Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks

Friday September 4th

I arrived in Talybont-on-Usk in the early afternoon having had an easy journey travelling from Nottingham. I grabbed the final carbo-loading meal at the M5 services en route for lunch. On the way in to find the campsite I passed the sign below which I knew was on the route to the bottom of the first climb. The Hill – probably a bit of a local joke, for I knew what was up there!

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The sign to the first ascent of the day

I assembled the tent and made final kit preparations, spoke to a few other competitors and after some lamb soup, and baked beans & sausages for tea, I got an early night. Others however ensured it wasn’t too early – some people arrived later in the evening, presumably having finished work only a few hours earlier.

Race Day – Saturday September 5th

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Gathering at the start line

The day began fairly early with some noise from nervous racers going about their morning routine. I was feeling pretty relaxed and completed the pre-race ritual in time for the briefing and move to race start. Breakfast was just a banana – I’d eat another on the go, and plenty more race food besides.

The process for the start, finish, and all checkpoints between was to dib your dibber (an electronic key) into the marker device (think electronic read/writer) and this recorded your time, storing for download at the end of the race to give your eventual time. This meant there was no massive rush to get across the line and to get started, which was pleasant!

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Ascent up The Hill

I got started in the second group – the race director still recommended a bit of self seeding, as there would inevitably be a bit of a conga line through some of the narrower sections close to the beginning.

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The top of The Hill was a bit cloudy

The early morning weather was not fantastic. The forecast was however for some good weather, so this start was a little disappointing – I hoped it would not continue. It was only light rain, and a little bit of wind, but enough to make you cold you’re not paying attention!

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Trucking across the trails, early on.

The cloud remained on the highest ground but cleared as we descended. The ground under foot was certainly wet and my Hoka One One Stinson ATRs were ok on the softer, flat bits, nicely absorbing the impacts. Where they struggled, however, was on any kind of wet descent, due to the minimal grip on the soft mud. I think they were on their last legs, and I resigned to not putting them back in my suitcase for the return to Sydney a couple of days later. I had a few hairy moments with them as I struck off-camber areas – but surprisingly only hit the dirt 3 times throughout the day!

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Down, across the front of the reservoir and up the treeline beyond to Trig 642.

The route took us across to Trig point 642 – a well known landmark for the locals and visitors alike. This was not an official peak of the Long Course, but was the second peak of the Short Course, with The Hill being the first.

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Looking back to the treeline and climb profile
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The ridgeline to Corn Du

The route then tracked along the ridgeline towards the popular peak of Corn Du, deviating off the ridge and descending to the first checkpoint at the side of the A470 just south of the Story Arms Outdoor Centre.

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At the first official Peak – Fan Fawr

Having refilled the necessary water into the backpack bladder, and popped a couple of High 5 tablets into the bottles on the front of my vest, I pressed on, across the road and up towards the first official peak. My nutrition consisted of a few bananas, early on, The Clif Bars which I had used in training, and were available at these checkpoints, and PowerBar gels – apple, and blackcurrant flavours, both with added caffeine.

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A Welsh stream (creek!)
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Passing some ruins

The weather didn’t change much as we travelled from checkpoint 1 through 2 and on to 3. The kms were being gradually eaten up, as were the required amount of nutrition. There was company at times, and the checkpoints were manned by helpful and smiley volunteers! I had a target of about 17 hours, which had me arriving at CP3 (39km) in about 6 hours – which was almost exactly the time I had taken.

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At checkpoint 3 – 39km.

I took in some of the chilli and rice on offer, but not so much that I needed a lie down afterwards to digest it. I refilled the hydration and pressed on leaving all of those who had arrived with me still getting themselves in order. I hoped to snap the elastic, so to speak, and make some good time up the next climb and reach the western-most tip of the route.

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The view looking east at what was still to come.

From the valley below CP3 I had a couple of options – either ascend early up the nose of the hill and proceed along the ridgeline for the 3 kms or so to the next peak, or hold the lower ground, which gradually climbed up the valley to the path we would eventually take back down the peak, when heading east again. I had followed another racer in front who was taking the latter option, and after a brief conversation we agreed this looked to be an ok approach. Rather annoyingly, however, it ended up being a gradual climb most of the way along, meaning that running it was just that little bit too demanding. Once ascending the steps to the ridgeline and checking in at peak 3, there followed the out and back to peak 4 (where the army were seen training) and where I also saw a few of those folk I had successfully left in CP3. ūüė¶

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British Army soldiers on a training exercise. Fond memories!?!

So I turned and headed for home as quickly as possible, determined to chase down some of those ahead of me.

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The out and back section – view from Peak 4, back to Peak 3, and the remaining peaks beyond.

Fortunately the weather looked to be improving and the remaining low cloud had risen meaning patches of blue sky were appearing! The route to Fan Gyhirych and the preceeding Checkpoint 4 led me off tracks and travelling along a bearing to pick up the checkpoint at the road. Unfortunately I thought the checkpoint was on the first road we crossed, and it was not – there was another ramp up and down over a further 2 km to get there. I had run out of water on the approach to the first road so paused to refill a bottle from a stream at the base of the next climb, adding to it a puritab to kill any bacteria, and a High 5 tablet to make it taste in some way reasonable. This helped me get across the hill to CP4.

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Checkpoint 4 with the ascent of Fan Gyhirych beyond

Clearly the rise up from CP4 was severe and there were about 9 others in the checkpoint preparing for the onslaught. This was a climb of 400m over about 1km. Over the course of the next few hours I successfully caught up all of those who I had seen in checkpoint 3. We hit the Roman Road and headed towards Fan Frynych. People on both the short and long tracks appeared to be heading up the hillside to the right of the Roman Road, and off to the next peak.

