Great Southern Endurance Run 2017

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.

Pre-Race Preparations

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.

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Pre-Race

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.

Race Day(s)

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Trailblazing Soldiers – Me, Byron, Fraser, Scott, Dave & Josh

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!!

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Heading up to Mount Buller with Josh

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.

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Early on the first descent
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The conga line down the mountain

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.

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Looking back towards the start from Mt Howitt – Mt Buller on the left, and the Cross Cut Saw heading off on the right.

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.

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With Scott at CP3 – Upper Howqua

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!

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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!

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Finished – with the bronze belt buckle

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!)

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Great Southern Endurance Run – Strava Link

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!

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GNW100km 2017

I haven’t written a race report for a while so I thought I’d give it a go. This week comes 10 weeks out from my biggest ever challenge – a ‘100 Miler’. I put that in inverted commas because the GSER100 is actually 113 Miles…! 

 The GNW100km

The first change to proceedings was the forest fire at the 15km area of the course meaning that the organisers had to reroute the course. Having burnt participants of a race tends to be bad for repeat business. All credit to them though, the reroute took 3km and 300m from the original 106km and 3600m of ascent, but still a worthy challenge. I completed the original course last year in 16H07 so was gunning for a half hour or so faster, and then another half hour with the saved distance, so ideally something close to 15 hours would be great.

 

 My overall goal for the year is the GSER100 – The Great Southern Endurance Run – 180km / 113 Miles which is coming up in November (17th). This was essentially my longest training run in my build up, so I was looking for a strong performance.

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 I was staying locally to the original start where the pre-start ritual of gear checks, weigh in, and registration took place. We were advised to arrive at 04:30, for a process that took about 6 minutes… and closed at 05:30. So I opted to set the alarm for 04:20 and was ready to run by 05:00. We then had to car pool – a 40 minute drive to the new start, past the burning fire. I was travelling with Scott, and his wife, Kim, who were my support crew. I don’t normally use a support crew, but Scott offered, so I was compelled to ‘trust’ that he would make it to the various checkpoint locations before me. Scott is a good friend, and a good runner, but his timing is not always as military as I would prefer…!  I was marginally nervous and carried a couple of additional gels just in case he missed one. The first one was the most likely to miss as he would be travelling back to the cabin, collecting his wife, checking out, after having breakfast, to return through the start location and on to CP1 – and as the course was shorter, any arrival times to CP1 were educated guesswork.

 The start went off uneventfully as you’d expect. Only about 130 people across the 100km and 100 mile events (known as the ‘100’or the ‘Miler’) – about a 60/40 split. I ran conservatively for a short while but felt good so pushed on up the hill we soon came to and was either keeping pace or passing a few others. I ran alongside some big tall guy called Andy who after a while (so basically when we realised we were running at the same pace up and down hills) we got chatting and he told me about a race he did last year in the Gobi Dessert… multi day stage running race – once in a lifetime definitely, especially the 10k pricetag! There was an out and back section which was 4km down a fire road (unsealed – as they all were since the start) which meant we got to see the leaders. We were a group of 4 at this point, including Mikaela, who was the eventual female Miler winner. After covering 11km, the leaders flew back up the hill past us – approximately 6km ahead – about 1:10 time passed so far!

 Down the hill to the turn was good as my extra mass always assists when gravity is in my favour. (I’m sitting at 95kg at the mo – was 104kg last Christmas but discovered the benefits of a Ketogenic diet (Google it)). Back up the hill leaving 2 behind and continuing to run with Mikaela through to the Jungle section. This consisted of single track technical downhill then along a rocky jungle track – lots of clambering over fallen trees, down and up rocky slopes and general slow going. A few good views over the local wine region later and we arrived along the fire trail we had been on earlier back to Checkpoint 1 at 25km. I arrived in about 3:10 which was about 40 minutes ahead of my expected progress so the support crew were still relaxing and needed to be jolted into action! They filled a couple of bottles – not the bladder from my pack as this hadn’t really been touched yet. I put the High 5 electrolyte tablets into these bottles (750ml soft flasks x2). I grabbed a couple of gels and inhaled a pouch of babyfood – rice pudding for a 6 month old, I think!

 I was out of the checkpoint in 2 minutes and heading down the road alone so popped in the Bluetooth headphones and turned on the audiobook I had on the go – I often train running to these as it helps pass the time. It’s funny when you later run through the same section of track how well you can recall the bit of the story you were listening to the last time you came through that section! I slowed down a bit along this next section. There were not a lot of people around to gauge myself off – and those who were seemed to pass me fairly quickly. Michaela passed me after a few more kms. I ran alongside her again for a little while but didn’t want to push too hard at that point so let her push on. The weather was heating up so once I emerged from the cross country undulating technical descent to the road at 44km I was running short on water. Luckily there was a friendly local who had left a few jugs of water out so I helped myself to another 750ml. At 51km I arrived at CP2. A complete mandatory gear check and the normal water bottle and bladder refill, and food resupply and back on the road in 8 minutes. The next section consisted of two big climbs – think two lumps of 15km up, over and down each. Approaching the next checkpoint there was a 2.5 km out and back – very technical so very slow kms. I saw a few familiar faces coming back towards me so hadn’t obviously slowed too much, relatively speaking.

 I got to CP3 and changed shoes – I had always planned to do this as a practice for the big race. I ate some soup, took on a few more food supplies and headed out from there with the head torch ready – and turned it on as the dimness within the trees and the gully got darker, as the evening drew in. The last section was one big lump then a 11km run to the finish, along a sealed road. No one passed me during the whole last section and I switched from the audiobook to music to keep the rhythm in my step…! I hit the road and had memories of feeling good at this time last year, but the wheels came off and I ended up walking much of the last section – but that was last year and this year I was feeling pretty strong. I ran through the last 11km only walking the inclines. At one point I thought there was a torch on the road behind me, and that got me running the last 5km without looking back!

 I had a target of 15 hours with all things being equal, and came home in 14 hours 23 minutes. I was very happy with that, and am feeling strong and well prepared for the main event, coming up soon. That race report is due towards the end of November and will be a whole lot longer…!

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. 😦

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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 – awesome!

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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 – awesome!

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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!