​RACE REPORT – YURREBILLA TRAIL 56k ULTRA 2016

Yurrebilla can be many things. For many people, just an awesome day out with great food and fantastic company. For others, a chance to push themselves to the limit. 2016 marked the 10th edition of Yurrebilla and it was always going to be a special
day.

This was my second time tackling this challenging event. Last year was my first and you can read all about it here.

My preparation this year was, admittedly, not the greatest. Last year, after running the Gold Coast Marathon in early July, I focused all my attention on getting myself prepared for Yurrebilla. This year, I have done way more big events and therefore found myself very underdone in the trail running department. After UTA100 in May I
didn’t even run a trail for over 3 months while I focused on my 2 marathons and
trying to let my hamstring recover.

My only Yurrebilla training run, 3 weeks ago, was a 41k which covered the last 2/3 (and a bit) of the course and took me 6 hours. I was hoping for a sub 7 hour Yurrebilla, which looked pretty far from reality after that run! (Last year I ran 7:07 and did ‘waste’ a fair bit of time stopping at checkpoints. Realistically all I had to
do was cut down a bit of time at the stops to get my sub 7.)

A week and a half before the event, a freak storm hit Adelaide and washed away parts of the trail, and even one of the roads we were meant to run on! Amazingly, within a
very short space of time, the organisers redesigned the course to bypass the
unsafe/inaccessible sections, and ensure the race would go on! There was some
debate among people who were familiar with the usual course and the new bits,
as to whether it was going to be faster or slower.

A few informal training runs took place in the week leading up to the event, introducing people to some of the new bits. I decided it was best to stay in the dark – I
had run UTA100 having seen only a small section of the course, so I didn’t think there was really anything to gain by getting a preview!

Despite taking it relatively easy in the week leading up to Yurrebilla, I had done 46km prior to race day. Tuesday I did my fast run for the week, followed by a ‘bonus’ 5k trot
with The Running Company Run Club on Wednesday evening, where we were joined by Yurrebilla ambassador (and all round top chick) Lucy Bartholomew. Thursday’s
regular run was meant to be an easy one but ended up being a bit faster than planned! On Friday, rather than the speed training I’ve been doing, I went for a gentle hill run with my running group. Then on Saturday I did a very cruisy parkrun in the rain. I realised after that, that after Yurrebilla I would have done 99.5km for the week. So I did what any sane person would do – went for a quick trot around the block in the rain to make sure I reached that magical
100km milestone – it’s pretty rare that I would get close to 100k in a week so
of course I had to!

This year I had opted for the 8am start wave instead of 7am like last year. Having completed last year’s event in just over 7 hours, I was confident that 9.5 hours would be more than enough to complete the course (the cutoff time is 5:30pm regardless of start time). 

I had originally entered Yurrebilla in the
super earlybird period prior to Christmas, and had selected the final,
8:30 wave. I had thought, if I’m going to start at 8, I might as well start at 8:30 with the elites, what’s another half an hour? (Plus, another half hour’s sleep!) I was convinced by regular running buddy Gary of the merits of starting at 8. In the 8:30 group I would surely be one of the slowest, and therefore
would be on my own for much of the day.
8:00 would be a happy medium and I
would have more chance of having company out there, as well as eventually
overtaking some of the
7am and 6am starters. Decision made. I was starting at
8!

For the 8am start I needed to be on a bus near the finish at Athelstone at 7. (The 7am start bus ended up being at 5:30, due to the size of that particular start group! Another
good reason for me to start at 8!)

I hadn’t settled on my kit until the night before. I had a few parts of my outfit organised but there were a few pieces of the puzzle that still needed to be put into place. My black lululemon skirt over Skins shorts was a trail running standard – black
being the most practical colour for what promised to be a muddy run, and the skirt has a zip pocket plus a couple of waist pockets to stash snacks. I had my Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes and black Nike socks (the socks which would probably be due for the bin after Yurrebilla, having run through some pretty stinky mud over the last few months – at least I hope it was mud!) I did have a BEAUTIFUL new pair of trail shoes but decided this was NOT the day to break them in! My usual white hat was in the kit as well as a buff.

I ended up going with a green lulu T-shirt which I’d done one long run in. Normally I run in a singlet but it was to be a cooler day and also a T-shirt would make reapplication of sunscreen a lot easier. Then I added my signature rainbow arm warmers and blue Compressport calf sleeves. In addition I decided to wear my
cycling gloves that I’d worn for UTA. I was reliably informed that the climbs at the end were a bit brutal and I thought I might be on hands and knees at some point! Plus, if I did fall over (which, let’s face it, was not out of the realms of possibility) the gloves would save my hands.

I had opted to wear my larger Ultimate Direction backpack rather than the smaller one I’d used last year. This was so I could carry more in the way of food and drink, and thereby cut down the time spent at aid stations. Food-wise I’d packed 2 ‘Snickers’
sandwiches (peanut butter and chocolate spread on white bread), 2 nut bars, and
a bag of almonds and Lifesavers (which I didn’t end up touching!) I didn’t need
much in the way of food because there was plenty of good stuff at the aid stations, but it was good to have something to eat in between stations, especially when climbing steep hills when I’d have to be walking anyway. Hydration-wise I had 2 500mL bottles of Gatorade, plus 3 extra scoops of
powder. In my bladder I had around 750mL of water – I don’t tend to drink much water at all during runs and with the cooler weather I thought that would be ample.

This year the organisers had seen fit to give us all 2 bibs, one to be worn on the front
(with timing chip) and another one, just with our first name, to be worn on the
back. I really liked this idea and I hope they keep it going in future, because it meant we could yell out encouragement to the people we were passing, and people passing us could also encourage us. I think it really adds to the community feel of Yurrebilla. (Unfortunately a lot of people didn’t wear the back bibs, or they put them on the back of their shirts and then put a backpack
over the top!)

The night before, I had an early night, after having had a delicious vegan mac and cheese and a glass of red for dinner. I got up at 5:30 for the standard brekky shake
(Weetbix, oats, cacao, chia and almond milk) and getting all my gear together.
I had opted for a drop bag at Morialta (around the 35k mark) purely because the
course promised to be wet and muddy, and I thought a change of shoes and socks
would be wise. I also threw in a change of top and arm warmers, and some more
Gatorade powder and a sandwich. We also had the option of a drop bag at Cleland
(22km) and at the finish. I did have a finish drop bag which was mainly warm clothes, sandals, and my 2016 Yurrebilla singlet which, superstition dictated that I could NOT wear before the race!

At 6:30 I was at Gary’s place to get a lift to Athelstone. Gary’s partner Christine had already started, in the 6am wave. Fortunately she had managed to get a lift to the start at Belair, otherwise she would have had to be on a bus at 4:30!

It was only a small group on the bus, I think there were 17 people booked but a few of them didn’t show. There were a few familiar faces – Uli, Josh and Leon among them. I didn’t see anyone that looked like my pace – they were all quite fast! However, I had always planned to do my own thing so that didn’t bother me!

We arrived at Belair Railway Station with about half an hour to spare. I had my energy drink, put on some sunscreen and did a quick portaloo stop before taking my drop bags to the correct places and getting my bib scanned to ensure I received a finish time. And a quick selfie with a couple of guys in bright rainbow outfits.

And before I knew it, we were away!

Echo Tunnel was about 2km in and it is one part of the course I never enjoy! It’s quite low which means I have to duck to avoid hitting my head, and also very dark, even with the lanterns that were there to light it up. I had my hand torch on but that didn’t even seem to do anything! I hoped no-one behind me was wanting to run because I was walking with my hand on the wall the whole time, until I could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and with relief I started running again!

I had printed out the estimated splits at all the aid stations for my goal 7 hour time, laminated it and attached it to my backpack, so I could see how I was tracking. 

Aid station 1 was at Sheoak Road at 5km and other than a quick selfie and picture of my watch, I didn’t stop. I was 4 minutes ahead of schedule. As per tradition the volunteers were all in onesies and seemed to be having a great time!

Then we hit the awesome fun of the switchbacks which were a bit slower than last year because of the mud and general slipperiness – it was a bit early to be falling over! Thankfully I didn’t, and heading down Brownhill Creek Road I started following
a guy in a bright orange T-shirt (and no back bib!). We got off the road and onto the trail heading up to the next station at McElligott’s Quarry. I saw him stop to a walk and then head into the bushes so I decided to stop following him at that point! Eventually he caught up and we ran together for a bit. I didn’t get his name but he had a Spanish-ish accent. I think from memory it was his first Yurrebilla and he was aiming for about 6.5 hours. After the quarry I didn’t see him again.

I reached the quarry in 1:03, 12 minutes ahead of my cheat sheet. Again, I didn’t need anything other than a quick selfie and watch photo! A few of the people at the aid station were laughing at the whole selfie thing and saying things like “You know this is a race, right?” but it was really only for my records, just so I could look back on it afterwards and see where I could have done things differently!

The next stop was Kavell’s, where my parents were going to come and see me. Not long before this the first of the 8:30 runners started to overtake me. The first one took me by surprise, and the second one was a familiar face, Andrew, who passed me just as I went through a gate, so I thought I’d hold the gate for him!

I reached Kavell’s 10 minutes ahead of schedule, luckily my parents were early otherwise I would have missed them! I grabbed one of Maurice’s famous vegan brownies and went to have a quick chat and photo with the folks. I also reapplied my sunscreen at this stage – Mum finally managed to find the little bottle in my backpack which saved me the trouble of having to take my backpack off!

From there it was up Mount Barker Road into Cleland. The course had changed a bit there – the Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty track was closed, and part of that track is part of the Yurrebilla Trail. Before reaching the Cleland aid station I was passed by a few familiar faces, Mick and Dej, who both seemed to be in great form. I also caught up to regular parkrun buddies Liam and Tom who were both struggling a bit. I ran/walked with them for a little while before taking off.

After what seemed like an eternity I reached the Cleland aid station. First stop was the toilets, before heading into the station to fuel up. I was looking forward to some boiled salted potatoes but was a bit devastated to find that they’d run out! I did manage to grab a vegan brownie and some fruit cake and top up my Gatorade bottle. Regular running buddy Kay was there, in a bad way with cramps, and I thought that was the end of her day but in the end she got to 45km, unfortunately not quite able to make it to the end of her first Yurrebilla.

Another good friend Nat was there, volunteering her podiatry services and by
all accounts she was kept quite busy!

I left Cleland just a few minutes ahead of schedule. The next milestone was the 28km, or halfway point. At around that point, at a slightly tricky road crossing, were 2 familiar faces as road marshals – Shannon and Brian. I broke into the chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” before crossing the road and heading back up the trail towards the Coach Road aid station. (That would be the only singing that I did throughout the day!)

I was a bit behind schedule when I reached Coach Road but didn’t really need to stop here so pushed on. I had thought I was still well ahead of schedule and I was getting close to where I thought Beck and Kate were coming out to cheer me and some of the other runners on, Norton Summit. So as I headed into the next aid station at Woods Hill, I quickly texted Beck to request a lemonade icy pole. This had been so appreciated last year when James brought them for us, but I had been doubtful as to whether it was the right weather this year for an icy pole! As it turned out, despite a few showers earlier, it had warmed up a bit and I had decided yes, I definitely wanted one.

I reached Norton Summit and couldn’t see any sign of Beck and Kate, so I gave Beck a call. Turned out they were a few kilometres up the road at Morialta Cottage, so I kept going. As I heard them yelling at me to hurry up, I could see two familiar backs in front of me, Di and Michael. They, along with Marc, had decided that it might be fun to start at Athelstone at 8pm the night before, run the trail in reverse, then start in the 6am group with Arwen, Michael and Toni. Hmm, yeah, that sounds like fun – NOT!