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The view of the Storey Arms and the climb to Corn Du.

I had gone further down the Roman Road before I decided to also head up to the same high ground. In doing so I accidentally cut off the next peak – Fan Frynych, although I had got to within 30m of the same height, I missed the extra 2km return trip to the actual peak. I headed off on a bearing again to the Storey Arms thinking I was also tracking a familiar figure at a distance but also heading in the right direction. I thought this was one of the people I had been with on the Roman Road (but it later turned out not to be) so I therefore didn’t think to check that my navigation was correct!

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Bagging number 8 – Pen y Fan – the highest at 886m.

The Storey Arms checkpoint was quickly got through. I filled water containers and obtained a hot dog from the food van (this was the checkpoint hot food option). The guy (Rob) in the familiar top, I now realised was not who I thought, and I decided to try and stay with him, and he was just leaving. This meant I leap-frogged one other, who was sitting in the cp. Rob and I ascended the track towards Corn Du with a steady effort, and took the path that traversed around it. (It was not on the Long Course track). We hit Pen y Fan in the lengthening shadows, and down, then back up to Cribyn.

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Cribyn and Fan y Big from Pen y Fan
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The stairs off Cribyn

A map check showed us that we again were required to go down then up the final climb of the day – Fan y Big. There were also paths which cut around this one! There was a marvellous set of steps down the side of Cribyn – hill repeats up them would be brutal.

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Top of the last peak – Fan y Big

From Fan y Big, Rob and I tracked around the long perimeter track as the darkness fell. We paused for our waterproof to protect us from the cooling wind as the sun was no longer providing sufficient warmth. All that remained was the peat bog and the descent to the finish. My feet, which I had coated with Lanolin in the morning were feeling sore – not from rubbing or blisters, but from the instability in the soles of the big Hoka soles. Rob decided to try to avoid the bog and given his experience I agreed (he was the brother in law of the organiser and had done the course a good number of times over the previous years). We headed north of the planned route, and held our height around the edge of the hillside but any path we might have been following disappeared and we ended up laboriously travelling over large grassy tufts (aka baby’s heads) and making pretty slow progress. Rob was very apologetic!

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Looking back in the setting sunshine

The track down to the finish was straight forward enough, except that it seemed much longer than it had been in the morning dawn. We took the turn off which cut us directly back to the finish across the reservoir dam wall. Rob paused with some family and I jogged in for a finish in 16:55:45. 87.2km (so missing the 2km I skipped!) I’m happy to say the 2km would have taken me 20 minutes, so with that my 18th / 92 would become 20th. (75 finishers).

I was very pleased with my days work. I would like to come back and see what I could have done, with some local knowledge under my belt. There were some particularly evil climbs, and some spectacular views, and some fun conversations, including the one with Rob, talking about his brother-in-law, who we agreed was a sadist, who had based the route of the Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks on the route the SAS use for Endurance – the long endurance march that SAS selection culminates in – hence the same 24 hour time limit.

This is the track for the Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/388166723

This is the track, with the beginning missing, but including more running and HR metrics, until my watch died: https://www.strava.com/activities/385911476

The North Face 100 km (shortened) Race Report

With a hamstring injury 2 weeks before tapering and having struggled to shake a lingering cold until race morning I was unsure how my 15 hour target would be realised as I crossed the start line.

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There was nothing Golden about this first significant climb. Here I realised that the missed training was going to impact my performance as I felt terrible. I had no energy, and was losing ground to those around me. A difficult situation when you are being funnelled up steps so narrow you can’t pass. I knew I was pushing too hard. Pushing 175 for most of the 10 minutes it took to get to the top would quickly spell disaster.

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By Tarros Ladders I was passed by many Trailblazers including Tanya, Byron, and Karl but I had kept the HR in the low 160s keeping progress going forward… one mantra for the day – Relentless Forward Progress…!

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Arriving in CP2 with Fraser, we saw Karl just leaving – I refilled all liquids and gave chase. The rather brutal climb up to Ironpot Mountain took a lot out of my legs – they still didn’t have the strength in them I was expecting! Worryingly there were plenty more climbs to come through the day…!

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On the top of the exposed Ironpot ridge there was a 1.5km out and back stretch on which I encountered many familiar faces, and chasing me, not far behind was Emma. It was great to see the traditional land owners playing the didgeridoo Рawesome!

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Predictably, once on the Megalong Road, Emma caught me.

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We developed a strategy of regularly running – at least as far as the next bit of tape, or the one beyond, or the sunshine or the different looking tree. Karl and Byron were still in CP3 but we made quick work and were soon through it. Karl soon caught us up and continued the same targeted running technique up Nellies.

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We made it up in one piece, with Emma going through a strong patch, but we all rolled into the CP4 checkpoint close enough to roll out together again. My family were waiting there which was a welcome site. At least they had managed to find it!

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We lapped up the kilometers, and the steps, both up and down. The Trailblazers Train rolled into CP5 close enough to absorb differing turnaround times and depart together again.

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Checking the time and knowing past performances, an achievable 3:50 back to Scenic World would be required to achieve the sub-16 hour goal. Possible, but I didn’t want to push too early. I left 91km solo and pushed up the long ascent. The Train was fragmented but after 45 minutes of solid climbing I caught it again! I was going strong and this was a downhill stretch so I pushed onwards, maintaining momentum. 16 hour pace had 1:04 from 95km which I passed at 14:55…!

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I reached the Furber Steps. A helpful marshal declared “900m to the finish”. I knew the next 900m also included 220m of vertical, so no easy task – 20 minutes on a good day… I had 25 minutes, but after 100km, nothing was certain.

Eventually I could see the lights of Scenic World above me – surely it wouldn’t take me 9 minutes to cover the remaining distance to get to the other side of that building!!

