The Back Story
This particular running project started on 12th October 2016, when my application to run in this inaugural event was submitted, and promptly acknowledged. On 11th November 2016 it was accepted and I paid almost immediately to confirm my place. I later learned that I could have waited on this for a good number of months, as some friends of mine did, and this caused me some angst as I doubted myself over a few months, that I had wasted 50% of the entry fee – the non-refundable part.
The next year towards the race went a bit like this. I, along with a few fellow running buddies, explored the world of Ketosis, and after 1 Jan 2017 I undertook my first transformation into this nutritional state… starting weight 104kg.
I trained, following the normal Hanny Allston UTA 100km training program to ramp up to the Buffalo Stampede. I got there weighing 95kgs and feeling great. Had a good race, but not quite beating last year – but this year was a good load hotter, so I took it as a good result.
I went to the UK and didn’t really train for 3 weeks, got sick upon my return for 2 more, so by UTA opted to volunteer rather than race, and had a ball doing so too!
I dipped into Ketosis a bit more through the period prior to GNW100k, then with a bit more gusto in the couple of months left before 17 November and the startline. I now weighed 92kgs.
We drove to Mount Buller via a motel in Goulburn on Wednesday and Thursday – that is 3 Dave B’s and a Scott. (Dave Bennie, Dave Beardy – Bennie’s support crew, me, and Scott.) We arrived easily mid afternoon in light rain and squally winds.
We found Byron, Bec and baby Lily, and not far behind us were Josh and his brother Aaron, who were carrying my checkpoint bags. They arrived and we all headed over to the hall for check in of checkpoint bags, and check of mandatory gear. This went smoothly for everyone, give or take the retrival of missed kit from the merchandise table (buff), the car (torch) and other people! We returned to the house and prepared to have dinner before heading for the race briefing at 7:30pm. There was a bit of a queue for the microwave, which being only 700W was taking it’s time to warm up everyone’s pasta. I did eat, probably too much, a bit later than usual at about 7pm.
The briefing was important as there were a couple of course modifications. The weather was not looking too rosy with some thunderstorms likely to appear, particularly in the afternoons. Sean did ask who had not done a 100 Miler before, to which a good proportion of the room raised their hand. Was it me or were there also a few sniggers…?! He promptly went on to tell us that this was, on paper, one of the 5 toughest Milers in the world, and certainly the toughest in the Southern Hemisphere – hence the name.
After the token picture in our race t-shirts we retired after a little bit more kit and foot preparation to what was always going to be a restless pre-race sleep.
I slept pretty well, and woke up a couple of minutes before the 3:30am alarm call. The normal pre-long run routine of toilet, breakfast, toilet, general lubing up of all moving parts, especially feet. We headed down to the square, in the light rain, to get fitted with our GPS tracker, via which we were able to be tracked by the organisers, for safety, and by anyone with the link, to make the event wholly very entertaining for those not here on the ground. It also assisted those crew with a runner to ensure they were expecting their runner when they eventually arrived at the checkpoint!
5am came and off we all went. Some amusing comments to break the tension – like complaining about tired legs after 150m etc… running humour!!
The group of runners, and the group of Trailblazers stretched out as we followed the course up the roads and then tracks through the town, then onto the short climb to the summit – where the wind was whipping around – I was glad I kept the waterproof on over the TB cycling shirt.
The course veered across a few ski runs and into the technical descent. This was rocky and not overly runable, especially as there were many people bunched up together. I took off the waterproof at a quieter moment (and promptly stopped the stopwatch by mistake, only realising after about 800m – 5 minutes). Josh snapped a pole just behind me and he promptly went into panicmode as he worked out what he needed to do. Fortunately I had chosen to keep the poles stowed until the first proper ascent up 8 mile spur. I had cycling gloves on my hands so used the surroundings to keep me upright and on the trail when required.
The descent was single track all the way down meaning you could not stretch out the legs much as there was usually someone to follow. The scrub was also quite tight so when there wasn’t anyone to follow the thinking time to spot the path made you slow down somewhat – all of which was useful to ensure energy was kept in the tank for later in the race. My goal had been to be light and loose on the way down, and arrive at the checkpoint at the bottom as if I had only just begun. I crossed the river with Josh, who had caught up, and we ran into CP1 – Gardiners Hut, and promptly out again, after a quick bottle top up.