 Alas Kate had forgotten the icy poles but they did have some DELICIOUS vegan Anzac biscuits for me, along with Coke and water. I grabbed some chips and a sip of nice fresh water (the water in my bladder was by now warm with a delightful hint of plastic, so wasn’t very appealing!) before getting going again! As much as I would have loved some Coke, I was saving that for after the 40km mark. Having reread last year’s race report, I had wished I had started drinking Coke from around that point. I had been reluctant to start drinking it in case I then craved it. Consequently I hadn’t drunk it at all until the finish.

Apparently I was back ahead of schedule by the time I reached Morialta Cottage. At the official aid station I was excited to see potatoes! I quickly downed one, dipped in salt, and a brownie, and topped up my Gatorade. Nat was there again and got a pic of me stuffing my face!

I think it was here that I saw Graham, an distance running veteran, looking a bit shabby in the back of a station wagon and doubtful if he would continue!

Not long after Morialta I saw a very familiar runner – Terry Cleary, the Godfather of Yurrebilla (the one who started it all!) I caught up with him and had a quick chat with him before taking off. He said he was struggling a bit, and given that he lives in Darwin where there are NO hills, his training was a bit lacking!

The next aid station was Moores Road, 40km, staffed by the CFS fireys. After the bright yellow uniforms, the first thing I saw was that they had Coke! I was very excited by this and decided to have 2 cups because it was just so damn delicious! I was right on target – 40km in 5 hours. Just 16km to go!

Somewhere around here I saw a few more familiar faces – first there was Stirling, who looked like he was limping a fair bit and when I caught up with him he told me that he had torn his calf a week ago! Naturally, the thought of not running Yurrebilla probably hadn’t even entered his mind! Then I heard the familiar voice of Ziad, and ran/walked with him briefly.

The next stop was the bottom of Orchard Trail and I’d actually made up some time, according to my cheat sheet I was 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I think this was the station where there was a creek crossing just afterwards and I pretty much chose the hardest way across the creek and ended up on my hands and knees on rocks in the middle of the creek. Fortunately I didn’t fall in as there would have been plenty of witnesses and undoubtedly photos!

AND THEN…

That was when the big climbs started. First we had Orchard Track at around 45km, with about 30% gradient over 500m. Here, for the first time ever, I felt the need to pick up a big stick and use that to drag myself up. Around me at this point was a woman with poles and a guy who seemed to be doing it way too easily. From then on my ‘running’ joke was offering people $20 (all the money I had on me) for their poles. Surprisingly no-one took me up on the offer! I ditched the stick at the top of Orchard Track as there was a runnable section after that and I didn’t fancy carrying the stick while trying to run.

After Orchard, which seemed to go on forever, we met Boobook Track at about 47.8km which was a similar distance to Orchard and just as steep! As I saw the track up ahead I screamed out “NOOOOOO!” and said “I think I’m going to cry now”. (I didn’t – I needed every scrap of energy just to get up that damn hill!)

Next was ‘Ambers Loop’, the ‘sting in the tail’. At 49km there was a group of pirates, and then I saw a regular running buddy Paul who had started in the 8:30 group and had passed me earlier. I was surprised to see him as I thought he would have been further ahead of me. Turned out, he was on his way back down after the loop. He was WAY ahead of me! We had to go along a track where we met fellow runners on their way back out of the loop and heading towards the finish line. Although I hated the fact that we got that close to the finish STILL with over 7km to go, I did like seeing other runners who I wouldn’t otherwise have seen – the likes of Karen, Sue, Christine and Gary (Gary was ahead of Christine, unlike last year when Christine finished just ahead of him and MC Karen took great pleasure in announcing that fact!). 

After that section we ran downhill for about 2km. That can’t be good – “What goes down must come up”. And boy did we come up!

had met Ambers Ridge once before but didn’t remember it. I won’t forget it now!

It is way worse than Black Hill, the normal big climb towards the end of Yurrebilla. It is a climb of about 1.5km, mostly on Besser blocks (a bit like Black Hill). The slope is up to 38 degrees. Here I met James, who I’d done a few trail runs with since the Adelaide Marathon. He had started at 7 and was still looking pretty strong.


He’d been to a wedding interstate on Friday and had entered Yurrebilla semi-last minute when he realised the wedding was not on the Saturday as he had first thought!

Also on the climb I ran into Tim, who was a fellow 8am starter who I’d done a couple of group trail runs with. He was also aiming for 7 hours but had pretty much decided that was out of the question (this was the point at which I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to crack 7 hours, and decided to stop looking at my watch except to see the kilometres tick over).

The whole loop, from when we first met the pirates to when we saw them again, was around 5.6km. And it was a looooong 5.6km!

Then we were back onto familiar territory, the usual descent back down to the finish. That is a technical steep descent of around 1.5km. I wasn’t able to run it as quickly as usual because I’d smashed my legs on the climbs, plus it was a bit slippery and of course I didn’t want to fall over, because I highly doubted I’d be able to get back up!

 Somewhere around here I passed Simon, who was an 8:30 starter, having passed me much earlier. I said as I passed him, “I’m just going to pass you, because then I can say I passed you, feel free to pass me again!” (He didn’t, but he still managed a sub-7 hour time)

And then, after the challenging descent, that finish! What a great feeling, getting called across the finish line by MC Michelle, and then seeing both my parents there to watch me finish. My watch showed 7:19 on the dot (around 12 minutes slower than last year) and my official time was exactly the same.

Then came the best part – celebrating with friends, and watching others finish. 

Beck and Kate presented me with a glass of sparkling wine which I gladly accepted, and the long-awaited lemonade icy pole!

It was great to see that Graham had finished. He had been picked up by Liam and Tom after being on the verge of pulling out, and ran/walked most of the rest of the course with them. Whe I saw him he was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Everything hurts and I’m dying’ which summed it all up nicely!

I stayed until the cut off time of 5:30. Karen’s husband Daryl, who had walked with Mike, made it with half an hour to spare (last year he made it by mere minutes). We were standing around anxiously awaiting the last 2 Yurrebilla Legends, John and Terry, who both made it within the last 10 minutes. All the other Legends had already finished. Not long after those two, Kristy finished with running buddy Uli, who had long since finished but went back up to run the last little bit with her. I saw a fair bit of that, lots of people crossing the line in pairs or threes, and people going back to finish with their friends. MC Michelle even went back up to cross the line with her husband Mark.

Once the finish line was closed I made my way back home, as a few of us were going out for a Thai meal. I find that spicy food is an excellent recovery meal so I went with a green curry which was delicious, along with the best part of a bottle of Jansz sparkling – I’d forgotten that last year I’d brought a bottle of Jansz to the finish line! I guess that’s tradition now! I managed to manoeuvre myself into my compression pants, which I would leave on for a good 24 hours to aid recovery.


So – time for a quick bit of analysis. According to Strava I got 15 personal records (ie segments faster than last year). I was on track for a sub 7 hour until the 44km mark. The ONLY thing that stopped me was those f***ing climbs at the end. And that’s just a training thing. My lack of hill training really found me out. Considering the
training I’ve done, I have to be really happy with that run.

A MASSIVE thankyou to Race Director Barry McBride, MC and general legend Michelle Hanlin, and all on the Yurrebilla committee for making this event the brilliant day that it always is, especially given the massive challenge of having to change the course at the last minute (yeah, maybe not so much thanks to Barry and Matt Angus and any other sadists involved in devising the last 12km!!!) Thanks also to the fantastic volunteers and supporters, the fabulous Race Ambassadors Majell and Lucy, and last but not least all the wonderful runners/walkers for the brilliant camaraderie out there – according to the results it looks like we had 464 finishers, a big jump from last year’s record of 400!

So, what’s next?

In 4 weeks I’ve got the Heysen 105km ultra where I am confident of a PB. Before that, I’ve got the McLaren Vale half marathon in 2 weeks where I am the 2 hour pacer. I’ll try to sneak in a few nice long trail runs too!

Next year – that sub 7 hours will be mine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking the scenic route!

Trail running is a funny thing. Distances are not precise like they are in road races. Case in point, last Sunday’s trail race which went from 18k to 19 to 21 before settling at 19.5k. There is always going to be variation – different people will follow different paths while still staying on course, surprise obstacles can crop up, and of course a whole group of people can run the EXACT same route and ALL get different distances on their watches.
(Road runs are not ALWAYS a set distance. Local knowledge is important. Last weekend I went to a parkrun (not mentioning any names!) and managed to make what should have been a 5km run into a 5.2km run. The absence of the turnaround flag was not an issue for most of the runners, who were regulars and knew where the flag was MEANT to be. I found myself on my own, not seeing where the people behind me had turned, looking at my watch and realising I must have gone too far, and seeing the guy behind me turn around. It may have been an omen for the trail run to come that night – we’ll get to that.)

Then, there’s the other way that trail runs become longer (or shorter, but nearly always longer) than expected. Getting lost, or as we like to call it in trail running circles, ‘going exploring’.

One early example of this was during the Summit to Sea social run a few years back. It is a run from the top of Mount Lofty down to Brighton beach, traditionally following the Sea to Summit trail. It is ‘meant’ to be 34km and includes a hill climb at O’Halloran Hill late in the piece (but on the plus side there was a drink station there). Somehow we managed to miss a turn, cut out the OHH climb and drink stop, and cut it back to 32km. I later found out that SA trail running legend Terry Cleary said that the run was “from the Summit to the Sea, doesn’t matter which way you go!” 

It wasn’t a race so it didn’t matter.

I memorably ‘went exploring’ in a large field during the Heysen 105 last year, a mistake I won’t make again. I can’t guarantee I won’t stray from the traditional route at some point, but I won’t make THAT mistake again!

This past weekend I organised a small group to run the last section of Heysen 105, usually around 18km, on Saturday night. This training run is traditionally held at night as the majority of people will finish, if not start, this section in darkness. The fact that the training runs are being held earlier this year meant that daylight saving hasn’t yet started, so instead of starting at dusk, it was already dark by the time we kicked off the run. Partner in crime Kate and I had decided to do the run a week earlier than the scheduled group run, because next weekend is the City-Bay Fun Run and we didn’t really fancy a potentially very late night and long trail run the night before what we hoped to be a fast road run! We put the call out to see if anyone wanted to join and on the night we had 13 other keen runners join us for our little adventure!

We had organised that people would stick together in small groups so no-one would be on their own, and I asked people to message me when they got back, so I would know we hadn’t lost anyone. 

After meeting at the finish and carpooling back to the start, we headed off shortly after 7pm. Ziad, who I am guessing probably knows the trail better than any of us, and is frequently seen at trail races as sweeper, offered to stay at the back. He was running with Laura, who was hard to miss in her hi-viz yellow top and amazing glow-in-the-dark tights! Everyone else settled into their small groups and followed the Heysen trail reflective markers. 

It was super muddy and wet, as Ziad had warned us (he had recently run this section during the day) and we quickly gave up on the idea of trying to find a dry path. There wasn’t one.

I ran with Glen for a while – he had done Heysen several times and he pointed out to me where he had gone astray last year. Once again – once you’ve made a mistake on a particular route, you can be sure you won’t do the same thing again!

I dropped back to run with Kate and James. I had met James 3 weeks earlier at the last Heysen training run and had seen him every weekend since – our 41km Yurrebilla epic training run, and Mt Hayfield the following week. 

Things were going well – we were following the arrows, crossing creeks, running through mud and sand, and we’d got to about 13km, expecting we had about 5km to go, when we ran into Ziad and Laura. Supposedly they were the back of the group! We had somehow taken a 3.5km detour and STILL had 8.5km to go! How had this happened? We were definitely following the Heysen arrows!

Apparently we went wrong twice, but I can only explain one. It was a good lesson to learn. At some point we had followed the wrong arrow and gotten off the Heysen trail. The Heysen arrows are red but we had followed some blue ones. In the dark of course, they all looked the same! By the time we ran into the others we were back on the Heysen alright, but we were going in the opposite direction to what we were supposed to be! So theoretically, if we hadn’t run into them, we could have kept going all the way back to the start of the run! 

(The purple line on the map shows the route we SHOULD have taken – thanks to James for this map!)