I pushed out a few Strava personal records during the last hour in the effort to get to the 15:56:34 finish. Given how the day started, I’d certainly have settled for that on the journey across Narrowneck! A fantastic race, and a fantastic atmosphere made more special by having so many familiar faces to share the trails with.

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https://thenorthface.com.au/product/triarch-2#CF12AGU

The North Face 100 km Race Report

The day before race day I was still struggling to shake the cold I had picked up earlier in the week. I had been taking lots of echinacea, vit C, garlic, zinc, and multivitamins but it was persistent. I woke up with swollen glands in my throat… I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of this milestone race – especially given the amount of donations and support I had received.

We left the house at about 4pm after finishing the packing, after the school pick up. A few traffic delays caused some angst as I wanted to have dropped the girls off to the YHA before heading top the race briefing – which I managed by 15 minutes!

The YHA was good and I had a good night’s sleep even though I was sharing the room with the rest of the family!

The alarm went off at 5:15am. The alarm tune was the theme to the BBC coverage of the London Marathon (https://youtu.be/2KOLxQEfmCI¬†– inspirational stuff) which consequentially stayed stuck in my head all day! I had let the tune play in full to ensure everyone was woken up… But that didn’t really happen!

We got to the start on time and I found a few other Trailblazers (the Sydney, Northern Beaches running club I’ve been doing a lot of training with). We were soon under starters orders, having got the pre-race photos out of the way!

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I set off as if I had been training and had had the ideal preparation for the event, which, based on the last blog post, wasn’t necessarily the case. After a bit of banter I pushed on but had Emma’s words ringing in my ears – “start slow, finish slower” – ie. be very wary about going out too fast. I pushed down the Furber Steps noting a couple of early DNFs who had fallen victims to the rough terrain.

There were further bodies along the single track stretch leading towards the base of the Golden Staircase. There was nothing Golden about this first significant climb of the day. It was at this point that I realised that the missed training was going to impact my days performance – I felt terrible. I had no energy, and was losing distance to those around me – a difficult situation when you are being funnelled up steps where you can not pass those in front of you due the the narrowness. I felt as though I was pushing too hard – and upon flicking the watch across to view my heart rate, this was certainly the case. I was pushing 175 for most of the 10 minutes it took to get to the top. I knew that if my heart rate were to remain that high, my race would never get to the finish, so I stopped watching the clock, and maintained control of my heart rate – I figured this was as a result of the lingering effects of the previous week’s cold.

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Going out along Narrowneck
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View from Narrowneck over the Megalong – where we were heading…
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Top end of Narrowneck

 

 

 

 

 

I progressed along the 10km of Narrowneck after CP1 towards the Tarros Ladders, at the far end, and whilst covering this distance was passed by many people including Tanya, Byron, and Karl (all fellow Trailblazers). I kept an eye on the HR and kept it in the low 160s keeping progress going forward… one mantra for the day – Relentless Forward Progress…!

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The decent to Tarros Ladders

At the end of Narrowneck, Tarros Ladders beckons. There is an alternative route which if the queue is too long, you will have the option of taking. There was a long queue and I took the alternative – Duncan’s Pass, and consequentially got ahead of Karl and Byron, who passed me again on the following stretch. Fraser caught me up on the stretch of firetrail heading into CP2 – Dunphys Camp. Karl was just leaving as we arrived, and not spending too much time here he was in sight for much of the next few kms. I think Fraser caught and passed me again in this stretch. The rather brutal climb up to Ironpot Mountain took a lot out of my legs – they still didn’t have the strength in them I was expecting, and there were plenty more climbs to come through the day…!

On the top of Ironpot, there was a 1.5km out and back stretch on which I encountered the familiar faces of Alex, Byron, Tanya and Karl, and chasing me, not far behind was Emma.

On top of the Ironpot Ridge it was particularly exposed with two way traffic making it a little precarious in places. It was made a more beautiful place by the presence of one of the traditional land owners playing the didgeridoo Рawesome!

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Alex
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Byron
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Tanya
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Karl
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Traditional Land Owners

Once back down the mountain the route took us through some woodlands and back across to the Megalong Road. This wound up a few switchbacks (when a fleet of 4 ambulances passed back the other way) and gently down again towards the Six Foot Track – on this descent Emma caught me up! I had figured that might happen!

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Emma catching me up!

We developed a strategy of regularly running – at least as far as the next bit of tape, or the one beyond, or the bit of sunshine up the road, or the different looking tree… you get the idea. At CP3 I spotted Karl, and on the way out, shouted to Byron to get a move on – he was looking good the last time I saw him, so I was concerned with him using up valuable time! Emma and I moved out of CP3 rapidly, and Karl soon caught us up. With the group now Karl, Emma and I, we had three people calling when when to start running, and when to stop – usually when we identified the slightest bit of uphill.

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With Karl at the top of Nellies Glen

This strategy got us through to the bottom of Nellie’s Glen – the monster climb out of the Megalong valley up to Katoomba. We made it up in one piece – with Emma going through a strong patch, but we all rolled into the CP4 checkpoint, at the Katoomba Aquatic Centre close enough to roll out together once more. Lisa and the girls¬†were waiting at CP4, which was a welcome site – at least they had managed to find it!

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Charlotte with me on the way in to CP4

We cut through Katoomba and onto the Cliff Top path to Echo Point. Battling hordes of tourists we soon escaped to the trails towards Leura cascades. We motored on beyond the aid station in a similar vein, running we much as possible.

