|Andre has completed all Asian TNF's this year!|
Registration was such a fun time for me meeting up with so many great running friends, including many new ones who I hadn’t met in person, as well as a number of readers of my blog who introduced themselves to me. It was so good to be in the company of such a positive and enthusiastic crowd, all united in the same goal of kicking the backside of the Blue Mountains the following day. While waiting for my crewman to arrive I joined up with Ian Dunican and Nick Wienholt and their wives for a beer and to exchange running stories. All good fun, and it turned out to be useful for me as the girls were to step in for my support crew the following day.
So toeing the start line the energy was great and I had a catch up with fellow runners from previous events, Brick, Gordi and Ian. It was pretty cold, but I knew I’d be warming up pretty quickly once we got going. Still I did hide behind a few guys to keep out of the icy wind!
|With Gordi on Landslide|
I ran the first leg fairly comfortably, and the seeded start made a big difference to trail traffic. I took a fairly big fall at about 15kms on unstable ground whilst wrestling a water bottle from my belt. I actually landed on my face and little finger, and would loved to have seen how it happened. The finger hurt like hell, and swelled pretty quickly, but this was not the time to worry about that.
The golden staircase was surprisingly easy for me, as I decided to pass Gordi who I’d been running with to that point as we’d both had similar time goals. Clearly the volume of trail and hill training I had done was paying off. Out on the trail at the top of the stairs and I was running well again.
|Burning up Narrow Neck (why are the cameras always on an uphill bit?)|
Across Narrow Neck is one of my favourite stretches of the course. Great views and the chance to let fly down the hills, to the limits of control (and beyond on occasion). So a nice clear climb down Tarros Ladders and more fun on the technical trails towards CP2. I was running very smoothly and almost without thought along this section. It was as if my mind had disengaged and was just trusting my body to do what we had trained to do. My km splits along here for about 6kms were between 4:45 and 5:20 which is way faster than I’d train, but I felt pretty comfortable and was just enjoying the moment. In the back of my mind I was wondering when the psychological and physical down was going to come, but maintained a focus on the positives while I had them!
CP2, Dunphy’s Camp was another quick turnaround. I was there as Devon Crosby-Helms of the Salomon Team pulled out, which was sad to see, but also a massive boost for me as I didn’t expect to be anywhere near the professionals. Again I grabbed a handful of lollies, a gel, and then refilled an endura bottle, as well as putting a litre of water into the bladder - just enough to get me to CP3. This is something I learnt from previous years when I would completely refill the bladder, which not only took longer, but was heavier to carry. So I had a plan of approximate volumes to take on at each CP, which turns out was a good one.
|On Iron Pot ridge|
The third leg was a good one for me. I caught up with Jen Segger of the Salomon team and ran with her up Iron pot and we stayed together for a good 10kms. It was a great opportunity to chat and learn from someone who does this full time. Thanks Jen.
I took another tumble on the out and back section of Iron pot, which I blame on the video guy filming Jen! I lost my balance and got a mouthful of Blue Mountains dirt again – I don’t know what is going on with me using my face as a break, as my running partner Tylana will attest, I never fall and rarely even trip (that’s her department!)
Chatting with Jen I was telling her what to expect in the coming km’s and had clean forgotten about the climb at 48kms on Megalong Valley road (oops!). We were joined by a Kiwi, who was struggling a bit having run out of water, so I shared some with him and we plodded on. Again the hill training was paying off, as I walked briskly up the hills and then cruised easily along the flats and downs. I caught up with Chris Turnbull in his memorable outfit (!) and we trotted into CP3.
|Hunting down the Pokemon - Chris!|
Along this section of the Six Foot Track I must have passed 40 walkers all of whom said hi and were generally encouraging, even calling out my name as it was on the number bib. Such a great feeling, when you’ve been running for 6 hours. I did get a twinge of cramp in my quads at this point, so stopped at a convenient tree to lean on and stretched them out. It took all of 15 seconds, but the difference was fantastic.
I have had a bit of a battle with Nellie’s Glen as it nearly beat me in 2009, so much so that I now look forward to it, eager to prove that I have it beaten. Don’t get me wrong it’s never easy, and when you feel you should be getting to the top and you look up to see you’ve still not got any daylight above you, it’s not a happy place to be. I simply focused on the next step, and maintaining momentum. This was just eating up the climb and although I had the occasional urge to stop, I kept plodding on. It is amazing how quickly a climb like that can pass if you can occupy your mind with simple repetitive tasks.