So from then on we were very careful to make sure we were following the HEYSEN arrows. (Of course, on race day, there will be a lot of additional markers, and the markers in this section will be reflective.)
I checked my phone from time to time and got text messages from people who had finished and were heading home. We wondered if we might be the last ones back!

The other time when we could potentially have gone very wrong was right near the end when the Heysen marker indicated to go straight ahead, but we actually had to go right, up a road to the campground carpark where the cars were. On race day that will be marked with an arrow. Of course, the race doesn’t finish ON the Heysen trail. If we’d kept going we would have ended up in the Flinders Ranges! (I like to think we would have figured it out well before then!)

By the time we got back we’d done 22km and Ziad and Laura were the only ones yet to come in. They arrived maybe 10 minutes after us, and we could all go home to shower and clean our shoes!

So we did our fair share of exploring, but we learned some valuable lessons which will stand us in good stead on race day in 6 weeks. Plus, I got a blog post out of it!

Race report – Adelaide 6/12/24 hour


This past weekend I followed up my Gold Coast marathon in the only way I know how – with a 6 hour trot around a 2.2km loop…
I did this event for the first time last year and if you’re interested you can read about it here: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/47/
Just in case you don’t want to read that, here is a brief synopsis of what the event is all about.
There are 3 events – 6, 12 and 24 hours. The idea is to cover as much distance as possible in the allocated time.
During the week, I ran on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday was a bit rough but by Thursday the legs were feeling pretty good!
The race being on a Saturday rather than the usual race day of Sunday, I opted to do my shopping at the Central Market on Friday night rather than Saturday. As I often do when I go to the market on a Friday night, I had dinner at the food court – an AWESOME vegan place called Pure Vegetarian. Plenty of carbs in there – noodles and pumpkin, along with some eggplant and chickpeas. 
I was in bed reasonably early – I set my alarm for 4:15am so I could get to the start line at the Uni Loop super early – the plan being to get a spot as close to the start line as possible. I hadn’t organised a table or a spot in a tent, and I didn’t have any crew (not many 6 hour runners use crew) so my car was going to be my base camp. That way, if it rained (and the forecast for the morning was clear, but we all know the Bureau can get it wrong!) all my stuff would stay dry, and I’d have a place to sit undercover if needed!
Gear-wise, I would be better prepared than last year. For a start, GLOVES! It had been pretty chilly in the mornings and Saturday would be no exception. I went for ‘layer upon layer’.
The bottom half was the favourite Skins/lulu skirt combination and calf sleeves and socks rather than compression socks (I had a very iffy toenail from Gold Coast, which my awesome running friend and podiatrist Nat had very kindly patched up for me, and I thought the extra pressure from compression socks would be a bad idea) – I’d opted for black socks rather than white as I was fully expecting blood by the end of 6 hours! I’d also gone with trail shoes rather than roadies as the trail shoes are a bit bigger and therefore would give me more toe room.
On the top I started with a long sleeved running top, vest, arm warmers and a zip up long sleeved top. Also a buff to keep my ears warm. On top of all that I had a hoodie and track pants. And, of course, gloves!
Food-wise I went pretty simple. 2 white bread sandwiches. A new flavour combination – peanut butter and chocolate spread – like a Snickers! I also packed some nut bars, almonds and Lifesavers. Hydration would be Gatorade – I had a 500ml handheld bottle and also a big cooler bottle with 1.5 litres.
On Saturday I was up, breakfasted, dressed and out the door around 4:50. At the last minute I had thrown a singlet in my bag along with a T-shirt. I’d run all of last year’s event in long sleeves but it had been a cold, wet, miserable day. This time, the morning promised to be chilly but there was no rain forecast until the evening. 

I got to the start location about 5:05 and got a prime parking spot, just near the food tent. The race started at 6am and I’d already collected my bibs and timing chip (I totally just wrote ‘chiming tip!’) so I had plenty of time to get myself organised. I was seriously considering running the first few laps in my trackpants and hoodie! I had all the gear I might need, located in the front seat of my car. My bag of sandwiches was open, and my singlet conveniently located on the seat so I could quickly grab it if needed. I also had my iPod and headphones on the seat, in case I needed them later. I hadn’t used them last year simply because it had been raining and I didn’t want to get water in them! I was pretty confident I could get through 6 hours without music but it didn’t hurt to have it there just in case.
Unlike last year, I was there in plenty of time for a pre-race portaloo stop (pre-race is ALWAYS the best time to use a portaloo – they get increasingly unpleasant as the day goes on!) and then all I had to do was wait for the briefing and the 6am start!
And we were away!
We started in the dark – I reckon it was probably about an hour before the sun came out.
Within the first lap I was passed by fellow 6 hour runners Sarah (a well known ultra and trail runner and a great competitor – her partner Robbie was also there, awaiting the start of the 24 hour) and Samantha who I didn’t know but who also looked to be a big threat. Plus another girl called Tia who I didn’t know, from the 12 hour event which started at the same time. 
Last year I went in expecting nothing and was surprised to finish 2nd. This year I was hopeful of another podium finish but in the first lap I thought that was unlikely so I focused on my other goal of a 6 hour PB. I couldn’t remember exactly what distance I’d done last year but it was 60-point-something. So I’d aim for 61 just to be sure. I thought I’d count laps rather than rely on the distance my watch showed. 28 laps would do it.
After a couple of laps I took off my first layer, the zip-up top, and grabbed a sandwich from my car. I’d opted to lock my car – I had contemplated leaving it unlocked, but given that I’d worn gloves, my hands were functional enough to operate a key!
One hour in, I’d completed nearly 5 laps or 11km. It was a good start but that was with no walk breaks – walk breaks would be needed throughout the 6 hours, if only to get some food in. Eating real food as opposed to gels, you do need to walk in order to eat. I didn’t go in with a ‘walk/run’ strategy as I hadn’t needed it last year. I would run as much as I could and ideally only walk if I was eating. If I was doing 12 or 24 hours I would certainly be adopting a walk/run right from the start.
There was a computer screen with live results just past the start/finish line but I didn’t end up stopping to look at it at all – I didn’t want to lose momentum or get psyched out by seeing what other people were doing. As long as I kept count of my laps I didn’t need any more information.
Among the runners were many familiar faces and some new ones. A lot of people had come from interstate which goes to show what a highly regarded event this is!
In the 12 hour was Wayne, back again after being the event ambassador last year. He was on fire – I lost count of the number of times he lapped me! There was Luke, well known for running in sandals! I asked him if he had cold feet – he said no, and he still had all his toenails! Might be something in that… 
Rebecca I had met during the track 100k earlier in the year. She was aiming for 100k in the 12 hours after having finished second and missing out on the 100 last year. This was a training run for her. I asked, what is a 100k run a training run FOR? Oh, just a 100 miler next weekend! Also in the 12 hour was Matt, who along with Race Director Ben was the brains behind the trial 6/12 hour trail loop run I’d done a month or so back. He was also training a young guy called Tyler, only 15 years old, who is a real up-and-comer and was doing the 6 hour. Other familiar faces in the 12 were Toby, whose partner Bridget was doing the 6, Kath, who had done the 24 before but never the 12, and Anna, who I’d met last year at the same event. Early on I met Emma who was going for 100km and who had run last year through the night with Lee, the eventual winner.
The 6 hour had 60 listed starters, the most popular of the 3 distances on offer. Not surprising really – 6 hours is really doable and a good chance to do a first marathon or 50k.
I knew a lot of the 6 hour runners but a few need to be mentioned – Debbie and Karen got the ‘best dressed’ award for their matching tutus and Debbie was even wearing a blue wig for the whole 6 hours! Carolyn, who I didn’t actually meet until after the 6 hours was over, had only been running for a few months! Remarkable! The always quiet and reserved Michelle was there, modelling the new Yurrebilla T-shirt, along with her daughter Emma. The usual suspects from last year included Chris and Shannon who I would see frequently throughout the morning!
It wasn’t long before the gloves came off. Soon the buff was replaced by hat and sunnies as the sun actually made an appearance! Heading east in the back half of the loop, I was very grateful for the sunnies, as the sun was a bit blinding! Bit of a contrast from last year!
9:00 marked the halfway point and the first turnaround (turnarounds happen every 3 hours to break up the monotony!). I reached 14 laps right on 9:00 – I was halfway to my goal and right on track. 9:00 also marked the time when my friend Leanne arrived with the pre-arranged coffee (my coffee deliverer from last year, James, had abandoned me this year to go on a trail run!) which once again was MASSIVELY appreciated! I walked with Leanne as I drank my coffee and then she was off to have brekky with James and the rest of the trail running crew.
Amazingly, at some point in the morning, I actually decided it was too warm for the long sleeves! I was very glad I’d thrown the singlet in – the next time I passed my base camp (aka my car) I did a quick wardrobe change, leaving the arm warmers on just in case it got cooler again. It was a bit of a procedure which started probably 500m from the car – first I removed my Garmin, being careful not to accidentally stop it, then my arm warmers, and I had my key in my hand, ready. I got to the car and quickly changed the long sleeved top for the singlet, grabbed a sandwich and kept moving. Over the next few hundred metres I put my arm warmers back on and then my watch. In the process I realised my watch had stopped – disaster! I quickly started it again and checked my watch on my other wrist which displayed the time. It seems the watch had only been stopped for a minute or less – crisis averted!

Around this time the 24 hour runners started assembling for the 10am start. There were a few veterans, notably Barry and Karen. There was Marc, having a second crack at it after having to pull out due to injury last year. There were also a LOT of first timers! Rula was ably supported by Hoa and Bev. Tania, Katie and Laura were all also doing 24 hours for the first time.
I had my energy supplement not long after the 24 hour runners started. Not surprisingly, I passed a lot of them on the first few laps – they had a LONG way to go – while being regularly lapped by the likes of Wayne and Tia.
My pace was sitting comfortably around 5:46. 6:00 pace would put me at 60km, so even factoring in the inaccuracy of the GPS, I was well on track for a PB.
I reached the 5 hour mark. One hour to go! According to my watch I was on just under 51km which was on target. I was around the other side of the Uni Loop from the start/finish area. I set myself a goal – 5 laps, or 11km, in the last hour. That was ambitious (average pace 5 min 27 per kilometre) but achievable, and kept me focused for the last hour.
As per last year, my pace increased significantly over the last 5km or so. I managed to pull out a 5:13 right near the end! With about 15 minutes to go. I passed the start/finish line. Each runner was given a personalised sandbag with a flag sticking out of it. My average lap time was 12:44 (although I didn’t know that at the time) and I was confident I could get around one more time before time ran out. The sandbag was awkward to carry so I didn’t want to pick it up until I was sure it was my last lap.
I made it around in plenty of time, grabbed my sandbag on the run, and pushed it to the finish. I was looking at my watch – I knew I was about a minute out, and not long after that, there was the siren to signify the end of the 6 hours! I dropped my sandbag and made my way back to the start. Some smart person pointed out that we could walk straight across the grass rather than all the way back around! This was when I met Carolyn who had just completed a marathon after only a few months of running! My legs were so stiff after I stopped running, it was incredible!
After a slice of vegan pizza I quickly went back to the car to get some warm clothes on, take off my shoes and put my comfy sandals on (SUCH a relief!) and await the presentation. I was told I’d done 28 full laps, plus the part lap which was yet to be measured. So it was definitely a PB, I was stoked with that!
The medals were presented to the females by distance covered (lowest to highest) and then to the males in the same order. As names and distances were read out, I thought, I could be a chance here! I hadn’t looked at the computer screen because I hadn’t really contemplated a placing, but once 4th place had been announced and I hadn’t heard my name, I knew I was on the podium! 3rd place went to Sarah on 57.668km and then 2nd was Samantha on 58.155. Next, I was blown away to be announced as the first female on 62.199km and rewarded with a sweet trophy and bottle of Fox Creek Vixen (sparkling red, my favourite!). There was also a perpetual trophy which would have both the male and female winners names engraved on it. The male winner, Paul, had done an amazing 74.274km! I was 5th overall out of the 6 hour entrants (out of 58 starters, 34 females). Needless to say, I was pleased!
After treating myself to a vegan pasty and donut from the nearby Bakery On O’Connell, I went home for a shower and to get my compression tights on – ahhhhh! 
As I got organised to head back down to the Uni Loop for the end of the 12 hour, I got a missed call from Race Director Ben. I quickly called him back and he told me there had been a mixup with the results. Immediately I knew what he was going to say. In the event briefing it was stated that 12 hour runners were eligible for placing in the 6 hour event. Tia from the 12 hour had lapped me 3 times so of course she had covered more distance in the 6 hours! I had seen that in the briefing but assumed I must have read it wrong, it didn’t really seem fair! I was relegated to 2nd, still a podium finish, and Ben said I could keep my wine. I told him (possibly a bit tongue-in-cheek!) “I’ll bring back the trophy but you were never getting that wine back!”