We lapped up the kilometers, and the steps – both up and down. Along the way we were joined by Tanya and Fraser. We retrieved torches and put on the hi-vis vests as we were around the Leura Resort and descending to Lillians Bridge, and up to Conservation Hut. The track took us through Wentworth Falls and on to the Kings Tablelands Road. We ran most of the way down the road splitting up slightly, but only so we could absorb differing timings in the checkpoint. Once there the drop bag was located, fluids refilled and the frantic exchange of gear in preparation for the next leg started. I retrieved my poles that I had surrendered to Holly at CP4, I dropped off the camera, hat, sunglasses, and retrieved more food – a couple of bananas, a bottle of gels and my headphones.

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Lengthening Shadows in the Jamieson Valley
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At CP5 – Victoria Hospital

Back on the road from checkpoint 5 it was an estimated 4 hours to the end, based on previous journeys through this section, and according to my race plan. The total running time of my race on leaving CP5 was 12:10 or so – meaning sub 3:50 was necessary to achieve the sub 16 hour goal. Possible, but I didn’t want to go to early and ‘crash’ before the end. I had put on my long sleeve merino top, and a fleece thinking it would be cool heading into the valley – but after making good progress down the steep descent, I paused to remove this – also moving my phone to my backpack – meaning my bluetooth headphones no longer were communicating to the source of the music! When removing the fleece I regrouped with Karl and Emma who I had made ground on on the descent. I figured they’d be catching me soon enough – my mass gives me an advantage on the descents – I needed to use it! Slowing myself down on the descents is almost more painful than letting myself go!

The trek through the Jamieson was interspersed with occasional bouts of jogging the downhills, and it was a welcome relief to reach the first river crossing, and some comfort in knowing the uphill meant no running! However there was some more downhill to take us to the Leura crossing, then uphill to the 91km aid station.

I refilled the bottles only here – they only had water, and I wasn’t completely empty. I left chasing Karl who I saw disappearing in the torchlight. I didn’t see Emma anywhere. I pushed up the long ascent, solo for most of it – annoyingly with no music, but not prepared to pause again and change the phone location. After about 45 minutes of solid climbing from the aid station I caught Karl who was also with Emma. I was going strong and is was a downhill stretch so I pushed onwards, maintaining momentum and chasing the target sub 16. I knew that it was 1:04 (on 16 hour pace) from the Leura Woodlands – which I passed with about 1:05 buffer…! I passed quite a few people on the way out of Leura Woodlands. A few pockets of people together, some moving, some not. One chap, who was ok, was flat out, face up on a rock – presumably summoning the strength to continue over the final 3kms.

I paced myself off the reflective jacket ahead of me, and reached the Furber Steps, where more people were summoning strength at the bottom. The helpful marshal declared it was only 900mto the finish – I knew the next 900m also included 216m of vertical, so no easy task. I also knew that on an average day I could get up the Furber Steps in 20 minutes… I had 25 minutes, but after 100km, nothing was guaranteed. I pushed on still chasing the guy in front. Passing a few people on the stairs, and crawling up a few of the steeper sections, I could see the lights of Scenic World above me – surely it wouldn’t take me 9 minutes to cover the remaining distance to get to the other side of that building!!

I saw Holly, Lisa, Charlotte and a sleeping Amelia, as I rounded the final corner and cover the ground to the line, and the all important timing mat. The commentator recognised I was just inside the 16 hour goal at a finishing time of 15:56:34.

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The Trailblazers Train – finished, and knackered!

I cheered Emma and Karl across the line, closely followed by Tanya. There were many familiar faces waiting for fellow Trailblazers to finish – all were welcome and much appreciated – none more so than those of my smiling family! Charlotte and Holly were very excited, but understandably, everyone had had a very long day so after a few photos and a few cups of soup, we headed to the car, and off to the YHA for some well earned sleep!

At the finish with some key supporters
At the finish with some key supporters

The GPS track of the event on Strava is here:¬†https://www.strava.com/activities/305993127.¬†Placing 360 overall, 113 in age group men. Overall very happy with the way the day turned out. I pushed out a few personal records during the last hour or so in the effort to get to the finish sub 16. Given how the day started, I’d certainly have settled for that on the journey across Narrowneck! A fantastic race, and a fantastic atmosphere made more special by having the family in tow, and having so many familiar faces to share the trails with.

I’ll give it a few days to let the legs repair and for the blisters to heal, but there will be more ultras out there on the horizon… somewhere!

Injuries and race preparation

Since Canberra I have been struggling to maintain momentum due to a pulled lower hamstring on my right leg. However, it took a few weeks of rest, but this has repaired and it’s only days until the event. Plenty of physio, anti-inflammatories,¬†and creams have done the business!

Of course the last thing I need to get before the race is a cold… so the last thing I have got before the race is a cold…!

To combat the cold, which I have inevitably picked up from the family or work colleagues, I’m taking many pills including multi vitamins and minerals,¬†echinacea (with garlic , zinc, & Vit C), more zinc, more vitamin C, and some magnesium to offset cramps during the race, and to help any more tight muscles.

I have made some other race preparations too. These include selecting the kit I’ll be wearing, kit I’ll change into at CP4 (57km); working out drinks, gels, salt tablets, bananas and energy bar quantities and at which checkpoint I’ll need them:

Race nutrition planUsing this information I can prepare and pack the bags for checkpoint. These are Woolworths Cool Bags – they have zips and with the laminated decoration on top, they should be easy to locate at the checkpoints.

race kit

I’ve even thrown something in there for the final checkpoint, when I think it’ll be getting dark, for the girls to put on, in addition to the head torches I bought them earlier in the week.

