THE NORTH FACE 100 2014
|4km done - only 96km to go|
Well, it's finally done. My first 100km race. What an experience.
Before the big day, everyone kept asking “are you excited, are you nervous”. It was hard to answer. In fact, I was actually extremely calm. In days leading up to the run, I was sleeping like a baby. A wise man (hello Gavin) suggested it was because I was ready. Couldn't help but agree. I just felt ready.
The other question I was asked repeatedly was “how long do you think you will take ?” Initially I fudged, eventually I was saying “it's a secret”. In fact I had a clear time in mind, but for a 50 year old bloke running his first 100km run, a 14 hours and something goal is pretty ambitious. However, I do a lot of meditation and visualisation, and the number 14 just kept coming up. The only folks I told were Gavin and the lovely wife Cait, but swore them to secrecy. I didn't want someone to start analysing and picking it apart, and maybe throwing a little doubt in my mind.
Race day started at 4.30am. The alarm went off, and I lay there wide awake. I could have started right there and then. Instead I tip toed into the bathroom to make coffee. Our little room was toasty and warm, but the bathroom was freezing. So I was stoked when putting on the small blow heater the fuse went “BANG” and the light went out. Woo hoo. Way to go. No lights, no heat, no hot water – but fortunately only in the bathroom.
At the start line I was just so relaxed it was scary. It was lovely standing and chatting with Cait. I had read so many ideas about ultra race plans, but to be honest, I just did not care about “the right way to run”. I had a few thoughts, but all I really wanted to do was run run run run run. I had been doing so much effort based training, and when the start came, I just took off and settled into a steady pace. As the day progressed, I didn't spend much time thinking about “saving myself” - I wanted to run at a good pace consistently. If I crashed and burned, I didn't really care. I wanted to be able to finish, look back, and think “I gave it everything”.
Before the race, I had dreaded the section through The Landslide. Not because of its difficulty, but because in training I had encountered others struggling through here. I am so spoilt continually training on technical track close to home. It was a one km stretch where we all just stood waiting, shuffled a few metres, then waited some more. Oh well, just part of the fun. I just relaxed and enjoyed the view. The Landslide is truly an amazing place.
Eventually the trail opened up, and the race was on. It was a nice mix of being passed, and passing others. Everyone was so friendly about it all. The Golden Stairs flew by.
CHECK POINT 1 (Narrowneck). The run along Narrowneck began. It was such a glorious morning, and the views were magnificent. I had already decided that this was a big part of grabbing my dream time. In training I had needed to carry lots of fluid, and it felt great to start with just 1 litre, not the 2.5 I needed when out alone. Just needed to top up at Check Point 1 (11.5 km). It seemed all my land marks flew by. It was a dream run. I had been warned about big delays at Taros Ladders, but there were only a few others, and they scaled the ladders quickly. Awesome. Raced over Mt Debert, down to Medlow Gap, then off to Dunphy's (Check Point 2).
Again, a lovely runnable stretch. I was feeling relaxed. Possibly too relaxed. I began to let out the biggest, loudest, longest set of farts in history. Unfortunately I hadn't heard the foot steps behind, and a voice yelled out “hey, a warning would be nice”. Oops.
The mantra in ultra running is “walk the hills”. However, there are hills, and then there are inclines. I was amazed at how many just stopped running and began a casual stroll. If there was a flat stretch between inclines, this was walked as well. At first I thought “should I walk too”, but realised that my 14 hour goal would turn into 20 hours – so I ran.
CHECK POINT 2 (DUNPHY'S). Dunphy's was its usual beautiful self. I was carrying a small sachet (4 scoops) of TAILWIND, which I dumped into my pack with a litre of water. I had decided to just use TAILWIND as fuel. No solids at all unless necessary. All my calories and electrolytes in liquid form. So far it was working a treat. In the end I ran the entire event using only TAILWIND. Not the slightest bit hungry, no bonking. Not to say I didn't get tired. TAILWIND is not a miracle drug, and it doesn't contain cocaine (I hope not).