So I made my way back to the Uni Loop, trophy in hand to return to Ben, to see the end of the 12 hour. I was expecting to see Tia fly by multiple times but surprisingly didn’t see her at all.
Just after the finish, and before the presentations, Channel 7 news were doing a live weather cross. Ben had got Michelle to organise some people to be ‘pretend runners’ to run small loops past Tim, the weather guy. I was one of the ‘pretend runners’ – most of them were volunteers and supporters – I think Michelle and I were the only ones who had participated in the actual event! Luckily I keep ’emergency running kit’ in my car so I threw on my old running shoes and shorts over my compression tights and socks. A few people said they saw us on the news – pretty cool! (By the 4th ‘lap’ the Channel 7 guy said that was enough. My legs said the same thing!)
The presentations for the 12 hour followed soon after. I was surprised to find out that Tia had finished second (no disrespect to the actual winner) – then found out she had pulled out after 100k in less than 9 hours and wasn’t there for the presentation! D’oh, I should have kept the trophy! (Just kidding!) The winner was Rebecca who had done 104km and was a very deserving winner! Third was Emma who had just missed out on cracking the 100km milestone. In the men’s 12 hour Wayne was a clear winner and Toby was 3rd, amusingly taking home the ‘3rd female’ trophy!
I stopped off at a nearby convenience store to buy a couple of loaves of bread after they had run out at the food tent, and was tempted to order myself an Indian takeaway but decided to have homemade curry from my freezer. Curry, wine, chocolate was my recovery meal!
Sunday morning I went to see the finish of the 24 hour. The eventual winner, Nicole, was looking strong and still running which was remarkable (most people were walking by now). Barry was in second place overall (first male) and on track for a PB. It was great to see such amazing performances – Nicole ended up breaking the course record and Barry got his PB. They were both worthy winners! Most of the 24 hour runners  were looking a little worse for wear at the presentation!
In preparation for this event I re-read last year’s blog. I am very happy with how my run went and I managed to avoid making the same mistakes as last year. I said last year that I would like to do the 24 hour ‘one day’. Without Gold Coast the week before, next year could have been the year for it. But now, unfinished business and all, I am determined to give the 6 hour another crack. If I can come into it fresh, unlike the last 2 years, I’m confident I can get another PB, and who knows, maybe I might even go one better than this year!
I was talking to Sarah and Robbie on Sunday morning (Robbie had pulled the pin due to injury but not before completing 100k for the first time – remarkable given that for a lot of it he was wearing what looked a lot like full scuba gear!)  and Sarah had said she had struggled with the loop concept -she has the endurance but feels she is much better suited to trails. Which got me thinking. I love road running, trail and even track. But maybe loops are my ‘thing’! I’ve done 2 6 hour races now and finished second both times, and got first female in a 100k loop race. Weirdly enough, I seem to enjoy the monotony! 

Well done to everyone who participated this year and ESPECIALLY to all the volunteers and of course Ben for making it all happen! See you again next year!