The course followed the Howqua river up the valley for a good few kms which was easy leg stretching running, but always wondering at which point you would turn and head up the surrounding hillside. This point eventually came, and I had lost touch with Josh by this point, which was fine, as I was trying at this early stage to run within myself. So far so good.
The climb up 8 Mile Spur was a tough one. I couldn’t get a move on – lots of people passed me and I was feeling pretty lethargic. I kept plugging away, then after about 40 minutes, and on the first slightly flatter area I had a sudden gut issue, which meant a slight detour to administer to the need was required. I realised that this issue was likely a result of eating late, and slightly too much the night before, but having taken a short enforced break, and now on a slightly flatter section for a while my outlook improved, and I no longer was doubting myself – the only time I recall doubting my ability to go the distance in the whole race.
I felt good approaching the top of the Bluff, picking my way up the rocks as we crested onto the plateau, and into the full force of the storm that awaited. Hail pelted down and visability was right down to about 20 meters, making picking out the next marker and the direction off the top a little challenging. As I glanced down the Bluff to those coming up I noticed the TB shirt of Scott not far behind, so figuring he’d catch me soon I took off… in the wrong direction. I corrected myself fairly quickly, but due to the visability I was not 100% sure that Scott was still behind! I pressed on into the squall catching a few of those ahead, keeping warm through the generation of my own body heat, and trying to get some food in. It’s hard to climb and eat, and breathe all at once, so you use the flatter ground to fix the nutrition hole. I was aiming for about 100 calories an hour given my adaption to Ketosis. I should have plenty of fat fuel so eating any of that was unnecessary, so I only needed to replace the glycogen – so 1 gel, or a half packet of shotbloks was all that was needed. So far so good.
Then I got cramp! Possibly due to the change in temperature, speed, or nutrition. I had also run out of water so had likely been conserving what I did have for a while. I was carrying a 2 litre bladder of water only, and 2 x 750ml bottles with High 5 Zero tablets dissolved within. The next water point was not far away – the tank at Bluff Hut, so I wasn’t going to panic. I just needed to relax my stride and keep moving, and not pull anything! I dry-swallowed a couple of salt tablets, and once the cramp subsided I continued on. I couldn’t recognise anyone I could now see across the plateau either ahead or behind me as everyone was zipped up within their waterproofs!
On my arms, when they were visible I had put some temporary tattoos with my target timings, distances, cut-offs and section distances, on my left, and the course profile, with distances and elevation of key points also called out, on my right. These were very useful – the profile, and key point elevation / dist more so than the other. Mentally I could easily read the elevation of the top of the climb, and knowing my watch gave me the elevation currently I would know how far I had to go on to the top.
I refilled at Bluff Hut, and from here it was a comfortable job down the 4wd track and on to CP3 – Upper Howqua. Here was the first opportunity to see any crews, and I saw Beardy and Aaron awaiting Dave. Josh had been through a while ahead of me. No sign of Scott, who it turns out appeared only a few minutes after I left. I didn’t hang around – refilled the water bottles and bladder, stuffed down some cake, loaded up with the fuel from my drop bag, and headed off in the rain.
This section again, like leaving CP1, was vaguely flat and runnable for a good few kms before heading heavenwards and ultimate topping out above the treeline at Mt Howitt. The climb went well for me – better than the last one, by far, and I was catching a few folk ahead. They had picked up pacers so we took a few photos on the summit, in the sunshine, and proceeded to cruise along the open track across the Cross Cut Saw. For me this was more like what I had hoped the whole run would be like.
The track was undulating and there were a few moments that it all got very slow over Mt Buggery, and through Horrible Gap. As the next thunderstorm hit I was coming off Mt Speculation and looking for the checkpoint – a little 300m double back as I thought a group of tents might have been it, having dismissed them as I passed. They directed me 5 minutes down the track, so with my hood up I headed down the track and soon found everyone sheltering under the three 3×3 shelters. I found my dropbag, retrieved the gear I wanted, and noticed Scott arriving.