Canberra Marathon Race Report

Having driven to Canberra on Saturday afternoon, I found the Youth Hostel and then found the car park I’d planned to park in. Unfortunately it was being resurfaced and was closed all weekend! I backtracked up the road and found a suitable place, returned to the YHA and having found my room (4 man) I got an early night at 9:30pm. My early night was hampered by my room mates and the noisy revellers outside, although, by about 11pm the window had been closed, the French guy had finished breaking the lock off his locker (he had lost the key!), I finally got some pre-race sleep.

At 4:55am I woke up, 5 minutes before the alarm. Stripped my bed, grabbed my bag and crept out of the room. I filled water bottles, and started to prep my gear – a job I finished at the car once I had handed over my keypass and scared the girl who had decided to do a wee between mine and the neighbouring car, just as I approached… I unlocked the car from a distance which made her (and her mates) think she had set the alarm off!! (He he he!)

I drove across to the race site car park and had by breakfast banana. I grabbed my bottle belt, locked the car and headed towards the startline. I joined the pre-race toilet line up and having completed this minor routine, I was surprised to hear the 30 seconds to go countdown on the PA system…!

Warm up jog completed I filtered into the start area just as the gun went off – perfect! I hit the start button on the watch and Canberra Marathon, take 2, was a go. (I ran the event last year in my lead up to The North Face 50km but suffered badly from cramp from about 29km. Having been on target for 3:50 at half way, I crossed the line just ahead of the 4:30 flag pacer in 4:28.)

I slotted into the starters between the 3:15 and 3:30 pacers. I felt comfortable running the first few kms, up around Parliament House at about 4:50 / km pace with the target, in my head, of ensuring each km was no worse than 5:20. Sub 4 hours was the goal. Then I cracked a few out on the downhill back towards the lake at about 4:35, all the time feeling good, and telling myself that I was not racing those people around me, and to pay closer attention to the pace on my watch, and my own race plan.
I ran the next 12 km at close to 4:50 pace and completed the first half of the marathon course in 1:42:44. It was great to see a few fellow Trailblazers out on the course – both spectators and marathon runners!
I soon reached the part of the course where the wheels came off my race last year. The undulations along the course after crossing the Scrivener started to take their toll.
From 29 km it became a mental game. The challenge of not giving in to the tiredness, and the thoughts that I had probably gone out too hard. Could I sustain the pace required to stay ahead of the runner I had seen carrying the sub 4 hour flag…?! I was passed at some point by the sub 3:30 flag bearer but I knew that I was happy to meet that target go. There’s always next time.
I struggled on through 30 km and into the next few kms feeling ok that even if I thought I was suffering I was maintaining a pace similar to those around me – even if I was losing ground on the uphills, I was gaining it again in the downhills!
There is a part of the course that goes out to a turn around down by the lake. The long straight road to get there was clearly longer than I thought and when I thought I was approaching the 34 km marker, it was actually the 35 km marker, and that have me a lift. I was still with the same people, so I knocked back another gel and ran around the turn – no more u turns now… It’s straight home to the finish! As this section was out and back I was again able to see how far ahead of the familiar faces I had seen before I was travelling. I didn’t see, although I had expected to, the 3:45 flag bearer, and in my head I was trying to work out the pace needed to achieve sub 4 hours, with about 6 km to go. I soon realised that 6 minute kms were roughly going to cut it. (Only simple maths was being performed at this point). I just had to maintain a running pace over a walking pace. Just keep the wheels on!
More undulations to get into the final 3 km and from there you knew you were home and dry. I pushed the pace just because I felt I had it in me. I passed few of those who had been ahead of me for so long I couldn’t remember!
We parallelled the slow half marathon finishers as we rounded the underpass and into the finishing park. It had been a feature of the race that other racers were on the course at certain points – the ultra runners had a 20 minutes headstart but took in a few kms extra, meaning at about 7 km or so, Brendan Davies came steaming past, and so did a few other faster people also doing the ultra (50km) but I didn’t deviate from my own race plan (whatever that was) by trying to keep up with them!
There were many people at the finish so suddenly there was lots of support and cheering. You have to pass the line and complete a 200m loop back to it to complete the race, choosing the correct finishing channel for the length of race you were finishing!
I was very happy. I crossed the line in 3:43:33 which was well inside my expectations and obviously achieved the sub 4 hours goal that had eluded me for so many races. The difference between this one and all those before has been the better preparation – I have been consistently running for over a year, completing speedwork and hill sessions as well as already running at least the marathon distance.
I collected the medal, some food and moved to the cool down tent where there were mats and rollers to try and get the repair process underway. 15 minutes there and I collected a bottle refill and slowly walked back towards the car. I had commented to the assistant in the tent that an ice bath would be great at this point, and as I walked past a hedge-lined public garden I noticed a few runners sitting in the fountain there, so I also hopped in! It was a good temperature (cold!) and the constant moving water helped maintain this around my legs.
After a while I returned to the car and changed clothes ready for the long drive home.
Unfortunately when I turned the key the car didn’t start! Apparently one of the chargers had been plugged in and the battery was drained! I rolled the car half out of the space then pushed it the rest of the way before rolling and pushing it to the car park exit where there was a ramp down to the road. I was able to bump start it down there and headed home to Sydney without further incident!

Six Foot Track Race Report

The Six Foot Marathon is a highly popular race so getting to the startline was the first challenge. This was achieved at the roadside on the journey down to the Alpine Challenge at the end of November. Since then there have been some training runs in the Blue Mountains, and particularly the Mega Megalong Mega, on 1 Feb. It was on this training run that I ran part of the trail for the first time, from the start to the top of Pluvi, and back.

I drove up to Katoomba for the race on Friday night, and slept in the car – a reasonable night’s sleep given that this was relatively uncomfortable! I was awake on time – always a race day concern, and after the normal morning routine I parked up at the high school, collected my number, geared up with the chosen race kit – bottle belt, gels, salt tablets, and drop bag for the finish. With other runners and spectators I boarded the bus to the start at the Explorers Tree.