Race Report – UTA 100


Ultra-Trail Australia. Where to begin?
I arrived in Sydney on Thursday around lunchtime and made my way to Katoomba via train from the airport. I had packed all my essential race gear in my hand luggage but fortunately my checked baggage made it to Sydney too. I had been looking out at the airport and on the plane for other UTA travellers but hadn’t seen any likely looking people but then at the carousel I heard someone call out my name. It was Mick, who had sadly had to pull out of UTA but had already booked his flights and a few comedy gigs in Sydney. He had been on my flight but we hadn’t seen each other. We wished each other well for our weekend ventures and went our separate ways.
My first “what the hell am I doing here?” moment came on the train to Katoomba when I got my first glimpse of the Blue Mountains. It suddenly hit me, what a huge undertaking this was! I quickly got over that though, and enjoyed the scenery for the remainder of the trip.
By the time I got to Katoomba, dropped my bags off at the hostel and did a quick grocery shop, it was getting towards dinner time. It was too late to go to the event expo/check in by then, so that would have to wait until Friday. Being the “only vegan in the village” none of the food the others were having was any good for me, so I think I had a peanut butter sandwich on white bread. Mmmm, nutritious!
We were staying in a house which was part of a hostel. I had stayed there the previous year. Wendy and Dej, veterans of 2 and 4 North Face 100’s respectively (the former name for UTA 100) had been staying there for several years before that. It was an ideal location, just 500m from the railway station, within easy walking distance of the main street, and also walking distance to Scenic World, the centerpiece of the UTA festival. It was also great to have a house to ourselves where we could spread out, do all our pre-race rituals and not have to annoy any non-runners who just wouldn’t have understood why we had to be so messy!
Also there was Karen, a frequent flyer on this blog, and a fellow UTA virgin. One more runner, Jonathan, was to arrive the following day. Jonathan and Dej were allocated the downstairs bedroom and us 3 ladies all got a room upstairs to ourselves.
On Friday I had planned to go for a light leg-loosener jog with my race vest on. I’d had to unpack it for travel so I wanted to make sure it was packed so it would be comfortable for the race. There was a laundry list of mandatory gear we had to carry throughout, which was essentially designed to save our lives if we got into trouble and had to wait for a while to get rescued. There were 2 items, a fleece top and waterproof pants, which we would be advised later that day if we would have to carry (this was dependent on weather – with a forecast of 20 degrees and sunshine, it looked highly likely that we would NOT have to carry them, and could instead leave them in a later drop bag.
Karen and I firstly decided to go for a stroll down to see the Three Sisters. Another brief “what are we doing?” moment happened when we saw the sign at Echo Point that signified that this was the 60km mark of the 100km race. We wondered how we would feel by the time we got here the next day!
After the obligatory selfie in front of the iconic Three Sisters rock formation, we decided to wander a bit further along the race route. After a quick toilet stop (mentally noting that this would be a good place for a pit stop during the race – anything to avoid those damn portaloos!) we went past the Visitor Centre and noticed a few cool sculptures along the path. No way would we have noticed these during the run! I saw my first echidna (OK it was a sculpture) and there was also a lyrebird, some lizards and some Christmas beetles high up on a rock – you really had to be looking to notice them! Then we hit the Giant Stairway – another “WTF?” moment – after going down a few steps we decided “sod that, let’s save that for tomorrow!”
After a nice coffee we headed back to the house, I set about packing my race vest and drop bags and Karen went to meet Jonathan at the station.
I’d already planned my drop bags so it was just a matter of ticking off all the items. I’d cooked a couple of sweet potatoes the night before and mashed them with some salt. That was my version of energy gels and it had worked for me in the past. Karen had somewhat unkindly likened the mash in a ziploc bag to the contents of a colostomy bag!
My race fuel consisted of: sports drink (in powdered form), sweet potato mash (in squeezy flasks), nut bars, Lifesavers, almonds, nut butter sandwiches and peanut butter. Dej was horrified that I was eating peanut butter – he hates the stuff! That’s pretty rich coming from a guy that likes to drink beetroot juice on a run! I packed some of each in my drop bags and my vest. As the first drop bag was not until Checkpoint 3 (45km in), I had to pack a bit of extra sustenance in my vest for the first leg.
Other than fuel, I also packed sunscreen for CP3 and CP4 (I expected it would be dark or getting close to it by CP5 so sunscreen there was unnecessary), insect repellent at CP4, and some clothing changes. I had a clean top and arm socks at CP3 and CP5, spare shoes and running skirt at CP4, and clean socks at all the checkpoints. We had to take our checkpoint drop bags to the expo by Friday night.
The competitor briefing which we’d received several weeks earlier had suggested Coles or Woolies cooler bags as good drop bags. I already had them from Heysen, but this being a much larger event, I had decided to try to personalise my bags to make them easier to spot. At Heysen I had attached bright yellow tags, but at UTA they had recommended not to do that, as the tags could become detached in transit. So I had written my name, race number and checkpoint number on each bag, and attached a bright pink ribbon (double knotted) to each handle.
I wanted to go to the expo a bit earlier and I wasn’t ready with my drop bags so I wandered down at about 2:30, fully laden race vest on. It was only about a 3km walk to the expo. Well it would have been, had I not relied on Apple Maps for directions. I should have known better – Apple Maps has steered me wrong several times before! Over an hour later I finally got to Scenic World only to find that the expo was actually at KCC (Katoomba Christian something) which fortunately was just across the road. On the plus side I had walked for over an hour with my pack and it felt very comfortable.
I didn’t have much time at the expo – my circuitous route to get there had left me with less time than I had planned, so I said a quick hello in passing to Sputnik at the iomerino stand and then made my way to Fox Creek Wines to get a souvenir UTA 100 bottle of wine and meet the La Sportiva team including Mick Keyte who is an SA runner who also happens to be my good friend Sam’s brother-in-law, and Beth Cardelli who is a multiple winner of this event.
I completed my check-in quickly (another brief “WTF?” moment when I saw my race bib with my name on it) and headed back to the house to finish packing my drop bags. I checked the event Facebook page for advice about the fleece and waterproof pants, and happily informed the rest of the crew that we could leave both items in our CP5 drop bags. It would then depend what time we left CP5, whether or not we’d have to carry either of those items. The 5 of us then took the complimentary shuttle bus back to KCC to put our drop bags on the trucks, carefully making sure we put the right bag on the right truck! This was it – no turning back now!
I was the only one out of our group who attended the ‘compulsory’ race briefing. I saw a few familiar faces there – Alex, who had run this event last year and who I had also run with a few times in the lead-up to Heysen 105 last year, and Kim, who was with a group of runners who had done the Big Red Run (a desert stage race) last year and had decided to have a reunion of sorts here at UTA.
I was glad I went – it started with a traditional (and very entertaining) welcome. Then there was the ‘safety guy’ who gave us two key messages – don’t overhydrate (never an issue for me) and don’t take drugs (especially anti-inflammatories but even paracetamol). Finally the Race Director Tom Landon-Smith gave another entertaining address to complete proceedings. I quickly legged it to the bus – it was about 7:15pm by now and I hadn’t had time to eat dinner beforehand and really wanted an early night.
After waiting a little while for the bus (not surprisingly, most of the 1000-strong crowd from the briefing wanted to get on a bus!) I got back to the house just before 8. I had asked Karen (when she had left the expo earlier) to put on some pasta for me and it was just about ready as I walked in the door – perfect! I dumped it in a large microwave bowl (none of the ‘normal’ sized bowls were anywhere near big enough for an ultramarathoner appetite!), threw in some bottled pasta sauce and a bit of spinach and pretty much inhaled it! A glass of red wine and some dark chocolate topped off the meal nicely.
There wasn’t much left to do – my finish line drop bag was packed (mostly warm clothes as well as my fluffy slippers which would be a welcome relief to get into!) and my race vest was ready to go. I went to bed around 9:30ish, with my alarm set for 4:30. My alarm was on my old phone, which had no SIM card in it and had not automatically updated the time when we’d changed time zones – so it was still on SA time, half an hour behind! Lucky I’d checked it!
On Saturday morning we were all up early. Dej was in the first (fastest) start group and he was also going to get there early for a warmup with his coach, Brendan Davies. Warming up for a 100km ultra – hardly seemed necessary in my opinion but Dej is a veteran of this event and is the owner of a coveted silver belt buckle (sub-14 hour finisher) so I presumed he knew what he was doing!
After my usual breaky (muesli, Weetbix, chia and almond milk with a glass of OJ), I had one moment of minor panic when I was getting dressed and couldn’t find my running undies. SURELY I couldn’t have forgotten to pack them? I hadn’t packed any other running undies as I hadn’t planned to run other than this one race. I was debating with myself, do I wear non-running undies or do I go commando under my compression shorts? I had opted for commando and then turned around and saw my undies there on the bed – phew! Never try anything new on race day – especially when it’s a 100km race!
I did try something new though. My race kit consisted of my Yurrebilla race singlet and buff from last year (why not do a bit of promotion for a fantastic SA race out on the trails?), and none of my striped arm socks matched that top, so I’d bought new ones which had never been used before. I also wore cycling gloves, a recommendation from Wendy, because there was a bit of rock climbing involved and it would save my hands. Wendy’s suggestion was to wear them throughout. Other than this it was a pretty stock standard kit for me – compression shorts and calf sleeves, trail shoes, black socks and my favourite lululemon running skirt with side zip pocket and a few waistband pockets which are useful for having snacks at hand
I had a few moments to kill after I was ready and I thought I might as well go – Jonathan was in the group before me and had left not long ago. Better to be early than late, although if I was late for my start group I could always start in a later group which was nice. Wendy and Karen were a few groups behind me so they left the house a bit later.
On the bus I put on my sunscreen – it seemed odd to be doing it in the dark but it was going to be a warm day – I wasn’t taking any chances!
At Scenic World I dropped off my finish line drop bag and made a quick pit stop before watching the first start group set off. I met Sonja and Mike, two Adelaide runners who I’d met on a trail run early in the year and had been following on Strava. Before I knew it, Start Group 2 had gone and my group was being called! This really WAS it! Another Adelaide runner, Anna, called out to me. I hadn’t realised she was iny start group. Only days earlier she had been trying to downgrade to the 50km race as she’d had a lot of health issues and did not feel she was prepared for the 100km. Having not been able to arrange a swap, here she was! We wished each other all the best and we were away!
The first 4km was an out and back, on road, around Scenic World. It was a nice way to ease into it and there were a lot of people there cheering us on. Among them was Lucy Bartholomew, a well known ultra runner who I had met a few weeks earlier at a Q & A night. She has run Yurrebilla a few times. She was supporting her dad on this occasion and I recognised her and called out. I don’t know if she recognised me personally but she did call out “Yurrebilla!”
I ran with Hoa for a while, another Adelaide runner who had run the event the previous year. She was planning to run with Bev who was in group 4, one behind us. Bev was hoping to catch up with us. Hoa informed me that Anna was already well in front of us. That would be right, I thought, not even sure if she can make the distance and she’s going to have a smashing run anyway! We saw the first start group running back as we were running out – I spotted Dej and wished him all the best (as if he needed it!)
Hoa quickly picked up the pace and that was the last I saw of her!
Early on, we met the Furber Steps. I was a bit familiar with these steps. We would become reacquainted with them at around the 99km mark when we would have to go up them. All 951 of them. Fortunately, at this early stage, we were descending!
At around 6.5km, I don’t know what I tripped over, but I fell. I grazed my right knee and elbow, and probably would have grazed my right hand too if not for the gloves. There was a bit of blood but nothing too serious. I bounced up and kept going. I could get first aid at CP1 which was less than 5km away. I had fallen over at Heysen 105 too, again seemingly tripping on nothing, but that was at the 38km mark. I think probably I am cautious in the more technical sections but probably a bit blasé in the ‘easier’ bits. Plus, we were in the freaking Blue Mountains – it was hard not to be distracted by the incredible scenery!
In this section too, I saw the only instance of bad blood (no pun intended!) between runners. Etiquette states that if a faster runner behind you wants to get past, you let them. Behind me, on a technical rocky section, someone was trying to pass another runner. The runner in front took exception to this, saying it was not the time or place, there was a long way to go, and there was a wider fire track up ahead which would be ideal for overtaking. The runner behind got a bit shitty about this and while there were no raised voices, it was a little tense. I was thinking, come on guys, can’t we all just get along? The guy behind did end up passing, and I later let him pass me without a word. I can see both guys’ points of view but it really left a bit of a sour taste when trail runners and ultramarathoners in general are noted for their great camaraderie!
A little after this I was joined by a runner called Alex from NSW. He had previously run the event in 16 hours and that was the time I was (naïvely) hoping to do, so I was pleased to stick with him and chat for a while. He went on ahead just before CP1 and we wished each other all the best in case our paths didn’t cross again.
Somewhere along here we encountered the Golden Stairs, our first tough ascent for the day. I have to admit I have no recollection of this – others complained about these stairs after the event, but I just had no memory of them. It must have been that all those seemingly endless ascents and descents blurred into one!
I reached the first checkpoint at Narrow Neck (11.4km) in 1 hour 34 minutes. I put on some more sunscreen and topped up my water and sports drink (I also had a bladder with 1 litre of water in it – I hoped not to have to use this, as the bladder would be a pain in the arse to get out, refill and put back in.) I didn’t need anything else so early in the race, so I was about to get going when someone asked me if I needed first aid. Oh that’s right. My elbow and knee! Fortunately I had forgotten about them in the last 5km since I had fallen! I made my way to the first aid tent where the first aid officer insisted I sit down (I was reluctant as I thought it would be too hard to get going again). Paul Rogers of Fox Creek Wines was also at the first aid tent helping out – it was great to see a familiar face, since most of the people I knew who were in town, were actually competing in the race! My wounds were assessed as non-life-threatening, and cleaned up with a bit of saline. I was given a warm glass of concrete and sent on my way.
The next little section, Narrow Neck, was familiar. I had run this section last year as part of a training run – it was a week out from the Barossa Marathon and I had done my long 20km run on the Friday. Wendy had suggested this might be a good place to do my run. Last year it was so peaceful and a pleasure to run, getting away from the chaos for a while. This year, it wasn’t quite so peaceful (what with all the other runners around) but no less pleasant. It was gently undulating, wide fire track. This was going to be a piece of cake! (Except it wasn’t, and I knew that!)
Not far out of CP1 there was a sign indicating a photographer was ahead. The girl next to me had picked up a sturdy stick along the way which she was using to help her along. (I saw a lot of people do this. Also many people with trekking poles. At many times I wished I had poles or at least a stick!) As soon as she realised there was a photographer ahead, she quickly disposed of the stick – she didn’t want a photo of her using a stick, especially not at this early stage!
I smiled and waved at the photographer. I was tempted to try jumping – jump shots can look awesome and there was Buckley’s chance of my being able to pull off a jump shot in the later stages, however the last time I attempted this i nearly strangled myself with my buff so I opted for a smile and wave instead!
Around this time I was caught by another Adelaide runner, Ryley. I had briefly met him while I was helping out at a checkpoint during the Coastal Challenge ultramarathon back in Adelaide. He has a very distinctive beard so is hard to miss! We ran together briefly but he was in start group 5 (he started 20 minutes behind me) and was clearly running faster than me, so we weren’t together for long. That was pretty much the story of the day, you’d run with someone for 5 or 10 minutes, have a bit of a chat, get each other’s life story, and then one person would go on ahead. It was nice. THIS was the camaraderie I had been expecting!
At the 22km mark we came to Tarros Ladders. There was a slight delay here as only 8 people can be on the ladders at one time. There is an alternative route which is slightly longer and bypasses the ladders. Runners are sometimes rerouted via the bypass when the ladders are busy. When I arrived, I was told that the time to get down via the ladders and the bypass would be about the same, so I went with the ladders. The girl ahead of me on the ladders said when she had last done this descent, the ladders weren’t there and she had to use spikes in the rocks to descend. I thought that was a little harsh – I later found out that it wasn’t during the race that she did it, it was just a training run! (The extension ladders that we climbed down are installed specifically for the event and are not there at other times).
The ladders were kind of fun! I was glad I was going down and not up!
I ended up running with the girl who had been ahead of me on the ladders. Her name was Belinda and she was from the local area. We ran together for a while, then I got ahead for a bit and she caught up. Her husband was running too, in start group 1. I asked her if she was hoping to catch up to him and she sort of laughed and said no, he was fast. He had done the Western States (a hardcore ultra in the US which is really hard to get into) and had also run the Boston Marathon. We chatted about Boston for a while, Boston qualification being one of my main goals for this year. She said the atmosphere was amazing, and crowds lined the streets from start to finish. I thought that would have been nice here (but highly impractical given the environment!) – the crowds at Scenic World on the first little out and back section had really given me a boost!
Checkpoint 2 was at Dunphy’s Camp at 31.6km, accessed by climbing over a stile. More bloody stairs! I reached Dunphy’s in just under 4 hours 15 minutes. I had lost Belinda at this stage. First order of business was to top up my bottles. There was a Scottish guy at the drink station saying “Water here and sports drink over there” (or words to that effect. While filling my bottles I asked him if he got sick of saying that, over and over and over again. (I had volunteered at a drink station before. I DID get sick of it after a while!) He said no, but if I got sick of hearing it, that meant I’d been there too long! Fair point! Next on the agenda, while there was no queue at the portaloos, was a toilet stop – silly me decided to take my race vest in with me instead of leaving it on the ground outside like the sensible people did. I accidentally knocked the end of the hose of my bladder (ie the bit you put in your mouth) on the back of the door – ewww!
After that I went over to where the food was, had a handful of potato crisps, sat down on the ground and got myself organised for the next section, a little over 14km away. I wiped my hands with a baby wipe and then with another I wiped over the drinky bit on my hose. I’d rather the taste of baby wipe than the taste of portaloo! Besides, the bladder was for emergency use only! I got out half a sandwich, and while still eating it, set off for the next leg.
Not far out of the checkpoint I saw a familiar Big Red Run T-shirt. It was Ruby, who I had met at the briefing. This was her first 100km trail ultra – she had entered one previously that had turned into a track ultra because of flooding making the trail impossible to run. Happily, there were no such issues in the Blue Mountains! We ran together for a short while before she powered on ahead. I could see her distinctive red calf compression sleeves ahead for a while and then she was gone!
I soon came to an interesting part of the course, Ironpot Mountain and Ironpot Ridge. This was a roughly 500m in total, out and back section along a fairly narrow, rocky track. As I commenced the ‘out’, I heard a voice calling my name. It was Anna, who had just finished the ‘back’, so was around 500m ahead of me. I continued on, passing the 35km marker and the musicians at the top. We could hear the didgeridoo music and the sticks (I’m not sure if they have a special name) from a little way away and it was great to see and hear them on the ridge. David, who had done the traditional welcome at the briefing the night before, was there encouraging and high fiving the runners as we went through. It was a real lift for the spirits!
Not long after this we hit the aptly named Megalong Valley Road – it was LOOOONG! This is a dirt road, so we had to be on the lookout for traffic. This was where my buff first came in useful, as I could pull it over my nose and mouth when cars went past, so I didn’t have to inhale the dust.
It wasn’t just cars though, there was the occasional crazy bike rider as well! One such crazy bike rider looked oddly familiar – it was Rob, who you may remember from such blog posts as last year’s City2Surf. He’d come down from Sydney to cheer on a number of people he knew in the race. I gave him a high five as he passed me and carried on my merry way!
Somewhere along here I picked up an English guy called Mark who was from Perth. He was struggling, having rolled his ankle, and was intending to pull out at Checkpoint 3. He had walking poles in a drop bag but that was at Checkpoint 5 and he was unlikely to make it that far. (One of the benefits of having a support person is that they can have all your stuff available at checkpoints 3, 4 and 5, so you don’t have to plan ahead what you think you will need at each checkpoint.) Even if he had had the poles he probably would not have made it to the end. He jokingly said that if he pulled out, he might volunteer at the first aid tent at CP3, being a paramedic!
We walked/jogged (mostly walked) and chatted for a while, and then when we came to a point where I felt like picking up the pace for a bit (getting close to the checkpoint) he told me to go on ahead – he had decided he was definitely going to pull out, but would be able to make it to the checkpoint OK. Just before this we had seen a guy with poles on the side of the road, looking like he was in a bit of trouble. We asked if he was OK, and he said his hip and knee were giving him hell and he was going to pull out at CP3. After making sure he would be able to make it to the checkpoint, we had moved on. Not long after that we saw him slowly making his way to Checkpoint 3.
After I left Mark, I jogged for a while and I saw a familiar back in front of me. It was Anna again! She was really struggling and was planning to pull the pin at CP3 where her husband Michael was waiting for her. I asked her if she wanted some company and she said yes, so we walked together up to CP3 at Six Foot Track (46km). If she was going to pull out here,she wasn’t going to end the journey alone! We had been going for 6 hours 40 minutes at this stage. 
On arrival at CP3 we were subjected to a gear check – we had to show our waterproof jackets and head torches. Michael was there with Coke (OMG I was SO excited to have some Coke!) and some boiled salted potatoes which he kindly shared with me. I had met him several times before doing events with Anna, as we were around the same pace so I’d often see him at checkpoints waiting for her and he was always happy to help me out. I left them there to go and get my drop bag – at this point Anna was talking about trying to walk to CP4 (‘only’ 11.3km away) and then reassessing from there. I wished her all the best in case I didn’t see her again.
I went to the drop bag tent – on the way there I saw Ryley sitting on a chair looking like he was sitting by a pool at a tropical resort! At the tent I got my bag and sat down. I had gotten over my ‘fear’ of sitting down at checkpoints, realising that it was a necessity (for me at least, maybe not for the elites) in an event such as this. After reapplying my sunscreen and getting out the food I wanted for the next leg, I changed my top. I didn’t really feel I needed to change yet, but my next clean top was not until CP5 (78km – another 32km away) and I didn’t want to take the risk of chafing (which has happened to me in the past in ultras when I’ve worn one top for too long) and I didn’t want to carry the clean top. I kept the same arm socks on though, I really liked the colours on these ones! I filled up my bottles again on the way out and couldn’t resist grabbing another handful of chips and a couple of glasses of Coke. All in all I was there for 17 minutes (runners were timed at a number of points along the course and at some of the checkpoints we were timed on the way in and the way out).
The best thing about the next section was the halfway point! I was on my own at this stage (well there were others around me but I wasn’t specifically running with anyone) and we were on a track called the Six Foot Track. I knew the 50km marker had to be coming soon. My Garmin wasn’t showing an accurate distance, it was somewhere between 500m and 1km under the proper distance. That would be REALLY annoying at the finish line if it only read 99km!
Finally – yes – there it was! The halfway point! I forgot to sing Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ as I had done last year at Yurrebilla, but I did take a beaming selfie next to the sign. 7.5 hours down and I had reached the halfway mark. I knew, though, that the back half would be MUCH tougher.
For a while I ran with a girl called Danielle. I can’t remember where she was from – I have a feeling it was the Gold Coast. She, like me, was a relatively new runner, having only been running for about 3 years. She told me that she’d previously been a heavy smoker and drinker, so this was quite a dramatic change in her life! She also told me that I should definitely do the Six Foot Track marathon, an iconic event in this same area which I have heard a lot of people rave about. Another one for the bucket list!
Another girl I ran with briefly was called Kaz. We were in a small group at that stage, and Kaz was saying she wanted to sing ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers but didn’t want to do it as a solo. So naturally I helped her out! And the people around is joined in! I would have liked to keep the karaoke party going for a bit longer but Kaz was a bit too quick for me so she was gone! I hope she found another singing buddy!
A bit further up the road, I came to the notorious stairway out of Nellies Glen. Definitely not the Stairway To Heaven. Stairway From Hell, maybe! The number of stairs is unclear (I certainly wasn’t counting them) but I later Googled and it is widely estimated that there are around 500 stairs. Now, normally when you climb a lot of stairs (and up until UTA I never had any problems with stairs), you get some respite with a landing every 15-16 stairs. Here, there were no landings, so it was a constant climb. It was, for me, the hardest part of the course. I definitely wished I had walking poles here! (Wendy later told me that she’d seen a whole pile of sticks at the top of the stairs that people had used to help them up. Pity there wasn’t a nice person to take them down to the bottom for the next lot of climbers!) I think from memory there were a few rails here and there (and wherever there were rails, I would use them to full advantage) but really, it was just a nasty, nasty section. To give some idea, it took over an hour for me to get from 50km to 55km. It was a hard slog! Somewhere along that climb I heard a voice call my name. It was Marc, a fellow Adelaide runner who had started in group 6 – he was making good time! He soon passed me and stayed ahead of me for the rest of the day.
Approaching CP4 I saw a girl standing by a tree. It was Sonja from Adelaide who I’d seen at the start. Turned out she had torn her Achilles only 6 weeks ago and was actually happy to have gotten this far in the event! After making sure she was OK to make it to the next checkpoint, I pressed on.
At 57km we were back in Katoomba again and into CP4 in the Katoomba Aquatic Centre. This was a weird checkpoint as it was indoors. So we’d go from some pretty spectacular trails, to a gym in the middle of the town! I was mildly surprised to see Michael there, and even more surprised to hear that Anna had got there ahead of me! She hadn’t passed me in the last leg, so we worked out that she must have left CP3 before me and stayed in front. I had some more Coke and potato thanks to Michael, and sat down on the floor and removed a pesky rock from my shoe that had been annoying me for some time. I reapplied my sunscreen for the last time and topped up my drinks again. Again I was there for 17 minutes and Anna set off about 5 minutes ahead of me, I said I’d catch up. She said she’d only be walking. I didn’t bother with a toilet stop here becauee only 3km away was Echo Point and the nice public toilets Karen and I had seen the previous day. I thought I saw Marc on his way out as I was sitting on the floor but couldn’t be arsed getting up at that stage to talk to him! I also saw Ryley again sitting on a chair looking quite chilled. He was still doing OK.
Not long after this I was running along a path leading up to Echo Point when I could hear cheering and music. I said to the guy next to me, “Is that the finish line?” He said something like “I wish! We’re only at 60km!” But it was the finish line – the first of the runners were starting to come through and we still had another 40km to go. What kind of sadist makes people go so close to the finish line that they can hear it, with almost half the race still to go? 
I saw Michael again at Echo Point – support crews were not allowed here but it is a big tourist area so they couldn’t stop people from coming along to watch and cheer. And it was nice. Not only those who had come to watch the runners, but also the random tourists who happened to be there, all gave us a great reception. I saw Anna, she was still ahead of me at this stage. My plan to use the nice toilets was thwarted when I saw the queue out the door. Queue? I was in a race! Screw that! Plus I didn’t really need to go that badly. The tourists on the path were very courteous, they would always get out of the runners’ way. The Giant Stairway was a perfect example of this, it is a very narrow and steep descent and tourists, seeing us coming down, would stand aside and let us through. I actually quite liked this bit. Especially with the handrails to hold onto, I was able to go down there at a reasonable pace! 
Near the bottom I encountered a guy on his phone. Turned out his support crew had broken his bladder and were out at one of the outdoor shops buying a new one! So, I guess there’s a good advertisement for NOT having a support crew! I asked him if he was OK for water, I still had my emergency 1 litre in my bladder and said he could fill his bottles from that if he needed to. I thought a broken bladder definitely constituted an emergency! He said no thanks, he’d be fine to get to the next water point which was only about 7-8km away.
Not long after this we were in a beautiful forest. It was a bit dark down there and I was contemplating getting out my head torch. It was around this time that I finally caught up with Anna. It was probably about 5pm by then and we were starting to see some amazing colours in the sky. We stopped to take some photos at a waterfall (I can’t remember which one!) and I said to Anna, “How beautiful is this?” Anna said that was so Aussie, making a statement like that in the form of a question! I’d never actually noticed that before but we do do that a lot, don’t we? I said to her, you’ll know you’re a proper Aussie when you start saying “Yeah, nah”! She said that they have a similar expression in her native South Africa so I guess we’re not all that different!
We decided it was definitely time to don the head torches. I took off my cap and carried it, and pulled my buff up over my head as a headband, so my torch wouldn’t rub on my head.
Around this time a guy ran past us, singing. It was Ryley again! He had left CP4 after me and the extended break had obviously done him good because he seemed to be in great spirits and running well!
A guy running near us said “This looks like a golf course!” That was good news, because that meant we were near the Fairmont Resort in Leura which was the 69km water point. Here there were only basic supplies (chips, lollies and water) and no support crews were allowed, so no Coke and spuds! On the way into the Fairmont we passed some apartments, some people cheered us on through an open window. I called out, “Do you have wine?” The girl said “We’ve got bubbly!” As tempting as that was, it was probably not the best hydration strategy so we politely declined her offer! (I don’t think Anna was remotely tempted!) 
After the volunteers helped us to fill our bottles, we were told it was time to put on our hi-viz vests and then we set off. (The hi-viz vests were actually great, despite making it really annoying to get anything out of the race vest, because you could really easily see when there were other runners.)
It was ‘only’ about another 9km to the final major checkpoint, Checkpoint 5. (I say ‘only’ because 9km in this context can be a bloody long way!)
Anna was slightly ahead of me because, after having put on my hi-viz, I remembered that I wanted to put my sunnies and cap in my race vest.
After repacking my vest and putting my hi-viz back on, I quickly caught up, but I didn’t recognise her for a moment because I’d forgotten she’d put her thermal top on. I had opted not to put any warm clothes on at this stage. I still had my arm socks on and was finding it really helpful to be able to roll the sleeves down and up as needed. As we descended it would often get a bit cooler so I’d roll them up to my shoulders, and then as we went back up I’d get warm again so I’d roll them down to below my elbows. My cycling gloves, although fingerless, kept my hands warmish. I had calf sleeves on so my legs were reasonably warm. Plus, it wasn’t actually that cold.
It was slow going to the next checkpoint. From the timing point just before the Fairmont, to CP5, was approximately 10km and it took us exactly 2 hours to get there. Anna was struggling especially on the uphills and we needed to stop frequently for a breather. There was little or no running by this stage! We heard a waterfall and Anna speculated that it might be Wentworth Falls. It probably was, given that CP5 was in the town of Wentworth Falls, but given that it was pitch black by now, we couldn’t see it! I thought back to the 60km mark, when it was still daylight, and thought about how awesome it would be to be able to run the whole race in daylight!
We did manage to run a bit in the bitumen section leading up to CP5. A runner passed us, calling out to me. It was Sylvia, a Gold Coast runner who I had met on a trail run back in January when she’d been visiting Adelaide with her husband for the cycling Tour Down Under. She was still going strong.
The entrance to CP5 was something else! If ever there was a rock star reception, this was it! We could hear the music pumping as we approached and the gathered crowd roared as we entered. For one fleeting moment I thought this actually WAS the finish line!
There was Michael again, and also some unexpected familiar faces! My friend Sam, after having come from Sydney and cheered on his brother-in-law Mick (who by now had long since finished) all day, had been following my progress and had come to cheer me on at CP5! Also there was occasional Thursday morning running buddy Toni who was there cheering on Marc (who had already been through) and Di, who wasn’t far behind us. It was great to see some familiar faces among the crowd!
I went to do my thing with my drop bag including a wardrobe change (fresh top and sleeves) and then one last loo stop, during which Michael filled my drink bottles. I had forgotten to get my last ziploc bag of Gatorade powder out of my drop bag, and I wasn’t going back now, so my Gatorade for the last leg was somewhat diluted! (When unpacking my vest after the race, I found an extra bag in one of the pockets of my vest!)
We were told at this checkpoint that not only did we not have to carry our fleece or waterproof pants, we also didnt have to wear our hi-viz vests anymore (but we still had to carry them). Double win! 
I grabbed a couple of cups of Coke as we exited the checkpoint for the last 22km. Just past the checkpoint was a guy having a spew. There was a lot of that out there. At one stage we were playing ‘dodge the spew’ as we made our way along the trail!
The next 12km was a hard slog. We were ticking off the kilometres as best we could with both our Garmins being inaccurate (and when we asked other runners what distance their watches were showing, theirs were often different again!) and hanging out for the markers that came every 5km (each one was met with a minor celebration!)
90km was a big barrier. Anna was worried that she was taking a big risk with her health continuing on, and was really keen to get checked out by the first aid crew at the final stop, an emergency aid station at around 91km. She really wanted to finish, especially having got so far, but wanted some peace of mind that it was safe to do so. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw the 90km marker and one long kilometre later we reached the last aid station. 9km to go. While the first aid guys checked Anna, I sent a quick text to a few people to let them know that we were at 91km and were going to finish but might be a while. Anna was given the all clear to continue, but was told that if she needed to pull out later, the last timing point at 94km (at the delightfully named ‘Sewerage Treatment Works’) was the Point Of No Return. From there on, there was no way for crews to get a car in to pick her up. If she went beyond there, she had to finish.
We were told we had to put our hi-viz back on. I had thought it was weird that they’d told us we didn’t have to wear it after CP5. Especially since there were cars on the dirt roads/tracks we were running on.