We filled our bottles and bladders before heading out together, with the agreement we’d go overnight together as the next section was pretty daunting.
Mount Despair was first, followed by the crawl through the bush to the Viking. Despair was another trudge, trying not to work too hard, then as daylight faded we pushed through the undergrowth towards the Viking. This section was one of the most challenging from an ability to cover the ground point of view – it was very close, very twisty, lots of logs to go over, under and around. It was great to get above the treeline as things cleared out and enabled a bit of a faster pace, but all too soon we were back into the thick of it. Only when we got high enough out of the undergrowth going up Viking did we realise we were getting close.
As we got to within 100 vertical meters from the summit, the ladder that had been mentioned in the briefing appeared. It was a aluminium cable ladder stretching up a narrow rock gully with an awkward branch at the top, which made negotiating the obstacle pretty awkward, especially with a pack. I headed up, followed closely by Scott, and we clambered over a few more rocks to make it to the summit.
The GPS suggested heading over the far side and onwards, so we followed the familiar triangular mark on the watch face and soon picked up the tape. The descent was quick, but steep in places requiring some careful attention so as not to slip and suffer an injury. I’d already had a branch rather painfully poke me in the right ear, and caused an unstable rock to fall on my left foot, but neither seemed to be causing me any issues.
At the bottom of the descent we hit a fire trail and soon Barry’s Saddle and a rather filthy tank. We didn’t need any water so passed on by.
I had developed some raw sores on my lower back which with my pack on my back made running extremely painful. A mixture of not reapplying Bodyglide and having things bouncing in my jersey pockets may have been the cause.
Scott was keen to press on together but I was less keen to run with the back issue causing me so much pain – after some protesting I convinced him to go – especially as it was firetrail through to the next checkpoint.
South Buffalo Road was next and I had planned a clothing change. I changed the jersey and surprised the medic with the state of sores on my hips, and under my arms. I smeared on some lanolin and continued, opting not to change the shoes. Scott had been just getting up after a power nap (30 minutes) and as it was not quite daylight yet I thought it would be beneficial to try and grab 20 minutes myself. Just as I got my shoes off and lay down I heard a small group of runners arrive and decided I couldn’t sleep with their noise so got up – decided to change my shoes after all, but failed to put the lanolin on my feet (as I had planned to).
On the long road to South Selwyn I experimented with tying my rolled up fleece around my midriff to prevent the bag from rubbing, and this meant I could also run some more. Looking at my heart rate throughout the run, it was at this point that the average hiked 20 beats and this was maintained until the end. Running was comfortable again it just took me 2 hours to work out a solution!
I got stuck into my audiobook (Mark Greaney – The Gray Man) now I was running on my own and the going was pretty good. Dawn had broken and I appeared to be making good progress.
After Selwyn Creek Road and seeing Josh resting up, retired hurt, in the medical tent I pressed on towards the next section and towards the track to The Twins. I left the fire trail following the tapes again through the Alpine scrub, with the liberal scattering of fallen white trees across the path making going very slow. At one point I lost the next tape whilst negotiating a few trees and ended up thinking I was going forward, but instead I was backtracking! I popped out on the fire trail, headed up the track and only at the turn off to Mount Murray did I realise my mistake! I had a very tired and confused and now very annoyed brain!
I wasted an hour, and was now second guessing all my navigation decisions! The trail was slow going all the way through the Barry Mountains then, just as I thought I was getting closer to The Twins there was a deep dip between me and my goal! It had also started raining pretty hard. I soldiered on down the step descent and up the climb to the Twins – the rain had turned sideways as the morning storm rolled through. I didn’t stick around on top for long as I was concious of hyperthermia setting in!
I descended quickly to the Mount St Bernard checkpoint and by the time I arrived the weather had cleared and it was lovely and sunny.
I left the checkpoint with High5 Zero and Tailwind combined in my bottles as the checkpoint had put Tailwind in the same container every other checkpoint had put the water! I took off up the road and in order to maintain my sanity I thought I would check in with home and phoned Lisa and the girls.
