Cast of characters
Rob – a fool
the lovely Cait – sexy wife who patiently tolerates my madness
Berowra Bush Runners – bunch of loonies who run around a lot and pop up everywhere
Jeff – a much better runner than Rob. Master Sandbagger.
Karin – crazy running lady
Antony - a good Samaritan
Antony - a good Samaritan
Bek – friend and manager of Pinnacles turnaround checkpoint station. Bit bossy, bit cute.
Owen - pint sized Bush Runner known for kicking my shins
Owen - pint sized Bush Runner known for kicking my shins
Beth – Legend
Location - Blackheath
“Some of you may be wondering why it’s called the Hounslow Classic when the race is staged in the Blue Mountains town of Blackheath. Well true to race director, Sean Greenhill’s geekiness and fondness for early Australian explorer history, the race is named after the fact that Blackheath was formerly known as Hounslow. Following European settlement of Australia and after crossing the Blue Mountains in 1815 and returning from Bathurst, Governor Lachlan Macquarie renamed the settlement as “Black-Heath”, in reference to the colour and texture of the native shrubbery in the area. “
So there you go. Thanks ultra168.com for clarifying that.
Well I guess it's finally time to wrap up this rambling tale of training for The Hounslow Classic with a report on the race itself. So here goes...
Everyone knows that leading into a race, you need to focus, eat well, rest. In a perfect world perhaps, but in my world I had parents being rushed to hospital, car trips back and forth, late night phone calls, stress, poor sleep, and whatever I could shove in my mouth. I had also decided not to drink in the lead up to the run. Great timing. I stuck to it, but I was sorely tempted. This madness continued right up to 3pm Friday. Somehow I managed to give the lovely Cait a big hug and kiss on Friday afternoon, chuck everything in the car, and get away sort of on time. I collected my partner in crime Karin, and hoped I had everything packed.
At Blackheath I tried to make sense of all my crap chucked in the back of the car and sort it into drop bags for the next day. That done, off to dinner with Karin at the Unique Patisserie – a venue that combines pastries and brilliant asian cuisine – go figure. Then it was off to socialise with a bunch of Berowra Bush Runners who were all outlining their impossibly fast race plans. . Except for Jeff moaning something about being lucky to even finish.
Race morning, it was announced that we would need all our bad weather gear, and I could not find it anywhere. I stomped around the car dumping crap all over the ground, swearing as I went. Eventually after emptying the f*%#ing car for the hundreth f$#@ing time, I spied a small bag with my waterproof pants, gloves, thermals and gloves tucked neatly inside where I could find them “easily”.
Calming down, I munched away on ANZAC slice prepared by the lovely Cait. I also had some stashed away in my drop bags for later in the day. Karin kindly pointed out a couple of blonde Canadian beauties with pony tails to chase along the way (a favoured race tactic of mine). I was set for a good day.
|1km down and all good. Only 67km to go.|
Suddenly it was 7am, and we were off. A quick 1km loop of the car park to stretch out the field and let the real runners get out in front, then onto the course proper. I happily let myself get rushed along at a good clip, happy to let the adrenaline and group enthusiasm do its magic and carry me along. I knew we would soon get bunched up and slow down, which is exactly what happened as we trotted down Nellie's Glen and through the Grand Canyon. I let the heart rate and breathing settle. I tried to remember the spot where I always bang my head on an overhang, and found it by banging my head on it yet again, raising my heart beat and breathing as I furiously rubbed the same spot I have rubbed so many times in training.
By now the conga line had grown, and the pace was dropping dramatically as we began descending in a bunch. I picked my moment and passed to the front, then bounced off down the steps. I had loved this bit in training and was eager to stretch the legs.
Prior to the race I had taken all my worst times in training, stuck them all together, and worked out that if all went horribly wrong, it would be a 16 ½ hour day. If all went well, then I was looking at about 13 hours (maybe less). As I trotted along to the first Check Point, the 13 hour option was looking good – but still early days. Something could easily go horribly wrong (and it certainly did). However, at this stage I was cruising along nicely.
I passed Jeff at the base of the stairs up to Govett's Leap. Nothing like a bit of friendly rivalry (“friendly” being defined as I suspect he would have liked to have pushed me over the ledge but there were witnesses.) . As we climbed, it was nice to hear the banter between the runners and normal folk out for a bushwalk. This continued on through the day. All very friendly, and a little bit rock star in places as they clapped and cheered us on.