Once at the busy startline I bumped into a few others from the Trailblazers running club, many of whom I have been running training with over the last few months.I dropped the kit bag for the finish and soon it was 7:15am and the gun was firing for wave 3.

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The Six Foot Track Start Line
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Waiting for the wave to get starters orders

I punched the start button on the Garmin 310xt, which was going to advise me the split times as I made progress along the 45km Six Foot track to Jenolan Caves. I had, hanging from my number a card with the target times that, based on other people’s progress along the relative parts of the track, had an accurate picture of what a race finishing time of 5:37 minutes would look like.

The course began with a few hundred meters of fire trail before the gate at the top of Nellie’s Glen, and the famous staircase down into the Megalong Valley below. This was, as expected, a procession, and as such, there was not much expectation of a fast time down here. After no more than a few kilometers the track began to open up and passing was again possible, although, there was always the voice of caution in my head – “don’t go out too fast…it’s a long race!”. I heeded the warning, but felt very comfortable and was merely keeping up with everyone else… or perhaps occasionally passing a few of them.

Megalong Road came along quite quickly and across this, through the water station (there were a lot of water stations providing water, sports drink and gels – this was at least the second I had seen). I had spotted a few people running with an ‘S’ in black markerpen written on the back of both legs, so as I ran down the firetrail I asked one guy, Grant, what it was about. I discovered it was some sort of beer bet – I was not much the wiser after his comments!

The track undulated through a few pastures and into the valley of the Cox’s River, and down the single track to the crossing point. This was another conga line but one that I was holding onto the back of, rather than being held up. It did again help me to ensure I was not running too fast using my mass as an advantage!

The river crossing was uneventful – fortunately – a wade across the gravelly based river which was up to mid-thigh height – that was the first 15km, and the first ‘section’ of the race. The next section was from the river to the top of the Pluviometer – about 800m in total ascent up fire trail, over about 10km. From past experience, this was to be respected… there is still a long way to go once you reach the top. Many experienced runners would declare that the race doesn’t start until you get to the top of Pluvi!

I had reached the river in just under 1:30 and took an opportunity to consult my target card for the first time. I was surprised to see I was 15 minutes up on my target, meaning I only had to continue to maintain the target throughout the rest of the course and I was well inside the 5:30 stretch target – woohoo!

The climb to Pluvi takes you up Mini-mini first, before a slight descent to cross a couple of small streams, then back up again to the top. I pressed on up the climb, continuing to gain ground on those around me – be because of the solid hill sessions, or just being prepared to stick it to the hill, I don’t know, but I was a few km from the top of the climb when I noticed Grant once more. He was going well, and I mentioned that we were going really well, actually well inside the 5:30 target. He laughed, as much of a laugh as was possible whilst climbing up a steep fire trail, at least, and said that sub 5:00 was achievable from here. I was in disbelief and thought that was definitely not on my agenda, but 5:15 would be nice! He went on to say that getting to the top of Pluvi in less than 3 hours was a great target, and it was then 2 hours on from there. My mind began doing calculations, I checked the target card timings, and thought that I should at least give it a go – what’s the worst that could happen…!

About 30 minutes later I got to Pluvi, in 2:56, and didn’t hang about – I refilled my bottle, as I had done at most of the stations along the way, and pressed on. Grant was around somewhere, and we continued to exchange a few comments along the way. 2 hours and 4 minutes to go….maybe. I didn’t know the elevations involved with the third section of the race but I knew it was nothing like what the previous sections had been like. It turned out to be predominately fire trail, at least until the crossing of the Jenolan Caves road, 5km from home. It undulated such that it was 95% runnable. Every now and again I would walk a little to crest a rise, but the clock was ticking and I was leaving nothing to chance.

One incentive, which was a little gross, was the smell from a fellow runner who, let’s say, had had a serious accident in the trouser dept… fair play to carry on but some essential laundry was definitely required. I tried to stay in front, but he continued to pass me, then me, him, as if we were on either end of an elastic band!

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Smelly bloke
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Yuk

With just over an hour to go and 10km still to cover, Grant again popped out of nowhere, and said we would need to work hard to get the sub-5 hour milestone. The advantage in our favour was that the end of the track, for the last few kms was predominately down hill – or so I had been led to believe. 6 minute kms…

It was somewhere around there that I rounded a corner and was faced with a line of people walking up a steep incline. I thought that this was going to use up my contingency few minutes, and I was in no state to run up hills now…!

I pressed on casually trying to check, as each km passed, that my last km time was up to speed. Then I came out of the plantation, and crossed the road… it was all downhill from here, apparently. Or not. A few ups and downs remained, and it was 5km out and on an uphill I caught up Alex, who had been in the wave that started 10 minutes before me. We had met up on a training run around Bobbin Heads a few months before. We got each other going and said we would stick at it through to the finish to achieve the sub 5 / sub 5:10 respective targets.

I did press on as the track became single track and steeply downhill – this was absolute murder on the quads. Both my legs were screaming to slow down, but the more I tried to slow the more I used them, and the more they hurt… “shut up legs”! I called out to people ahead of me as I nipped around them, and eventually could hear the finish line down the valley below me.

I had a smidge over 3 minutes to cover the last descent down the concrete path to the finish – I didn’t know how direct the route was but there was plenty of support and I was going all in – well, I had been all in for a little while now. I again used gravity to my advantage and flew down the track – quads will recover and any blisters will heal, but the time will remain.

I crossed the line a minute or so behind Grant, and a minute or so ahead of Alex, in an unbelievable time of 4:58:45 on my stopwatch. The official time was a bit less given the position of the start timing mat. I was over the moon! I had far exceeded my expectations, and my day had gone almost perfectly. I had no injuries, unlike some people who had clearly fallen, and I had clearly been well prepared.

