Thursday, 15 September 2016

GNW 100 Miler 2016

Attempting to run 100 miles.  Oh my word !  What an experience.  Need to get it all down before it begins to fade away, but as I keep having flashbacks I suspect I will be adding bits and pieces and editing constantly.  Not to mention people reminding me of stuff I had completely forgotten.

It is hard to know where to begin because it involves work, training, preparation, planning, and of course the event itself.  Here is my attempt to make some sense of it all.

Of course I should start by saying that I didn't complete 100 miles.  I reached 132.9km at Check Point 5 (Somersby School) and that was fine by me.  Like getting a pass mark on a difficult assignment, and next time I will do better.

I had pretty much decided to take on this challenge late last year.  However changing jobs early 2016 proved way more difficult than anticipated.  I began thinking I would be better off attempting the 100km event (something Gavin Markey kindly talked me out of).  Added time commuting, trying to mix running and riding home by bike, changing shifts, and other elements conspired to leave me pretty much exhausted by weeks end. No long runs after work.  In fact I ultimately dropped running through the week and relied on my bike riding to maintain fitness, as well as keeping leg strength.  I had to completely rethink how I usually trained.  Sleep became a huge priority.  I did stick to my major rules though.  Keep a good base, build steadily as the time approached, keep the wife happy (which meant becoming more creative and flexible with my week end runs)However, a major plus was being able to take Friday off, and a week to recover (which I am currently enjoying).  The lovely Cait and I cruised up to Warner's Bay with Bon Jovi blasting and me icing niggles on a foot and a knee (both of which disappeared as soon as I started so shouldn't have bothered)We were pleasantly surprised by our accommodation with views over Lake Macquarie.  We wandered along the Warner's Bay Esplanade to check out dinner options, and decided on a funky Mediterranean restaurant.  Weird, as I had been having cravings for Lebanese food all week and many of the options were similar.  Took it as a good sign.  We made a booking for 7pm, grabbed some beer and wine, and headed back to the motel to chill.

Possibly other runners would have been in bed by 7, but we sat back, sipped on beers and wine as the sun went down, and watched a bunch of cars arrive filled with skinny people unloading running vests and drop bags.  It was obvious they were here for the same thing as us. 

Dinner was awesomely good.  The lovely Cait had put so much time and effort into supporting me, and it was nice to pretend that we were simply here having a relaxing romantic break at a lovely restaurant in a lovely water setting (until the alarm rang at 4.00 am tomorrow shattering that illusion).  I polished off most of what Cait couldn't finish.  I suspected any extra calories might come in handy tomorrow.  Returning from the restaurant it semed everyone had  gone to bed.  I would have just lay awake for hours so no point.  I was way too excited to sleep.

Back at the motel room, the romance of the weekend continued as I mixed my drink bottles, sorted out my drop bags, laid out my running gear (including treasured racing undies), made a coffee for the thermos, rechecked my mandatory gear (again), rechecked my drop bags (again), set my alarm for 4, and made sure my vaseline and band aids were easily accessible in the morning.  All those things that bring a couple closer together.  I posted pictures of my running kit on facebook and my undies sent social media into a meltdown.  Eventually I turned off the phone, closed my eyes and went nigh nighs.

I woke up at 3.30, and bounced out of bed soon after.  I always sleep so well before these things, and get up easy.  This is why I work with kids (I still am one).  Applied copious amounts of lubricant to prevent chafing before Cait woke up.  She had made me promise to do this before her eyes were open.  She has been scarred by the sight in the past.  Made a second coffee for me, then one for Cait before waking her.  Had a delightful chocolate gel for breakfast.  As she sipped away, she kept calling out the time to me, kept me on track, helped me load the car, then drove me off to the start.  What a wife.

The obligatory photo - now let the games begin

Before leaving home I was 60kg.  At weigh in I was 63.8kg.  That's what 3 beers, 2 coffees, and plenty of fluids will do to you.  Chucked my drop bags in the big boxes, chatted with other runners, did the obligatory photos.  Suddenly I saw Rebekah Markey with a ridiculous grin on her face, and wondered what was going on.

