Wednesday, 15 November 2017

UTA 50km

Another Ultra done and dusted.  As usual, a lot to reflect upon, and there are several threads that weave through this tale.

Thread 1. A large part of this experience was being "older and wiser".  It wasn't that long ago I started all this running madness, and I only had "older" in my favour.  It's nice to think that "wiser" is making it's way into the equation.   The lovely Cait tells me I have become a wise owl.  I have also become more laid back about running.  Older, wiser, more laid back.  O & W & L.  That makes me an OWL. Hoot hoot.

I ran the 100km event back in 2014 (when it was The North Face 100), and I had begun itching for a return.  I wasn't super organised or committed when entries opened, and the idea just slipped past. However, being an OWL I did expect entries to become available closer to race day as folk discovered other commitments such as became injured, forgot to train, began to wonder "what the hell have I entered?"...etc.

Thread 2.  Paul is a friend of mine.  Since he joined The Berowra Bushrunners we have just sort of clicked.  When I met his wife Deb, I remember telling my wife the lovely Cait "you two would make great friends".  As time progressed, they met up totally independently of running and I was right.  Apparently women bond well over champagne and gossip.

In 2014 I ran the 100km, and Paul ran the 50km.  He ran it in 8.33 and considered it unfinished business.  He ran it again in 2016 in 8.59.  Still unfinished business.  This time he was going to finish the business and either go under 8 or over 9 hours.  Not sure which.  However, this time he was training consistently and was working with a PT as well.  Some online STRAVA stalking suggested he was actually doing the work.  One filthy early rainy morning we even managed to slog out a training run on the course and as we slushed through the mud, he looked on fire.  Along the way we chatted about my trying to grab a 50km entry and running with him.  So I began scouting online for an entry.  However, as race day approached, nothing jumped out at me. 

Until one day I received an email from Paul announcing that he had taken a fall and broken ribs and did I want his entry.  I encouraged him to wait a little longer, but no miraculous healing and his race was done before it even began.  Sorry Paul.  I promise I didn't put that rock there.  I took his entry.

Thread 3.  Training.  I have had to re-evaluate my training many times of late.  Until recently, working preschool hours, with time to burn, runs after work, and longer runs during preschool holidays, life was good.  However, back in the real world of long day care, finding time has been an effort.  I have tried to incorporate bike riding and running into my commute home, but this is not always possible, and rarely quality.  Just exhausting actually.  This means using more week end time.  Not my preferred option.  This race was also to serve as a "long run" as prep for possibly having another crack at the Great North Walk 100 event in September.  I also have the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon mid June so I had to make sure I didn't destroy myself.

So I had been been focussed on just keeping as much running as possible in my schedule, without it taking over my life.  Saturday and Sunday runs of varying lengths with an emphasis on longer runs.  Bushwalking with a lovely 15kg pack.  Bike riding home helped keep fitness, with some nice hills for leg strength and to kick my heart rate through the roof.  I was focussed mainly on aerobic fitness and keeping the running muscles in my legs in reasonable shape. Would it work?  I would find out in 50km.  Hopefully I wouldn't find out I was completely wrong at about 30km though!  

I drove up Friday before the run.  As I set out I reminisced about the time I turned up to an event only to find I had left my running shoes at home.  What a cack.  What a dill.  Then I realised that I had left my running shoes at home and had to drive home to pick them up. I was staying with in-laws in Katoomba doing major renovations.  Many of the walls were missing in their house.  This made for some awkward moments on the Saturday as I prepared.  For those familiar with prerace lubrication rituals you will know what I mean.  For those unfamiliar, I won't enlighten you.  You may never sleep again.  If the in-laws saw anything, I assure you they will never speak of it.  Ever.

Friday, the torrential rain predicted had arrived, and I began receiving messages that the course had been changed.  Jumping online revealed that we were running an altered version of the first half of the 100km.  Amazing.  Ever since I had considered doing the run again, all I could visualize was this section.  I love going out along Narrowneck and was very comfortable with this change.  Not to mention the 7.30am start being bumped to 9.30.  Woo Hoo.  A sleep in.  

Race morning saw me relaxing through a chocolate gel, two coffees and a leisurely shuttle bus to the start.  The sun began to make itself felt and the extra layers I had thought I would need got peeled off and stashed away in my pack.  It was supposed to be cold and wet, but it was dry and sunny, and pleasantly cool.  Perfect weather.

I was happily placed in Wave 3 (out of 6).  Nicely mid pack.  I trotted along at the back and let others tear off into the distance.  This was to be a feature of the first half of the day - runners furiously racing past me and off into the distance.  Some were clearly greyhounds and I suspected could run all day and I would never see them again.  Some though were probably used to shorter distances and way over excited and would probably be regretting their excited start later in the day.  I was trying to remember "start as you intend to finish" and not get sucked into trying to keep up.  50km is a long way.  In my head I had was thinking about being on my feet about 6.5 - 7.5 hours, and was in no rush, but the brain does not like other runners passing.  I was trying hard to be an OWL.  Hoot hoot !  Slow down.

The Landslide section (just after Scenic World) reduced everyone to a walk as we picked our way through.  There are sections of this event that are mind crushingly slow as hundreds bunch up.  The Landslide is exactly as it sounds.  A huge mess of rocks and boulders that you slowly pick your way through.  Descending Furber Stairs and ascending The Golden Stairs are similarly slow, but are just part of the event, and part of what makes it so interesting. It was strange to hear so many complaints about these slow sections, and discovering how few people around me had never been on the course, or even run on a trail.  No doubt today would be a day to remember. 