We reached the last timing point just before 11:30pm (16 hours 50 minutes in). We were going to the finish. And we were going to get a belt buckle (for finishing under 20 hours) – only 6km to go!
Then there was mud! Or, given the name of the timing point, probably sewerage! EWWWW! We had to squelch our way through it and by the time we got through our shoes were caked in it. Mud. Let’s call it mud. Anna was wearing gaiters which I had decided was something I needed for my next ultra. They are good for keeping rocks and sand out. As it turned out, not particularly useful for mud!
The next 5km was reasonably pleasant. I wasn’t confident running on the narrow trails because even with my head torch I couldn’t see that well, and I definitely did NOT want to trip and fall again! I used my handheld backup light as well as my head torch and that seemed to give better illumination, but even so I was mostly walking. We met a guy called Jack who was from Adelaide originally but now based in Cairns with the military. He had had a fractured fibula a number of years ago and as a result his ankle mobility was a bit limited. What a coincidence that he happened to be running with 2 physiotherapists! We chatted about his injury and the likelihood of improvement in ankle mobility, and also later he sought our advice on recovery (in particular, when to get a massage). Anna offered to give him a free massage in return for him carrying her up the upcoming Furber Steps. For some reason, he didn’t take her up on that offer!
We soon reached the point where earlier in the day (when it was still light), we had passed the 50km runners going the other way as they approached the finish. Now, FINALLY, we were nearly there!
After a few other sets of stairs that we thought were the start of the Furber Steps, we saw the joy-inducing sign that said ‘1km to go’. OK, it was pretty much 1km of stairs, but it was so close we could taste it! We could hear the festivities at the finish line!
It was just under 18 hours when we reached the bottom of the steps. Slowly, and with frequent rests, we made our way up the steps. I did break into song at one point. Appropriately, I thought, it was ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus. Anna was not impressed!
About halfway up the stairs my Garmin died. It had been warning me that the battery was low for a while, but I thought I’d wing it, and I couldn’t be arsed getting my portable charger out of my pack. It wouldn’t have read 100km anyway so did I really want to put it on Strava?
Slowly but surely we plodded up the stairs, using the rails as needed and for seemingly the millionth time for the day, I made a stupid joke about there needing to be an escalator. (In fairness each time I made the joke it was to a different person!)