I arrived at CP1 before 9.45am, nicely under my dream time of 10am. A quick refuel, then off after Jeff who had screamed through the checkpoint. I didn't want him to get too far ahead as I knew he would get away from me on the road section and then I wouldn't be close enough to be an annoying little pest. The situation was nicely resolved by a group of us missing the turn off to Pulpit Rock, and we all had to troop back with our heads hung in shame.
At Pulpit Rock we did a liitle loop around the look out as we always do in these events because Race Directors are seemingly obsessed with adding these bits. Jeff grumbled about the extra 200m in a 68km event, then we hit the open road and he dropped me like a hot turd as I knew he would. I had my plan though, it was all going well, and I willingly let him go. I had no hope of keeping up on the road and I had to keep something in the tank. I was pretty sure I would catch him later and remind him that I was right behind and drive him nuts. Love those mind games.
The heat was building nicely, but I had plenty of fluids on board, so just coasted along sipping and enjoying the flat road to Perry's Lookdown and setting myself up fo the double valley crossing.. This was made much easier by catching up with one of the Canadian girls – drop dead gorgeous and friendly to boot. We ran and chatted and I wished I was 30 years younger, single, and looked like Brad Pitt. Or just fast enough to keep up.
|photo from Hounslow Classic Facebook page. Anyone wanting credit just let me know.|
Raced through the Perry's check point. Some lovely waratahs were in full bloom. The heat was really kicking in as I descended, and took time to cool my head in the creek at the bottom. Then it was time for the first big climb. Woo hoo ! I looked up and repeated my mantra “I love hills” then set off. Along the way it became apparent that some runners had little idea about the course, wondering where the top was (oh still so far...). Some were running out of water. The lead runners were beginning to come screaming down the hill like gazelles. Beth Cardelli (first female) came bouncing past looking completely at ease, with not another female anywhere in sight. Before today I had had my doubts about an “out and back” course, but was to discover how nice it was to meet runners passing in the opposite direction. It went from being a minus to a plus. I caught up my Canadian friend, who then tagged along behind. I think she mentioned something about wanting to hang onto me and cry, which I had no problems with in the slightest. I encountered a group sitting with a runner who had fainted and fallen, and were awaiting medical assistance. A bugger of a way for the day to unfold for both the runner and those remaining to help well done Antony). He probably just need a cup of tea, a good lie down, and a salt tablet, but you can't just pass by and ignore someone down for the count. He later walked out and all was well, but it was a hassle for those remaining with him. Well done those runners. You are champions.
Reaching the top, it was a nice 3.5km run to the turnaround point. Bek was in charge of the aid station (no surprise) and I gave her a great big sweaty kiss. Jeff was there, but he didn't get a kiss – only a reminder that I was right behind him just in case he hadn't noticed. He tore off again to escape my cheeriness. I was in no hurry though. Half way and I was feeling sensationally good. Just a tick off my 13 hour plan, and I felt like I still had a full tank of fuel. As I chatted with Bek and got sorted, an enormous crack of thunder signalled the arrival of a big storm. Making sure my rain jacket was handy, I headed out for the return journey. This is a most beautiful and spectacular part of the world, and watching a huge electrical storm develop made it even more so.
|at The Pinnacles turnaround. Halfway there. Got a nice hug from Owen instead of a kick in the shin. Appreciated|
About 500m out from the check point, I somehow clipped my right foot on a rock. I didn't fall, but immediately thought “broken toe”. The pain was excruciating, and it took me about 1km to get my hobble into some semblance of a run. I was concentrating hard on getting my feet up higher, as the rain began and the storm crashed around me. I was debating the pros and cons of putting on my jacket when thunder boomed very close. Distracted for a moment, my foot suddenly exploded with pain and I was falling.
I am particulary skilled at falling. Years of water skiing have left me able to fall, tuck and roll, and bounce up with a few scrapes. This works a treat on flat ground, but today the left side of my head smashed into a protruding rock. A splitting pain filled my skull. I stood up and felt the side of my head, and my ear was about three times its normal size. There was blood everywhere and I felt the beginnings of shock set in as I became worried that maybe I had torn half my ear off. I quickly realized that the blood was actually from my hands (oh lucky me). As I limped along, I did a “top to toe” assessment like any good First Aider would. Starting at the top, I knew I was mildly concussed. As I began to run (shuffle, hobble) I was having trouble co-ordinating my movements and I had a head ache. Continuing down, the left hand cut up, right wrist sprained, left knee scraped to buggery. I already knew about the toe. Totally screwed.