It was a "THAT GUY" banner for me, because I am "THAT GUY".  I must admit to getting a bit choked up and teary, and probably didn't express how much it meant to me at the time.  I have been a part of the Markey madness for a few years now.  Have you heard the expression "if someone asked you to jump off the Harbour Bridge, would you do it ?"  Well with Gavin Markey the answer has mostly been "yes".  Then he would jump, and I would jump soon after.  However, before jumping, we would both go off and analyse previous jumps, set up spreadsheets, then jump.  We are way too similar.  However, afterwards Gav would probably worry that he could have jumped better, and I would write an amusing blog post about jumping off a silly big bridge.  He has been a constant source of both inspiration, amusement, and bemusement for a while now - but this time we were holding hands and jumping together, and they had made up a wonderful banner to commemorate it.  Thanks guys !  It was actually a great source of motivation at various points along the way.

I stood cuddling the lovely Cait, then suddenly runners began to move off.  For such a monster event, there is so little fanfare.  Love it.

Nothing much to report for the first 17km.  Some road, some trail, some climbing.  Just after Wakefield I diverted off track and disposed of the extra 3 kg of fluids I had consumed over the past 24 hours and trotted on contentedly.  I reached 17km (Heaton Gap) and the road crossing.  Everyone else lined up to desperately cross the road, but I found the tap for a drink instead.  In training I had discovered that I always drank too little, usually resulting in a whopping great headache and drinking litres of water afterwards. I was not going to sabotage myself so early on, so went off to have a drink..  

After the steep climb (not nearly as bad as people say) I caught up with Eric Burgess.  We ran and chatted a while, then headed into the rain forest together.  I let him go ahead as I really wanted to enjoy this bit and was in no rush.  I have read so many reports about people not enjoying this section, but I love it.  Probably the bush walker in me.  I did scrape my knee, and used my cap to wipe the blood away.  Eric and I were together a lot in this section chatting away, but he pulled ahead on a steep climb.  Eventually I thought I was catching him up, but it was other runners instead.  He had chucked a left instead of a right and disappeared into the wilderness.  Which is why this race is a challenge in more ways than one.  There are countess intersections, and so many get muddled.  I hoped he would pick up his mistake quickly.

I reached Check Point 1 to a rousing reception from Markeys Rebekah and Ryleigh, who even got the crowd cheering for me.  The couple I had been running with looked very confused (is "THAT GUY" a star or what !).  A great way to finish the first 30km.  4.5 hours. Had a race plan for fours hours, but slower is better was my plan.  Bek had a freak about all the blood on my head until I explained it was actually my knee.  She and Ryleigh helped me hustle through the check point - new shirt, sunblock, top up supplies, big drink, cuddles, then good to go.  Seven minutes all up. Perfect.  Off I went.  Big thanks to you girls - I was already in a good place, but you made it even better.

I had not run this section before.  I had saved it for a special treat.  I relaxed into it so I could take in some of the views which are amazing.  I passed a big Kiwi bloke in a most fetching short pink running skort.  The lovely Cait hopes I never meet too many sexy ladies out running, and this fellow definitely posed no threat to our marriage.  I passed him so I wouldn't have to follow him up any more steep climbs.

The descent down to Congewoi road was the first of many quadricep busting descents.  I tried to take it easy, but looking back, not easy enough.  I should have just walked.  I was to pay for all these descents later in the day (then night, then next day).  All those little 1% things can add up over 100 miles - and they did.

I arrived at Crawford's Tank, and a big sign saying "Return to Great North Walk".  THAT GUY had missed a turn.  Back tracking (not too far thank goodness) I was glad that it hadn't been too big a boo boo.  Don't follow THAT GUY ! 

Upon reaching the road, I sucked back the last of my fluids.  I had resolved not to reach a checkpoint with anything left to drink as that would mean I wasn't drinking enough.  This 5km road section was pretty warm though, and it was the first time I though "ooh, this is getting hard" - but as this was the 50km mark, not bad going.  The weather this year was extremely kind, and overall I was feeling fantastic. 

The amazing Paul Eveniss was waiting for me at Congewoi Public School (Check Point 2).  I had asked him to pace me after CP4 (100km), but he had declined.  Politely.  He is so English.  I hadn't asked him to crew, yet here he was !  Mentally, it gave me such a huge rush.  Paul, you will never know how good it felt to see you there.  He was racing back and forth getting me drinks, then unpacking my pack for a gear check.  While I just sat there enjoying it all.  Unless you have run 50km and have a man slave fulfilling your every desire as you sit motionless in a plastic chair, you just haven't lived. 