Off along Ironpot Ridge for the out and back section. I had walked some of this bushwalking, but not the private property section. I had heard about how lovely this section is, but nothing about how hard the drop off the ridge is. I found it to be a killer. Hard dirt, loose rocks. So steep and slippery. One poor woman was sliding down the rocky trail on her backside and tearing her butt to pieces. She had walking poles, but they seemed useless on the hard ground. I wanted to get past, but chose to leave her to her suffering (and judging by the abuse and screaming she was was definitely suffering) and hung back. My strategy at this point was to line up a tree, fly down the hill, and use it to stop me. At one point I came close to a massive fail and I finished on my knees, hands desperately clinging to a stump, trying not to slip down a 2 metre drop. However, past this section it was, it was indeed lovely. Although not having been along here before, it was a bit of a mental challenge. Where were we going, when does it end ?
Megalong Valley Road finally arrived, and we were just down the hill from the last Check Point at Dunphy's. Bumped into a friend, but we didn't really talk (I was a bit puffed), then I walked the hill like a good little ultra runner. At the top I was good to go, and flew along. Was this smart so early ? Did not care a bit !
CHECK POINT 3 (EUROKA). Hit my first ever Check Point WITH A CREW. People to look after me. I had felt unworthy when Gav offered to crew, but he was so cute when he asked I had to say “yes”. He began by greeting me with “Mandatory gear check for Hi-Vis top and waterproof pants”. Interesting, because water proof pants weren't mandatory and if they were, they weren't required for another 35km. He tells me he said “thermal”, but I heard “waterproof”. After 47km, there is a slight possibility I misheard. In and out in under 2min30sec ! So THAT”S why you have crew ! Now I get it. All my goodies neatly lined up for me. Bek and Gav. What a team. Legends. Although Bek did say “omigod, you are running sub 12 hour finish !” sshhh. That's a long way off. I knew I was pushing it a bit, but was worried about being sucked into crazy mind games that really would make me blow up. The hardest bit was still ahead. I had already done the sums though myself. Was I running too fast ? Did not care a bit !
Huge adrenaline rush for about 5 minutes. Check Points are so exciting after hours of running. Crowds, cheering, Hi Fives, music - then I went flat. Nothing. At this point I just ran without a huge effort, but made sure I was still running. I didn't want to drop into a long time wasting slump. After a while all things came good again and I pushed a bit more. Through the day I experienced a variety of aches and pains – left hip, right little toe, left big toe, cramp in right arm, sore knees. Nothing hung around long. I hit Nellie's Glen pretty happy. I love stairs. Even on tired legs. They make a complete change from running. I climbed them in the same time as training. Yippee.
Between CP3 and CP4 I began to encounter folk who looked like they were struggling. Lots of slow walkers. I began to appreciate that I still felt good. Hitting the big 50km sign and doing it tough would have been an awful feeling. I began to understand why the next check point is a place where people start to drop out.
CHECK POINT 4 (Aquatic Centre). I arrived at the Aquatic Centre where the lovely Cait was waiting. Having crew you can kiss and cuddle is always a bonus. Bek was there too (another kiss and cuddle). So was Gav (firm manly handshake as I recall). Had a bit of gear sorting here, but still out in under 5 minutes. Again, having crew was such a treat. Especially the cuddly kind. I knew that this was where many have thoughts of calling it quits, so it was good to get out fast (because it would have been so lovely to stop a while, chat...start to set...think about stopping...).
The next section was my favourite in training. I find it the most scenic part of the course. At one point, as the sun was dropping below the horizon, I had to stop and watch. Stunning. Made all those steps and stairs worthwhile (sort of). It was also where the light began to fade. I had hoped to pass through here as the sun was setting, and put on my torch after Wentworth Falls. I almost got there, so I was stoked. I am happy to trot along in dim light, but others had already started popping on torches, which meant I had to put mine on too because they were killing my night vision. Quick stop to pop on warm top and Hi-Vis vest as well, so all good.