At this point I had my doubts about finishing, but I knew that if I returned to the turn around then it would definitely be game over, and I was reluctant to make that call just yet. I figured that if I managed another valley crossing, I would have a clearer idea about the state I was in (that's how concussed people think). So I popped on my rain jacket, and wobbled on as the rain began to pelt down and the storm cracked all around. I soon discovered that I had completely lost the ability to generate any kind of pace. It was like my body was turning down the power. This was definitely turning into one epic adventure.
The descent down to the creek confirmed that my co-ordination had gone to shit. I just couldn't make my foot land where I wanted it. I was actually looking forward to the big climb, as uphill progress would be easier to manage – and so it proved. I was far more in control on the ascent. Not that it was easy – it was gruelling stuff, but in my own perverse way I quite enjoyed it and had a moment. It was hard to believe that I was passing people.
Amazingly, I was still on track for a 13 hour finish. I had set aside an hour for the climb up to Perry's, and I was in no rush – which was good because I was getting slower and slower. I was beginning to realize that I had also landed on my hip, and the swelling was reducing the power in my leg. On a good day I would have arrived fit and fresh and ready to run, but today I limped into the aid station. Lots of wonderful people raced, over all keen and eager to get me food and drink, but I had decided that I needed to chat to a medic before progressing. They were keen to look at my elbow which I couldn't understand until they pointed out all the blood on my shirt. Oh look, another little boo boo I hadn't even noticed. Look at that big chunk of skin hanging off my elbow. I had to explain that I was actually more worried about my head. There were lots of impressive “oohs” and “aahs” when they saw my big fat black elephant ear, and began assessing me.
They were very worried about my headache (as was I). It had been a screaming 11 out of 10 on impact, reducing to a nice 4/10 throb at this point. They didn't want me to leave unless it diminished somewhat. I was more than happy to oblige. As we sat and chatted, I began to get all cold and shaky (yippee, here comes the delayed shock reaction) so I put on all my warm gear and they wrapped me up in a sleeping bag. At this point I was being cared for by a very friendly girl in an owl onesie. Life is funny. Miss Canada was also there to brighten my day.
By now all those buggers I had spent hours passing were catching me up. It was frustrating, but there was nothing I could do. I was warming up, but still had a sore head. Suddenly the ever enthusiastic Karin arrived, and was reluctant to accept that my day was done. What a star. She began working her charms on the medics. The headache had diminished somewhat, and at the very least I really wanted to get 50km under my belt, so I negotiated with the medics that I would stick with Karin, and if my headache was still lingering at the next check point, then I would finish up. Shrugging off my sleeping bag, and chomping on ANZAC slice, I set off with my crazy buddy.
We walked for a while, then decided to run. At this point my head exploded and I knew I was done. The 8km run to Govett's simply confirmed everything I suspected. I began to get some speed back in the legs, but anything technical and rocky was a huge effort. My toes kept clipping rocks, I was stumbling, and my left leg was beginning to collapse under me when I landed too hard. We did out little loop around the Pulpit Rock lookout and I felt a tearing in my hip. I knew that dropping down into valley for a 4 hour night run would be irresponsible. I stood too good a chance of falling again. At Govett's I headed straight to the medics, pulled the plug, and begged for Panadol. Karin kept encouraging me to continue, but it was over. A few dizzy spells and leg wobbles soon after were ample confirmation. Canada was also in the medic tent, possibly adding to the dizziness and leg wobbles.
|my lovely bruised ear|
I was not at all disappointed at not finishing. Quite the opposite. I was a bloodied concussed mess who had run 50km in about 10 1/2 hours, and I knew that on a different day, I had more than enough in the tank to finish – but today was just not that day.
I hung around the finish area, watching the magic of the tiny twinkling lights as head torches moved around the valley and across the cliff line as runners headed for home. I tried to imagine how awesome it must feel being out there running through the night after working so damned hard, with the end so near. Jeff arrived and couldn't believe that he had been killing himself to stay ahead of me whilst I had been drinking chocky milk, sipping coffee, and munching on Twisties for several hours. He crawled off to sleep in his truck. Eventually Karin arrived, and I reassured her for the hundredth time that I had made the right decision, I didn't have any regrets, and thanked her for getting me past 50km on this amazingly tough course. Maybe next year.
So at last, after all the training and preparation, the big day did not disappoint in the least. It is all about the journey, not the destination, and what a journey. All that was left now was to drive home to where a hot shower (ouch ouch stingy stingy seriously how much skin is missing and look at that big bruise on my shoulder), a warm comfy bed, and the lovely Cait awaited.