I was at CP2 for thirty one glorious minutes.  I had a long water less stretch ahead, and I wanted to be rested, rehydrated and ready.  I bid Paul farewell and set out again.
50km done.  Only 125km to go. Woo Hoo

Yes I did feel this good !

I had determined not to carry more than 1 litre in my back pack.  It always throws my balance out, and changes my running gait.  This is why I took so long to leave CP2.  I drank extra knowing I would be walking a while and it could all settle, and carried extra out in soft flasks.  I powered up the big climb to the Communications Tower, then set about running, thoroughly rehydrated.

This was easily my best section.  As the sun began setting, I was all systems go.  I had been eating and drinking well all day, taking it easy.  Plenty of TAILWIND, Hammer bars, gels, water.  Along here, it all "clicked".  Head torches came out, and as always, running through the night was such a buzz.  I found a lovely lady to run and chat with for a while, but she dropped off when we hit the rain forest stretch into CP3.  I was blissfully power walk/ running like never before.

CP3 arrived in a burst of voices, lights, music.  A volunteer offered me chicken soup and it was exactly what I needed.  I put on a dry shirt and warm top and felt a million dollars.  The first cup of soup had disappeared, so I had another.  After watching the volunteers in action last year, I was not fussed about organising a crew - and they didn't disappoint.  They found my drop bag and organised food and drink like I was one of the family.  Just brilliant wonderful people.  I was here less than 20 minutes, but it felt like hours.  One aspect of my race plan had been not to leave a CP until I felt I had set myself up for a successful next leg.  I felt ready, and off I set.  Eric was just arriving so it was good to know he was still going and back on track.

I was enjoying this section immensely until the descent down to Cedar Brush Road.  Suddenly the legs were hurting.  I kept telling myself "reach the road" and then it would be a flat run.  However, when I reached the road and began running, it still hurt. 

I had planned on reaching Yarramalong - CP4 (100km) at 10pm.  I was an hour behind that schedule, and stupidly was worried about falling further behind, keeping Steve waiting, and began pushing hard for the first time.  Big mistake.  10km of road running into Yarramalong was not a good idea.  It probably really wasn't a good idea either to push the pace for the last kilometre and sprint finish to get another runner in under 17 hours (it's the pacer in me). 

Dear readers.  At this point, take out a big highlighter marker, underline and draw circles around this bit.  This is the bit where I think I screwed up.  I had not been hurting all day.  I had been feeling great.  Yet here it was hurting, and instead of just walking it in (the smart thing) whilst eating, drinking, recovering, saving myself, I pushed through the pain and buggered everything up.  Sprint finish ? What madness is that ! Apply big slap here.

I eventually reached CP4 where my pacer Steve Deveney was waiting.  When Steve announced that he had dropped out of the 100km event a few weeks back, I had asked him to pace me.  Then when he didn't get back to me, I thought it was his way of saying "no".  Instead, he was waiting for me to confirm.  My fault.  He contacted me again on the evening before the race, we swapped a few details, and we were all good.  Then he and the lovely Cait did all the organising on my behalf.  Again, thanks guys.  Being honest, I was worried about arriving at CP4 totally smashed and telling Steve "thanks for coming all this way now take me home" (instead he had to wait 7.5 hours and walk 30km before the pleasure of my telling him this).

Steve was with me until CP5 (Somersby) a mere 30km away.  He had made all kinds of last minute arrangements to drop his car off and get a ride from CP4 to CP5.  All for me.  What a top bloke.  Good thing I felt chirpy and able to go on.  I got sorted, put on warm gear, had more soup, then we set off with another two runners after some company and guidance.

Every time I had left a check point, there had been a degree of stiffness that had quickly worn off, and I had settled into running and walking quite easily.  This magical feeling failed to reappear after Yarramalong.  I was travelling OK, but finding it hard to get any kind of speed going.  I had been roaring up hills all day, but the first big climb up Bumble Hill, whilst not at all painful, was way slower than at any other point.  I wasn't fussed though, as nothing much was hurting.  However, when we reached the top I suddenly discovered that running was not an option.  I kept hoping that things would change (as they had throughout the day).  I just kept walking, talking, eating, drinking hoping for a change.