I hit Check Point 5 in great shape. I could not believe how good I felt. It was such a rush. Made even better by Gav and Bek awaiting me all smiley and cheery. Gav wanted to hustle me through, but I needed to take stock here. I needed to swap my crunchy dirty socks for fresh ones. Lots of small stones. Did I need new shoes? no. Did I want to swap shirts ? no. I was damp, but did I want to strip down ? no. too cold. I did need my thermal pants. With everyone looking on I happily dropped my trousers. Hello lovely ladies. Just on 5 minutes here. On with my fleece as well then off down Kedumba.
Kedumba. The hill down here killed me. I had run it happily in training, but that was with 20km in the legs. I had 80km now, and I just wasn't as in control as I would normally be. It hurt. It wasn't pretty. At the bottom I hit the flat, set myself to run, but...pffft. A pathetic shuffly effort. I was able to push, lengthen my stride, but then another up or down would arrive and it was back to square one (square one being the pathetic shuffly effort).
All day long I had experienced flat spots, but these were short lived and just a simple fatigue. They passed. This was different. This was hurt. I was nowhere near stopping, but just not able to crank it up. It was too stop and start. I ran all the flats as best I could, and was still walking hard up hills, but even the slightest incline hit me hard. What was easy at 8.00 am was impossible now. I had some crap in my shoe, but when I tried to bend down to remove it I lost balance and nearly fell over. I had several attempts with the same result, and eventually gave up. If I got a blister, who cared. I didn't.
The race organisers had kindly placed cement blocks across the two creek crossings. Maybe on another day I would have skipped across, but tonight they seemed metres apart, and I nearly had a lovely swim several times. I could have splashed through the water, but didn't want to risk the effect of the cold water. Cramping and hypothermia anyone ?
Was I down ? NO ! This was something I had read about, something I had talked about, something I had thought about, something I had trained for. I was NOT going to limp in a 20 hour effort. I was loving it. I am sure that the elites live in a world with it's own rules. You finish in daylight, everyone runs the whole time, and then you're done. I was discovering I am a mid packer. After a while, it is a world of darkness, silence, solitude. No speaking. Small zombie groups climb a hill in darkness without a sound except crunching footsteps. At the top there is a moment, until someone starts a slow trot, then everyone slowly starts as well. As you pass a walker, there is a mumble of “well done”. You recognise other runners by their shoes in pools of light. No one sees faces. My friend Eric apparently passed me along here, but I had no idea.
I must confess that I passed the 91km aid station and began to tear up. From here I could finish with a broken leg. It felt so good. I climbed up to the Federal Pass and proceeded to stumble and trip the final stretch. At one point I was so tired I nearly fell into a small stream and had to drop to my hands to cross it. I just coulkd not make the tiny jump required. At 98km I passed a fellow leaning against a tree making a horrible noise. “Are you OK ?” I asked. He mumbled “fine. I am just...so..tired”. I left him to his suffering and hit Furber Steps. I felt so sorry for folks who hate stairs. I cruised them happily – even the bit where I was tempted to crawl on all fours.
Suddenly the finish line appeared as a big pool of light around the corner. I took a moment in the darkness to savour the feeling. People say running 100km changes life forever. It takes you to a place way beyond what is normal, way beyond what is comfortable. Maybe that's not for everyone, but some of us need to visit this place. I enjoyed this moment, then rounded the corner to the final stretch. The lovely Cait was there, all smiles and happiness as usual. I could have just stopped there but she yelled “go and finish”. Good idea. It's not actually The North Face 99.99. Suddenly it was done.
It was great to cuddle the lovely Cait, hug and hi five all my friends at the finish, thank my crew again and again and again, and start downing a big chocolate milk. Suddenly, though, the cold hit me like a ton of bricks. I stripped off and put on dry, warm clothes, but no real difference. I began shaking and thank goodness someone had a blanket for me and we could hustle inside into the warm. Even after a warm car ride back to the hotel and a hot shower and extra layers and being snuggled up in bed I was still shivering (and still drinking chocolate milk).
15 hours 21 minutes. Not 14 something as I hoped – but did I care. Not even a teeny tiny little bit (and take away the road block through the Landslide and it might have been easy – that's what I tell myself). I had spent all day running as hard as I could, and I had done exactly what I had hoped to do. I was a very happy little ultra runner.