A volunteer said ‘just a couple more flights and you’re there!’ I thanked him for being the first person today who was not a LIAR! (‘You’re nearly there’ is the biggest lie in distance running. But this guy was telling the truth!)
We got to the top of the steps. Wendy had advised Karen and me before the race, to turn off our head torches as we approached the finish, as the light would affect the quality of the finish line photo. Anna took off her torch, checked with me that she didn’t have a head torch shaped dent in her forehead, and I put the torch into her pack. I turned off my torch and let it drop round my neck, and with my buff on, head torch dent was not a concern for me. We rounded the corner and there it was!
THE FINISH LINE!
WE WERE THERE!
WE HAD DONE IT!
Anna grabbed my hand and we ran across the finish line. Triumphant. Together. It was a really special moment. I’d never crossed a finish line with someone else before and it was a perfect end to what was a very tough but satisfying day. We were each given a coveted bronze belt buckle and a souvenir finisher towel.
WHAT A DAY!
It wasn’t over yet. Anna and I finished just before 1am, in 18 hours 22 minutes. Dej was there to see us finish, after having finished quite a few hours earlier (he had had time to go back to the house for a shower and all!) After grabbing my drop bag, my first priority was getting out of my stinky muddy shoes and socks and slipping into my ugg boots – ahhh! Dej and I went up to the Runners’ Lounge where we met SA trail running legend Terry Cleary (whose day hadn’t gone to plan) and his mate Dave from Darwin who had had a great first 100km race. Terry bought me a wine (thanks Terry!) and after a quick wardrobe change and scavenging all the food that was left from my drop bags and my race vest, I had some delicious hot chips – sooo good! (I stopped short of eating peanut butter from the container, knowing Dej’s aversion! That would have to wait till we got back to the house!)
We saw Kim, who had unfortunately had to pull out at 70km due to blisters. When Terry gave her a lift back to her accommodation, Dej and I went to have a nap on the beanbags while waiting for Wendy and Karen to finish. Dej set his alarm for 1 hour and despite the music still pumping outside and the finish line announcer still going (I have NO idea how she still had any voice left!) we managed to catch a few z’s before heading outside to see Wendy finish. 
It was so great to be able to watch her cross the line, I’d missed seeing her finish last year and after health issues since late last year, she wasn’t even sure she’d be able to run the event until quite recently. Dej took Wendy inside to get warm and I waited outside for Karen and another Adelaide runner, Jen. Jen’s husband Stirling had had to pull out after a fall before CP3 and was there at the finish line. Jen had seen the sunrise last year, taking around 24 hours to complete the course. This time she took about 2 hours off that time (powering across the finish line!) and was stoked to receive a medal. Last year, because she missed the 20 hour cutoff for a belt buckle, she had walked away empty handed – thankfully the organisers had seen fit to award medals to all runners over 20 hours this year. Not far behind Jen was Karen, who also finished strongly and announced ‘NEVER AGAIN!’ (Wendy had said the same, but she had also said that last year!) We had all made it!
We stayed in the Runners Lounge for a while to allow Karen, Jen and Wendy to get changed and get some food and drink. We got to meet Race Director Tom Landon-Smith. I told him “No offence, great event but I won’t be doing it again!” Tom’s response was, “I wouldn’t run it!”
Eventually we got a taxi back to the house, seeing the beautiful sunrise as we went. After eating a whole bunch more food, showering and somehow getting my compression tights on, I finally went to bed around 7:30am. An hour or so later I was up again to go to the presentation – one of our SA runners, Howard, had won his age group.
The presentations overlapped with the last of the 100km runners finishing. Those runners got the best reception of all! Among them was Alf, a 74 year old man who had also been one of the last finishers last year. Early in the race, I had run with last year’s sweeper who had told me he’d run the last 20km with Alf, pushing him towards the end to give him an hour to get up the Furber Steps and make cutoff. He did the stairs in 40 minutes. This year he did the stairs in 33 minutes and made cutoff by 13 minutes. I wonder if he’ll be back for more next year? 

Sam came back from Sydney to take me for a celebratory lunch, and later that night the 5 of us from the house went for the traditional post-race dinner at the local Thai place just up the hill with Terry, Dave and another Darwin friend Robbie. I find spicy food really helps my recovery! Despite being incredibly tired from sleep deprivation and just overall fatigue, I could have listened to Terry, Karen, Dej and Wendy exchanging trail running stories all night!

On Monday morning, Jonathan having left for an early flight, Dej, Wendy, Karen and I got up early to walk to Echo Point to watch the stunning sunrise. We all wore our UTA T-shirts and there were a few others down there wearing them too, so we exchanged stories with them while marvelling at the view.

It was a perfect way to end an epic weekend!
So, after having said “Never again” after the race, I may be wavering a bit. Maybe I will do the 100 again. I can see myself doing the 50km, and a lot of the other Adelaide runners have also said they’d do the 50 but not the 100 again. I won’t do the 100 again on the training I’ve done. I will need to focus on UTA and not try to do everything. Having said that, I’m really happy with how I went, and can’t really see any way (other than training properly) I could have done better.
UTA is not for the faint hearted. But it is an amazing experience in a stunning location with awesome people. If you’re up for a serious challenge, I can highly recommend it!
Now it’s time for recovery and eating everything in sight -then back into marathon training mode!

The Road To UTA100

Probably the most positive thing I can say about last year’s experience at The North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains (now rebranded as ‘Ultra-Trail Australia 100’ or from now on in this post, ‘UTA100’) is that watching people run it, inspired my entry into this year’s event.
As it turns out, I am not a good spectator/supporter – I need to be involved! That in turn was my inspiration to run the Heysen 105 last year, an event I really enjoyed and will run again. The intention at the time was to do a 100k closer to home first, to make sure I could last the distance. And I did!

Even before Heysen 2015, the entries for UTA100 2016 opened. The 1300 entries sold out in under 48 hours. OK, being so far out from the event, there are always going to be drop-outs and hence opportunities for others. But I didn’t want to take any chances so I was ready on the computer and my phone the second entries opened. A few anxious moments (during which I was chatting on Messenger with my mate Mick who was also trying to get his entry in) later, and a meeting with a work colleague postponed (she was very understanding) we were both in!

On that day or the next, Wendy messaged us about accommodation. Apparently it books out very quickly so she advised us to get in right away. Wendy quickly booked the house we had stayed in last year (actually a self-contained house within a hostel near the centre of Katoomba) and not long after that I managed to snag some cheap flights.

The stats are pretty daunting. The 100km race has an elevation gain of 4300m and roughly 7000 stairs (possibly more. I’d rather not know.)

So I managed to get through Heysen (if you’re interested, you can read all about it: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/race-report-heysen-105/

I ticked a few boxes that day:

-Running largely alone for long stretches – tick.
-Supplying all my own gear/food – tick.
-Planning and organising drop bags for the checkpoints – tick.
-Running in the dark and not getting lost – tick.
-Getting through a 100k trail ultra in one piece and finishing strongly – double tick.
-Not losing my car key on the trail – oh well, nobody’s perfect! (Fortunately I will NOT be needing to take a car key to UTA100. I am down to my last one!)

Of course, the elevation of Heysen is nothing compared to UTA100. But, it was a good start and I was confident I had what it took to complete UTA100.

The training I did for this race was not quite what I had planned when I entered. I had all these grand plans. I had planned to do a reccy trip to Katoomba prior to the race itself, but time (and money) got away from me. Never mind, Adelaide has a lot of fantastic trails and hills, so there was no shortage of suitable training grounds.

My biggest problem was that I was unable to commit to training purely for UTA. I still have my ‘A’ goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Training for a fast marathon while also training for a challenging ultra is tricky, but I could not afford to focus too much on UTA, because after UTA it’s only about 7 weeks till the Gold Coast Marathon. (I think. If it’s less than that, I don’t want to know!)

Another problem I have is that I am a sucker for a race! So when I should have been doing a long trail run, I would instead run a 3k hot lap race around the Clipsal 500 track. Or even more ridiculous, a 1500m race at the Australian Masters Athletics Championships. (In fairness, I did get podium finishes at both of those events)

So, I’d do my usual 5 runs per week most weeks, with one of those (usually Thursday) being a fastish tempo run, and if I wasn’t Run Director, I would also try to run a fast parkrun. If there was a trail event on the weekend I would run that. In the last 3 weeks I would run Tuesdays and Fridays with my race vest (complete with all the mandatory gear to try to at least partly simulate the race day experience) and sometimes those runs would be hilly.

