’t beep, fleetingly worried that someone might think I cheated if it didn’t register. Then I heard my name, not just once but a few times, from people, not just Sim. I was taken aback. No way. I got to the top of those three stairs to hear the cheering and calls get louder and I was overwhelmed. The tears started to come, I shook my head as I ran down the shute, past where I had stood some 23hrs ago waiting to start. I leapt over the finish mat.

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Fuck yes! I did it! It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was hard and awful and ugly in parts and yet that made it even more worth celebrating. I was given my medal and my finishers towel and then Sim just held me. I was home. I closed my eyes and was happy I had finished. I opened them to be surrounded by my amazing trail friends. They had been watching my progress through the night and had come to cheer me on to finish. As I hugged each one I was in a kind of disbelief. That they were here, to see me… And then my coach, Matt, stepped forward and hugged me and I was floored. Overwhelmed.

I want to gush here about my amazing husband, about the friends who were there with me at the finish and also in spirit, about my incredible coach, who had finished the 100k some 12hrs earlier, but I think you have all read and heard it all before. So let me just say because of them the the experience was not only richer, but possible.

So, now how do I feel about the race? I am proud. Proud that I pushed through some tough times to get to the good. I was under my C goal and finished before the sun came up again. I learnt a lot, about what I can do, what I can push through and about what I would do differently next time. I am a little disappointed, I think I could have gone sub 20hrs and got a shiny belt buckle, if only… but maybe the lessons mean more, in the long run. If it had been a perfect day, a perfect run, maybe it wouldn’t mean as much?