3 lads and beer
Me, Karl and Alex with a finish line beer

Faced with having achieved a sub 5 hour Six Foot Track marathon time, I now have to reassess my targets for the next two events – the Canberra Marathon, and The North Face 100… ¬†perhaps 3:30, and sub 14 hours are both possible…. who knows.

https://www.strava.com/activities/267818919/overview

Alpine Challenge 100km Race Report

Having attended the race briefing the evening before with Mick (Lisa’s dad) we returned up the mountain to the cabin to make the final kit preparations. We had stopped in Albury on the way past for some pasta for lunch so I didn’t feel any need to stock up on any further large quantities of carbs as many at the briefing were doing. I had been eating carbs for much of the last week. Race weight a smidge over 95 kgs.

At the startline 0400
At the startline 0400

Lisa, Mick and I arrived at the startline in Bogong Village a little early and watched as people started to trickle into the starting area outside Jacks’ Tavern.

Alpine Challenge 100km Route

Start to Warby Corner (17 km)

We checked into the start pen and when 0430 hrs came around a voice called out a countdown and about 80 or so of us ran up the road into the darkness. There was little chat amongst the group as we were immediately into the first ascent up Spion Kopje and the first stage up to Warby Corner Р1200 m of ascent over 17 km.

On the go at dark o'clock
On the go at dark o’clock

It was apparent everyone one was pretty tense, probably, like me, trying to think about what the day had to offer whilst managing their efforts on the first climb, which amounted to 25% of the day’s overall ascent.

Progressing through the dead treeline
Progressing through the dead treeline

Progress up the climb was steady as the field stretched out. I wasn’t worrying about setting any records, just focusing on not expending too much energy too early on, getting some food in along the way, drinking regularly, before it got too hot. The route took us up on the opposite side of the valley to Falls Creek and at one point I found myself overlooking our accommodation at Howman’s Gap. The treeline was passed through and we emerged out on the top of the High Plains. The trees were all dead and looked very haunting in the early morning light – this was a result of the 2006-7 bushfires that ravaged the area.

Climbing up above Falls Creek
Climbing up above Falls Creek

I had two bottles for energy drinks on my front, and a 2 litre bladder in my backpack for just water. I also had some energy gel portions mixed with water in some additional small bottles which I had used successfully in training. I was also carrying in the pack the mandatory equipment (waterproof top, gloves and trousers, thermal tops and bottoms, first aid kit incl snake bandage, tape etc, food, beanie, EPIRB, hand warmers, maps, compass / GPS, torch and spare batteries!) The hose from my bladder was annoyingly positioned in such a way that it was very difficult to get a drink without almost bending double! When I arrived and checked in at Warby Corner I took a few minutes to route this differently as being unable to drink water for too long was going to cause me issues once I ran out of the liquids in my bottles.

Warby Corner to Mount Bogong (18 km)

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Barry entering the dead treeline
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Ascending Mount Bogong

Having also replenished my water bottles (mixing in the energy powder) and stashing my map in the pack (it was getting very annoying on my front!) I made haste after the guy ahead of me – a 100 miler from Adelaide called Barry. We re-entered the treeline (per photo) and soon found ourselves looking for where the path picked up after a clearing at a hut. It was one of the few course markings they mentioned in the race briefing as being particularly hard to find. With the aid of the GPS route loaded onto my watch (the Garmin 310XT) I found this quite quickly and passed Barry and Dej, another 100 miler who was also looking for the path. I made good progress down the narrow track – shins being battered by the undergrowth as they sweep it out of the way! The narrow track took us down a grade of -10% descending 800 meters over 7 km to the second river crossing of the day – Big River. There were many dangers on this track including many fallen trees and a lot of loose sticks which frequent flicked up catching your feet and threatening to trip you up – which did occur once, causing me to now have a large apple-sized bruise on my right quad! The river crossing was aided by a chain, and whilst the water was a refreshing drink, it was certainly ‘fresh’ on the lower limbs! As I ascended the steep climb (600 m over the initial 3 km) up to Mount Bogong – 900 m over 18 km I was passed by both Barry and Dej who were just leaving the intermediate water and checkpoint at the Cleve Cole Hut.

Cleve Cole Hut and checkpoint
Cleve Cole Hut and checkpoint

With water and energy drinks refilled I set off for the summit. I could see Barry and Dej further up the track once I emerged from the treeline.

Approaching Mount Bogong Summit
Approaching Mount Bogong summit

I continued with a bit of jogging as I went and soon was approaching the summit.

At the summit of Mount Bogong
At the summit of Mount Bogong

Mount Bogong to Warby Corner (19.5 km)

I reached the top feeling pretty good. I had reached the furthest point from the finish and now would be moving ever-closer, in a roundabout kind of way towards the finish. Buoyed by this fact, and a celebratory energy gel I trotted down the other side and soon caught Barry.

Gnarly descent from Mount Bogong
Gnarly descent from Mount Bogong

After¬†a brief chat I pushed ahead and also caught Dej as we traversed a fairly gnarly rocky outcrop. After a further chat with him I also pushed on as momentum was on my side and I was trying to make the most of it as these things (downhills!) don’t last forever.

After descending 700 m in 7.5 km I crossed Big River again – again welcoming the refreshment and taking the opportunity to refill some water bottles. It was a good thing I did as the bulk of the 12 km back to Warby Corner was a long hot road of relentless heat ascending 600 m up a very ‘boring’ track with switchback after switchback…!

Added complications to the track were not appreciated!
Added complications to the track were not appreciated!

Dej passed me again a km or so from Warby Corner. He was able to jog and I had decided not to!