Up on Narrowneck, it was nice to have open blue skies, and the freedom to run/walk at whatever pace seemed natural.  Still so many raced past me, pushing hard, many no doubt trying to "make up the lost time" from the traffic jams.  It is SO hard not to get sucked into speeding to catch up.  Hoot hoot Rob ! Slow down !  Relax and enjoy Narrowneck and all those amazing views.

I have been out along Narrowneck many times (because it is stunningly beautiful), and Tarros Ladder is usually a highlight.  On race day, though, it is always a huge bottleneck.  There is a side pass (Duncan's Pass) that I have heard about but have never been able to find it.  As we queued, a volunteer mentioned "you can go around this way".  He suggested that it would only save several minutes, but that was irrelevant.  I just wanted to go along Duncan's Pass.  It was a great day to do it as they had set up ropes and wooden rungs to help runners.  As I emerged at the bottom of Tarros Laders I saw runners that I knew had been way in front of me.  What a great side step. 

Trotting along fire trails after Medlow Gap, the race shifted.  Many speedy greyhounds had slowly begun turning into old labradors.  Folk were starting to cramp, limp, lean against trees.  Walking is part of trail events, but there were some very slow shufflers now.  This was about halfway, so there were going to be some long days for some.  

Arriving at Dunphy's Campground checkpoint, a shuttle service had begun to take drop outs back to Katoomba.  Leaving Dunphy's, runners were beginning to be seen sitting at the side of the road, heads in hands, stretching out legs.  I heard screaming, and one poor woman was wrapped in a space blanket and wracked by huge cramping spasms near the top of the long climb out of the valley.  Other generous runners had called for help and were waiting with her until the shuttle service took her out.  That is why we have mandatory gear like phones and space blankets.

At the next checkpoint at Euroka I was planning on racing through, but there was Paul, all cheery and helpful.  If he couldn't run, he had decided to volunteer.  One of the greatest features of these events is the volunteers, and we love them all.  It is always such a lift to have a helpful friendly face in the middle of these things. A familiar face makes it even better. I had promised Paul that I had a special secret "thank you" present for him at the finish.  He was worried it was going to be a pink tutu to match mine.  This may sound ridiculous, but only to those who don't know me.  Paul knows me pretty well, and was very afraid.  Making no attempts to allay those fears, I bid farewell and I was off.

As I trotted along the Six Foot Track section, I began hearing quite a few hoping out loud that there were no more hills or stairs.  As we were running along the side of a massive escarpment, and Katoomba was way up at the top, they were in for a massive disappointment.  

I suddenly got screaming pain at the top of my left big toe, like red hot needles.  I have no idea what it was, but it lasted about 30 minutes and was the longest couple of km's of the day.  I stopped repeatedly to see if I had a funnel web in my sock.  It eventually passed and I hope it never happens again.  Runners gout ? (insert sound of wife laughing at my patheticness and suggesting something about Munchausen's).

By now the living dead were trudging along.  I had adopted a strategy of run slow and steady/ walk hard.  The race seemed to now be comprised of zombies, and those still running.  This became problematic as we began to climb up the narrow Nellie's Glen.  We were all reduced to the pace of the slowest walker which annoyed so many so much (I must confess to having to bite my tongue).  Due to the later race start, it was beginning to get darker, and many of us were hoping to finish in daylight and avoiding fiddling around with head torches.  I must admit that as torturous as it was to go so slowly, it did add a certain mind game element that I was masochistically enjoying.  Could I make it to the end in daylight ?  It was a challenge.  When we reached open trail and road I began to push. 

The reconfiguration of the 50km event meant the last checkpoint (Katoomba Aquatic Centre) was only several km from the finish line - but what a wild and crazy several km.  To make it a 50km event, the course wibbled and wobbled all over the place, and we descended some crazy trail section with uneven steps in total darkness under the trees, but no one was going to stop now to drag out head torches at this point, and we all just trusted our luck.  I had no idea where we were going.  We eventually emerged onto a road and hit the home stretch.  We could hear the race hub, and everyone sped up.  I managed a sprint finish (at least I think I did) and it was done.  Yee Haaaaa!  7.43 hours.  There are plenty of runners faster and fitter, but no worries.  It was happy days for this OWL.  Hoot hoot.

Paul was waiting to congratulate me, but I had to sneak off and collect my finish bag with warm clothes, and my secret present.  Stripping off in a dark corner (hopefully everyone was watching the finish line), I donned my surprise, and wandered through the crowd to find Paul, who was waiting nervously.

His present was a special shirt conceived by myself and the lovely Cait in a moment of creative genius (we were a bit "merry").  I had a matching shirt that I was already wearing.  I presented him with his matching shirt.  Same shirt, same glasses, stunningly handsome and gorgeous.  We could be twins.  Only our mothers can tell us apart.

Paul said "it looks like I died"


Prior to the event, I had been having some hankerings to do the 100km.  In the end I am so glad I did the 50.  Whereas the changes to the 50 made it way more runnable, the 100km event had been redirected to include every possible step and stair in the Blue Mountains.  Any regrets about missing out on the 100 completely disappeared.  I was glad to be done.  Thanks to Paul for not entering the longer run.  I might still be out there. 

I have heard runners say that all they want is to run the perfect race.  This has always confused me, as I wonder "what is a perfect race?"  However, for this run, feeling under trained, my perfect run was to spend a fabulous day out on the trails with happy friendly people, enjoying life, pushing myself, yet finishing uninjured and full of joy.  I also got to clean up, relax, drive home and go to bed instead of slogging it out in the cold and dark.  No regrets for this OWL.  Hoot hoot. Perfect race and time to fly home.

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