At the top I let out a shout in a sort of caveman like fashion to signify that I have beaten the stairs again, and enjoy the gentle cruise through the tracks to the next CP. I recall having a pee along this stretch, which was one of about 6 throughout the day. I’m sure you don’t want to know that, but for me it showed that I was keeping up on my hydration and that has been a challenge in previous races. Another mini victory for the day, and one which boosted morale on the way round!
Arrival at CP4 was great, great to be indoors. I head straight for the hot noodles which have been a godsend to me in previous years, great energy, fluids and electrolytes, and they taste great. Halfway through my second I am wondering where John is, as he has the mandatory gear I need before I can leave. Buzz Lightyear reminded me that I have a phone, so I called John who was just arriving in the car park. He had a good excuse as he was helping Andre’s crew as they didn’t have a vehicle.
So whilst waiting I sat at the desk and had a couple of warm vege burgers, while the CP volunteers topped up my bladder, etc. I saw Wayne “Blue Dog” Gregory, who I’d met at GNW last year and took the opportunity to chat with him, and what a good thing to do it was. I really respect his ability and opinion and he said that I was looking really strong and that I’d smash 12 hours. This I couldn’t really comprehend as I hadn’t considered anything better than 12hrs 59mins! He basically put it into perspective – “You’ve got 35kms to go and nearly 5 hours to do it. Get up that Kedumba hill in daylight, and look back at all the torches of the others coming up behind you”.
|Photo by Rachael of www.australianrunner.com.au|
I was loving the downhills, clocking up 3 sub 5min/kms to the bottom of “that hill”. I couldn’t avoid a soggy foot at the last ford, but figured it was only for a 20kms or so, and I could put up with it. This is where the gear came into its own. The Hokas kept me high so that I didn’t get too wet, and the Drymax socks had my feet dry again within 30 minutes, demonstrating the value of decent kit.
|My favourite pic from the race|
I was keen to get moving, and made a minor error just getting the head torch (Petzel Tikka XPS) on and forgetting the hand torch. Trotting up the road I was passed by former race runner up Tim Cochrane, and I think my chat motivated him to run faster to get away from me! I clung onto his heels for a bit, but on the single track I suffered from the torch error. With just the head torch I could not get any definition of the trail and took the biggest fall yet, made worse by the fact the my mental and physical faculties at this stage were not as sharp as they might be. I saved my face this time, but gouged a chunk out of my hand, and took out a bush with my shoulder as I hit the deck solidly.
This didn’t affect my physical ability to run, but it was a major hit to my confidence as it did hurt pretty bad and I had blood pouring down my hand and arm – I needed that blood to keep me going!
|Apparently they're worth more as a pair!|
Running up the golf course to the finish line is a great feeling, you can hear the supported and smell the sausages, what more motivation could you want to get running. As I crossed the line I mustered the energy for a celebratory heel click, something I fear may become a trademark for me now having done it last year too, but it is just a final venting of excitement and satisfaction at a job well done.
It was great to hang around and see everyone finishing, especially friends, but also just the raw emotion you only really see at the end of an ultra, when 100kms of trails and many hours of battling with yourself have stripped back the façades we often hide behind.
I was lucky enough to get a mention in the presentation, but sadly for the wrong reasons...I was awarded a first aid kit to repair the damage from my falls :)
So what I learnt this year can be summarised quite easily. You need to prepare well, and train hard for the conditions you’re going to be facing. The extra kms and volume of intense hill training I did paid massive dividends.
Have a nutritional plan and stick to it where you can, but also have flexibility should things not feel the way you would expect them to.
|Crewing is exhausting - unsung heroes of the day|
The Drymax socks worked their magic again with no blisters, and almost completely dry feet at the finish. And the Hoka Mafates exceeded my expectations given that I’d only run about 30kms in the pair I raced in.
The one final thing I would say is enjoy it! A number of people have commented on my photos, specifically that I am smiling in them, and that is because I was having a ball out there. Not just from a performance perspective, but the scenery and most importantly the people you meet. I’m sorry if I forget your names (you know who you are!), there were lots of new friends made this weekend, and I look forward to seeing you out there at the next event.
“There is no duty we so underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the World” – Robert Louis Stevenson