Didn't happen.

Descending down into (aptly named) Dead Horse Creek, the down hill walking was increasingly painful.  No problems though as I could still move, which is all I needed to do.  Then the climb out was real hard work and deadly slow, as I began flogging that dead horse.  Eventually we hit wide open fire trail, started moving steadily again, but then the sleep bunnies began hopping around my brain. 

I am absolutely crap in the cold, but this time I was ready.  I had many layers - gloves, extra thick thermal top, wind jacket, two buffs, a scarf.  There are so many temperature variations going in and out of the valleys, and in and out of the rain forest, and I was forever putting clothing on, then removing it all again - but at least I stayed warm.  Eventually, despite being  all layered up, I was still cold. Steve suggested I put on my thermal pants.  As I couldn't bend down to do the shoes/ shoe lace thing, and I couldn't get my feet into my thermal pants, Steve kindly knelt down in the dark and dealt with proceedings.  Glad no one was passing by at that point as it looked rather compromising.  The things a good pacer will do.

It became farce after this, as we increasingly began to look like two drunk mates coming home from the pub.  I was nodding off on my feet, and Steve was tapping me on the shoulder to wake me up, or catch me as I began wandering off the road into the bushes.  It was all hilariously funny.  One second I would be thanking Steve for helping out, next second I would be walking in a different direction with Steve saying "woah, this way Rob". 

So many ask about being out at night.  Despite falling asleep on my feet, it truly is an awesomely magical experience wandering along quietly,  soft sound of footsteps, hearing birds and bats, watching your torch beam make a tunnel in the mist, the occasional horse looking back across a fence, big moon silhouetting through the trees, little golden spider eyes sparkling everywhere.  Even falling asleep and brain dead it was fantastically beautiful.

We began joking about about jumping on one of the horses and riding into the next checkpoint, shouting "runner 119 Rob Sharpe and pacer and horse".  It was getting silly now. 

As some of you know, I have paced a few runners.  At the end I have always thought "did they really need me".  I needed Steve.  He was doing all the good pacer tricks like asking "have you been eating" and I would eat.  "Have you been drinking" and I would drink.  He would tell me "it's cold here and we need to walk faster" and I would keep walking.  He shone his light on big puddles and said "look out for the big puddle".  He said "go this way" and I went that way.  He was my brain.  I would have happily lay down to sleep on the road, hypothermic, hungry and dehydrated.   Steve said I could lie down if I wanted, but he might hurt me dragging me along the road.  Mean pacer.  I kept walking. 

So many people asked me "do you sleep ?".  The answer is "no".  It could be "yes" but if you have a poo poo head pacer then the answer is "no".  Childishness over.  Back to race report.   

Any descending was becoming agonising.  Going up was relatively painless, but increasingly slower.  The real problem set in though, when I began losing control of stability.  I would step up, then Steve kept having to catch me from losing my balance as I fell backwards.  But we kept on keeping on.

At this point I began hallucinating.  I had two options.  Option one was thinking Steve was someone else, and I would be confused why I could hear Steve talking when it was Eric or Gavin.  The second option was imagining a tree was next to me and reaching out to lean on it with predictably hilarious results.  It was all too funny, and I kept laughing as I staggered along, leaning on imaginary trees and falling into thin air.

Eventually the sun began to rise. It was the most beautiful bright golden orange sunrise I have ever seen.  We saw a funnel web enjoying the dawn (I did confirm with Steve that it was real and not an hallucination).  A beautiful bird flew across the sky and Steve said "look at that bird".  I did, then he caught me as I looked up and began losing balance watching it fly overhead.  At this point I began to suspect my journey was ending.

About 2km from CP5 (Somersby) is a road section.  As we climbed Kilkenny Road, Steve said "look Rob, a snake".  Wow ! It was enormous, and heading right towards us.  Steve kept getting closer and closer to it, asking "can you see the snake ?"  I kept saying  "yeah, look at it move" and wondering why Steve kept walking closer to it.  Is the man an idiot ! He was telling me "it's a red belly".  I was watching it move closer and closer, gliding smoothly down the road, and worried about Steve being so close until eventually I reached the snake which was 2 metres of totally flat road kill.  I had been hallucinating big time, and Steve was having a good chuckle.  