Warby Corner to Cope Hut (14.3 km)

However I was through the checkpoint a bit faster and seeing as it was downhill we jogged the 7 km together down to Watchbed Creek car park where Mick, Jason, Lisa and the girls were waiting for me to arrive! They had a portable charger for my Garmin watch which was lasting the distance, but needed a boost to see it through to the end.

Meeting the support crew at Watchbed Creek with Gatorade and a flask of chicken noodle soup!
Meeting the support crew at Watchbed Creek with Gatorade and a flask of chicken noodle soup!

The advertised duration is 20 hours and I was not certain (when I organised the recharging solution) how long the event would actually take me! I had also requested they heat up some chicken noodle soup and this was available in my flask so after a few small cups of that I set off along the road towards Langfords Gap where they would see me again – only 1.5 km up the road. Unfortunately the suncream had not made it’s way to the support vehicle so the sunburn on the backs of my triceps was beginning to become sore, but this was only remembered by me as I used one arm to assist the other to reach for the buttons on the mp3 player which was on my shoulder – so not too often!

The route flattened out significantly from Langford Gap to Cope Hut so I again interspersed a bit of running between longer bouts of walking. Dej had met his support crew at L Gap and I had set off a few minutes ahead of him from there and was determined to try and stay ahead for as long as possible!

Supporters at Cope Hut
Supporters at Cope Hut

I found a toilet at Cope Hut and took care of a quick bit of business, by which time I could see Dej approaching. I checked in and continued to the car park where the supporters were again waiting – for the last time.

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The state of my feet at Cope Hut, with 30 km still to go!

Perhaps, in hindsight, a bit unnecessarily, I did a complete change of clothes, including socks (which was probably a good idea, although it did slightly disrupt the tape that was stuck to the original pair of socks, having become unstuck from my feet as a result of the 3 river crossings!) I had considered changing trainers (into the relatively new Hokas, but given every time I have run in them the ITB has given me problems, I decided now was not the time to risk it, and left them in the car. Next time…!).

Cope Hut to Pole 333 (8 km)

Change of clothes and still trucking along
Change of clothes and still trucking along

I left the car and the support crew at Cope Hut feeling slightly nauseous – I figured this was likely due to being dehydrated, or having a lack of sufficient nutritional intake, but I forced down the rest of the noodle soup and the feeling only lasted for a few more minutes. The route across the High Plains that we were following was following a line of poles that marked the Australian Alps walking track. These poles are numbered and the Alpine Challenge 100 km follows them from the approach to Mount Bogong to the ‘Pole 333’ checkpoint.

The sun goes down on the hills I saw it rise from
The sun goes down on the hills I saw it rise from

Counting the poles was a necessary way of passing the time as the sun steadily descended in the western skies – that and some more music! I tried ‘101 Running Songs’ but my body didn’t really feel like running anymore. As a result I did get caught by Jackie – a short blonde haired runner who was on the 100 km. We arrived at pole 333 together but I had no reason to hang around and kept moving through towards the finish.

Pole 333 to the finish (25 km)

I found it within myself to shuffle downhill towards Towonga Huts but this had the undesired side effect of tearing my blisters on both heels – great, more pain on already bruised feet!

A few kms past the Towonga Huts Jackie caught me up and passed me. She was in a hurry to meet her husband who was coming from the finish to meet her, and to lend some support through the night time section into the finish. As darkness descended Tarek caught me up – he had called time on his 100 miler ambitions and was pressing on towards the 100km goal. Our pace was similar – well, it was if I bucked my ideas up a little. We stuck together through to the end, for the final 23km or so. The GPS was fantastic as we successfully found gateways and path turns in the darkness. Navigating by torchlight in the Alpine darkness is certainly a bit of a challenge – Tarek was using 1:25,000 scale laminated maps. Even he was happy to have the reassurance of the GPS as we found our way around the cattle yards coming off Mount Fainter!

The final stretch down to the finish saw us descend 1000 m over 15 km. This was generally at a steady 4 – 5% grade meaning it kept us travelling at a steady tilt and we continued to push out sub 10 min/km pace. We caught and passed Jackie, who had her husband by her side. We managed to put 10 minutes into them by the end, so a great result for her, being the first woman to finish!

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Crossing the finishline

We crossed the finish line together in 18:45:15 both pretty happy with our days work. (2315 hrs)

Finished, and happy to be able to finally take the bag off!
Finished, and happy to be able to finally take the bag off!

I returned to the cabin and after a warm shower I had the coldest ‘cold water’ bath I have ever experienced. Lisa warmed up the second chicken noodle soup and I stayed in the bath for as long as it took me to eat it, and two small bags of Salt and Vinegar chips!

My feet were in a fairly sorry state, and if I were to consider going any further, this is an area I would need to address. Most pain is in the mind, but pain from the feet – both from bruising the soles, and from the blisters that materialise as a side effect of running the distance is difficult to ignore!

Alpine Challenge 100 km Results
Alpine Challenge 100 km Results

I’ll certainly be doing another 100 km… I have the goal of completing the North Face 100 in May – which talking to people about that race, compared to this one, should be ‘easy’! I’ll try to ensure I give it the required amount of focus, however, as 100 km is still 100 km – and a challenge is always a challenge! I am still raising money for MS and the links for pages to donate are elsewhere on this blog!

This was a great race but I don’t yet feel the need to come back and try to better my time, or achieve a 100 miler finish… at least not on this course!

Not yet … ūüėČ

Strava Track Log – Alpine Challenge 100 km

Distance: 101.7km

Total Time: 18:45:15

Moving Time: 17:11:12

Pace: 10:09 min/km

Elevation gained: 4530 m

Calories expended: 13,659