The route continued up the road up to Mount Hotham following the yellow line – and after a while I found myself starting to struggle to stay awake. The constant tap tap tapping of the poles on the tarmac, the warmth of the sun, and the rather boring terrain was not helping stimulate my mind!
I paused for 10 minutes at the Blowhard Hut – I left my pack outside, so the GPS didn’t lose it’s position, and lay on the floor inside for a powernap. As I was still quite wet from the soaking on top of The Twins I actually got cold before I fell asleep so, again, without any sleep I got going back up the road to the next hut, and the Bon Accord Spur.
There was quite a bit if low cloud in the valleys so it wasn’t possible to see all the way to where the route was heading, but once I’d adjusted my shoes and my fleece padding around the sores, I started out down the track. Moving was going well considering – apart from the rather sore left foot. The top of my foot felt like I had cramp – it was seizing up and preventing me from flexing my foot. A few tablets – 2 panadol, 1 bruphen, 2 salt and some water, later, I was feeling pretty good and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the run into Harrietville. The track swept along the Washington Creek for a good few kms – a smooth track which meant I arrived into the checkpoint at Harrietville without needing my headtorch. I found the checkpoint bag, resupplied my gear, didn’t change my shoes, into the Hokas, (I was in Altra’s at that point) and messaged the rest of the Trailblazers gang – and discovered they were en route to see me – so I waited for a few minutes until they arrived!
I left there at about 8:45pm and was hopeful that I would get to Bright in the small hours of the morning – 2 or 3am. On the way out of Harrietville I could have sworn I saw some kids hanging out of a few trees – and so began a long night of hallucinations, micro sleeps and some very sort feet.
The last section was 35 km and the first few were good. It was on a tarmac lane which climbed steadily through some farms and around other houses. Then it changed into a 4wd track and the surface, whilst not particularly rough, it was littered with rocks, so took a lot of concentration to try and pick out the easiest course to run. The ground, and the earlier rains, which soaked my feet, after not waterproofing them earlier in the morning now meant they were white, marble and soft, so under the front of the right foot, I developed some painful blisters.
Honestly I got so bored during this last section. I’d lost sight of the runners I had passed on the way up the hill, on the road, and every section of uphill or downhill looked the same. At one point I had to check my watch’s GPS track to ensure I was not retracing my steps! With 10km to go there was a water drop, as promised (thanks Sean) and I topped off what I had used from my bottles, before pressing on. Progress was very slow – I recall seeing a good number of people standing at the side of the track – who after much closer examination turned out to be just shrubs and trees!
I must have looked like a drunk as at times when I was struggling to stay awake and meandering from one side of the path to the other. With 7 km to go I had to stop and pop those blisters. With some surprising presence of mind I remembered the pin holding my race number to my number belt. I poked it into the blisters on my right foot, meaning the pain was still there, but the pressure was not, so some slight relief.
I went slowly down the track until at last I got to a road of tarmac!! I could finally try and make some progress – but not really – who was I kidding! Times at this point didn’t really matter. I was going to make it – I had no choice. It was just a question of being stubborn enough to keep going. Every step forward was a step closer to the finish!
One road led to another, and eventually I reached the outskirts of Bright, and I followed a rather confusing network of paths, arrows, GPX tracks and familiar-looking ground until I finally arrived at the finishline!
I was met by some of the other Trailblazers and spent some time sitting and taking it all in. What a night that had been, but what a result – I had done it – my first ‘100 Miler’. Who would have thought that would be something I’d actually be able to say a few years ago.
My watch had me at close to 195km – given a bit of going backwards and forwards, and one km lost when I stopped the watch at the beginning, it all added up to an almighty long way, and at 48 hours plus, it had taken a very long time – with no sleep (that mattered!)
Will I be back – maybe… There are many other 100 Milers to get under my belt. I’d like to get GNW100Miler, and revisit my first ultra – the Alpine Challenge, doing the 100 Miler, as I did the 100 km last time (2014).
As I finish this epic race report I have an appointment with the nuclear medicine center to have a bone scan of my left foot. It is still swollen 10 days later, with some significant pain still present. Everything else, physically seems to be back to normal – mentally… we’ll see!