After 7.5 hours, we reached CP5 and I announced I was out.  I had planned on being here at 4.30am, and it was now 7.30am.  The volunteers (especially the lovely Sally Dean, bless her cotton socks) did their best to convince me to have a rest, then keep going.  They kept reminding me "it's just a marathon to go" which would only make sense to an ultra runner. If I was just tired, just sleepy, just sore, if the next 40km were flat road, I would have had a snooze, then moved on.  I had plenty of time.  I knew, though, that it wasn't flat road and I wasn't going to be safe without Steve around to catch me every time I got the wobbles. I made the big decision

Steve had his car parked at Somersby.  Some might say that this gave me the option of stopping, but not true.  As I limped to his car, and struggled to climb in, I knew I had made the right call.  On the drive home, as we chatted, I kept falling asleep mid answer.  He wanted to know if I was going to yoga that night.  Funny man.  I live at the bottom of a very steep drive way, and the lovely Cait was suitably amused as I attempted to walk into her loving arms.  She waited with those loving arms outstretched, and waited, and waited, and waited... Then after a bath and a snooze it was off to Patonga to collect drop bags, and have the much anticipated fish and chips and a beer, and a chance to catch up with Eric for a debrief and to gaze with wonder upon his horrible feet (at least I think they were feet.  They were meaty objects sort of hanging off his legs).  Wandering around Patonga I amused my family as I struggled to step onto the kerbs.

I have done many crazy things in my time, and this was possibly the craziest.  Thank you Gavin Markey for talking me into it.  I was worried about not being able to finish, but as it turns out, that is part of the fun.  Thanks for talking me out of the safe option.

Thank you Steve.  I have never been so deliriously tired in my life.  Thank you for keeping me safe.  Feel free to laugh at my expense.  It was a funny funny night.  If you are wondering if you could have done more, the answer is a big "no".  Thanks also to Kirsty for sharing.  No wonder you love him.  Although I hope he doesn't shake you and wake you up all night like he did to me.

Thanks Paul for just miraculously appearing at CP2.  I was already on a high, and you made it even better.  Sorry I missed you at Somersby.

Thanks Bek and Ryleigh.  You didn't have to hang around CP1, but so glad you did.

Of course THANK YOU to the lovely Cait.  I tried so hard not to let this event disrupt our lives too much, whilst knowing that of course it did.  Every runner needs a wife like you (but I'm not sharing so boys, go get your own).  Thank you for feeding me lots of healthy food, cooking Anzac slice for my drop bags, training with me, listen to me blabber on about boring running stuff, driving me around, tolerating my long run and recovery days, washing my toxic waste running gear, buying me beers, making me laugh.  We joked about this week end being all about me, but it was true.  Not to mention the pleasure of waking up to my lovely puffy face the morning after my big run.
The morning after

I will be reflecting back upon this experience for quite a while.  I could have trained more, but I suspect this would not have helped a bit.  I was fit as a fiddle leading into this event, but most importantly, injury free (well, a few niggles perhaps).  I have heard the expression "you train to run 100km, you learn how to run 100 miles" and have just been schooled in how true this is.  I easily completed the 100km bit (well relatively easily), arriving at Yarramalong able to continue on; but then the rest just chewed me up and spat me out.  Watching a fellow called Andy Hewat, a fellow 50-59 year old runner, just cruise past me running into CP5, was just incredible.  We arrived at almost the same time, but he was just warming up.  I ran bits that he walked, but he was still running when I couldn't even walk.  Young Grasshopper, watch as The Master glides past like you are standing still.  Oh wait, you are standing still.  Amazing !  

Since finishing, quite a few have asked am I disappointed I didn't "finish".  Not a bit.  It was a thoroughly wonderful experience.  I gave it all I had, and then a whole lot more, and I loved and laughed the entire experience.  I totally smashed myself and it was completely wonderful.  How often are we able to do this in life?  Most of our lives are spent engaged in the everyday, which is perfectly OK, but there are times when we need to get outside the comfort zone.  Ever since I first learned about running 100 milers, I have spent years wondering "could I do this" and the answer is a resounding "yes".  I just have to wait another twelve months for the chance. 


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