A couple of times I went up to Morialta with my backpack and did stair reps at the Giants Cave – 10 x 140 steps.

Another time I decided to go and check out ‘Il Bastardo’ hill at Brownhill Creek. 2 reps of that hill 3 days before a half marathon killed my quads. I planned to make that a weekly event up until UTA, but I never got around to going back.

Strava was a bit of a killer. I got to see what a lot of my fellow UTA athletes were doing for training. If I thought my training was a bit inadequate before, seeing what the likes of Karina, Alex and Simon were doing confirmed it!

So basically, to sum it all up, in under a week I will be going into one of the toughest ultramarathons in Australia grossly unprepared. And I can’t wait!

I plan to run it on my own. Well, on my own with 1299 other people. I’m in wave 3 of 7. Wave 1 is for the fastest runners – the idea being that the fast people then don’t have to worry about overtaking the slower runners on what can often be narrow track. So, it’s the opposite of Yurrebilla, where the slower runners set off first to give them extra time to complete the course before cutoff time). I’m not aware of anyone else I know in my start wave, but that suits me fine. I’ve been chatting with Karen about it. Neither of us want to be committed to running with someone else. Either holding them back, or being held back. We prefer to run our own race. We’ll no doubt meet new people along the way who we’ll run with for a while, but we won’t be tied down. We will run when we can, walk when we have to, and most importantly, enjoy the
ride!

I have all my mandatory gear. I am half packed. I know what I’ll be wearing on the day and I know what food I need to buy when I get to Katoomba. OK I may not have done the training I should have, but at least I have my outfit and food sorted. So, the important stuff is taken care of!

Next week’s blog will be all about UTA100. You might want to put aside a bit of time for that one. Much like the race itself, I have a feeling it’s going to be a bit of an epic!

Race Report – SA Trail Championships

The SA Trail Championships are run every year on the Cleland Trails. There are 3 distances on offer (being a trail race, all distances are approximate) – 6km, 12km and the championship 24km course.

Cleland is a popular spot for hikers and runners alike, with regular wildlife sightings (I’ve seen kangaroos, koalas and even deer) and some pretty challenging sections of trail. Any time from early in the morning to the dark of night, you’re bound to run into someone – from weekend warriors to serious proper athletes. I’ve done it in mornings before work, Sunday Runday, even Friday night group trail runs. I’ve run through there during Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (during YUM, Cleland is home to one of the best buffets I’ve seen) and I even spent last New Year’s Eve running through there.

Trail Running SA, who put on the SA Trail Championships, also put on social runs on most Sundays when there are no trail races scheduled. I’d run the Cleland 24km loop, pretty much the same as the Championships course, several times, so was pretty familiar with the terrain and the course.  

The first time I ran Cleland was also the very first Sunday social trail run I ever did. We were given printed, very clear, directions (eg “400m along Winter Track and then left on Long Ridge.”) Even so, one of my regular running buddies (who shall remain nameless) somehow ended up atop Mount Lofty (which was in no way part of the run) and tried to call several people for help. Said people allegedly saw who was calling and decided to ignore the calls! I ran with Kim and we did pretty well except towards the end when we took a wrong turn which ended very quickly in a dead end and we got back on track.

Another time I ran with Beck in pretty horrible conditions. Cold, windy and rainy. We were lucky enough to finish just before the big deluge hit. David, who organised the run, was not so lucky – getting back to the Cleland café just after us, he somewhat resembled a drowned rat!

This was my first Trail Championships. In 2014, my first full year of running, I was training for my first marathon and from memory it was only about 5 or 6 weeks away. I’d opted for a long road run instead of a challenging trail course where I might roll an ankle (being extremely inexperienced on trails) and put my marathon plans into disarray. In 2015 the championships clashed with the inaugural Bay-City Fun Run, which I decided to make into an ‘out and back’ to make it into a long road run, again as part of my marathon training.

This year I am also in marathon training but the marathon I am training for is later in the year. I’m also training for a challenging trail ultra in just under 3 weeks. This year, the Trail Champs fit perfectly into my plans!

I spent the week debating the merits of racing it versus using it as a training run. Realistically I wasn’t ever going to be a contender (although many very good trail runners would be skipping this event to taper for the inaugural Hubert ultra next weekend) but I still couldn’t resist the opportunity to race! A training run would mean wearing my big race vest, laden with mandatory gear and a bag of rice for extra weight. I’ve been trying to make up for my lack of training by running some of my regular road and hill runs with the race vest. But I didn’t really fancy doing that at the Championships. Instead, I opted to wear my small race vest just with sports drink and maybe half a litre of water, simply so I wouldn’t have to stop at the drink stations. (That tactic had actually resulted in my getting a placing at the Kuitpo Forest trail race last year).

I was picked up in the morning by regular morning running buddy Max and her husband Ray. I had gone out without a jacket – thinking my rainbow coloured arm socks would be warm enough – but was quickly sent back inside to get something warmer. I was so glad I did too, because it was a tad chilly at Cleland when we arrived about 45 minutes before go time! I peeled off the jacket with about 10 minutes to go.

I didn’t really have a goal time in mind. Mark, one of the fast runners I try to keep up with on my morning runs, asked me at the start what time I was aiming for. I said “2 and a half hours but I have a feeling that is a bit ambitious”. 2 hours would be 5 minute kms (even less, considering it was a bit OVER 24km) and with over 1000m total elevation, anything close to 2 hours was just utterly ridiculous! Anyway, 2.5 hours seemed like a reasonable figure to aim for. Given that it was my first Trail Champs, it was a guaranteed PB whatever happened! 

And without further ado, and spot on the advertised start time of 8:00, we were away!

Having not done a warmup, within the first few hundred metres I seem to recall, I blurted out to anyone who might be interested, “This is awful!” Not a good start when there’s over 24km of tough running to go! However, it soon went from awful to tolerable and then to pretty damn fun! It probably took a good kilometre for my dodgy hip (hamstring tendon most likely) to warm up and start feeling good.

I soon found myself running with Kate and Kay. Kate I have run with a fair bit, including my first ever half marathon (possibly also Kate’s first?) and regularly on a Thursday morning. Kay I used to run with regularly on a Sunday and also for about half of last year’s Barossa Marathon. We were also joined by Leon who is training for the 6 day Big Red Run in June, and may I say the best colour-coordinated man I have ever seen out on the trails, in head to toe blue! (Well maybe not toe – he dropped the ball a bit with the shoes. Let’s say ‘neck to ankle’.) 

We lost Kay after a while (she happily did make it to the finish!) and Kate and I settled into a rhythm as we chatted away.

Early on Kate had a couple of little trips but saved herself like a pro. It was then that I thought I’d better start concentrating on where I was putting my feet. I still find steep downhills very challenging – I tried the zigzag technique to reduce the gradient and that seemed to work.

For the most part.

At approximately 7.5km I think I must not have lifted my foot quite enough and caught my heel on a rock. One could say I went down like a sack of sh*t. Actually I think it was more graceful than that.  Kate complimented me on my roll! I hit the ground with my right elbow, knee and hipbone, rolled and bounced back up to do a quick systems check. There was a bit of blood on my elbow and knee (but thankfully not dripping) and I dared not peel back my skirt and Skins shorts to look at my hip. Miraculously (and most importantly), save for a bit of dirt and a few specks of blood, my lululemon skirt and Skins came out unscathed! And even better, other than Kate and a guy behind us who had previously proved to be an absolute pro on the downhills, NO-ONE HAD SEEN IT!

I had avoided any major damage and prescribed myself a tall glass of concrete (aka ‘HTFU’). We pressed on.

I won’t lie. It was a challenging course. 1000m of ‘vert’ in 24km was comparable to the 4000m in 100km that I will be tackling in just under 3 weeks. The scenery was beautiful, the day turned out absolutely perfect, and it was just wonderful to be out there among friends, enjoying the trails.

The uphills were at times runnable, and at other times either Kate or I would set a landmark and we agreed we could walk until we reached that landmark. For example, “the black tree” as Kate suggested on one occasion. I cheekily suggested she might want to be a bit more specific. There had been fire through there recently. There were a LOT of black trees!

We enjoyed the relief of the flats and the downhills and used the uphills as an opportunity to get some hydration on board. Kate commented that she would have expected to see a drink station earlier than we did. There was a spot just near Greenhill Road, just after 5km, which we thought would have been a perfect spot for a drink station and we thought it was odd that we didn’t see one until 10k. Not that it mattered because neither of us needed anything at that point – except maybe a pair of glasses. Sure enough, I later found out that there WAS a drink station there! That shows how little attention we were paying to our surroundings at that point! 

As we reached the drink stations Kate would stop for a refill and I would plod on ahead. At one of the drink stations Louise, who had been a beacon way ahead in her hi-viz yellow, joined our little party and ran with us for a while. It was around this point (19km – just over 5km to go) that I decided to make a bit of a move.

Looking at my splits, the next kilometre was effectively the fastest (considering it was slightly uphill and the faster splits I’d run were downhill). I was kicking it up a notch!

And then. I hit Doug’s Hill.

It’s not officially called Doug’s Hill. I think it is part of the Birriee Track. It has been unofficially named after SA trail running royalty in Doug Smart. Lovely guy, and very involved the organisation of Trail Running SA events including this one, but that hill? He has a lot to answer for! I’m told that, on a wet day, it’s kind of like trying to climb up a waterfall.

Kilometre 20 was 5:19, just a little uphill. Kilometre 21 was 12:04 with 116 metres elevation. I could see Kate and Louise not far behind me. Kate had earlier asked me, “Is this the steep hill?” I replied yes, it was A steep hill, but it wasn’t THE steep hill. Halfway up Doug’s Hill I yelled out to Kate, “THIS is THE steep hill!” I joked to the guy just in front of me that this would be a good spot for hill repeats. Except, having to go back down – bugger that! (Plus, he pointed out that access was a bit of an issue – a tough 5km ‘warmup’ just to get to the hill! A good point well made.)

I thought I was almost at the top when I said that. Nope! Still more to come! Kind of like Heartbreak Hill! When I realised I was finally at the end, I did a bit of a fist pump. The worst was over. It was all downhill from here! (Except it wasn’t!)

A few more kilometres slightly uphill and we were on the home stretch. From the point I’d left Kate and Louise, I’d been following a girl called Tracey who I didn’t know personally but who I knew was a good runner (and running buddy of Kazu, Yurrebilla runner-up and eventual third placegetter here as well as winner of our age group) I tried to catch her, at one point I did pass her but my lead was short lived. I chased her all the way to the finish and she beat me by a few seconds. It was great having someone to chase, even though I couldn’t quite get there today!

On one of the uphills I was easily passed by another girl. Looking at the results afterwards, I think it was Angie, who had finished in 2nd place ahead of me at Kuitpo Forest. I did eventually pass her and was surprised she didn’t pass me again on the downhill ‘sprint’ to the finish. I ended up finishing in a dead heat with another girl, Bronwen. The finishing arch had collapsed just before we came through so we had to do a bit of Limbo to get over the finish line – easier said than done after a tough 24+ km!

Having not really been looking at my pace at all, and just running by feel, I was pretty happy with my finishing time of 2:35:34. 2:30 is definitely doable and maybe something to aim for next year. Except hopefully this time next year I will be in Vegas, still basking in the post-Boston glow!

Kate, Louise, Kay, Leon and Max all finished not far behind me. I was extremely surprised to see Mick, fellow SA UTA100 athlete and awesome comedian, cross the finish line, fresh from breaking the Guinness world record for the highest comedy gig in the world. At Everest Base Camp. He’d only got back into town the night before the race! Now that’s impressive! (And that was probably the only time I will ever beat him in any race!) 

I also chatted with Andrew, winner of the Heysen 105 last year and who had done really well at last year’s The North Face 100 (now UTA). He had finished 6th in this race – he said the fast guys were just too fast for him! Now when someone like that is talking about ‘the fast guys’ you know they’re going at some scary pace! We also chatted to Simon, a fellow UTA100 virgin who had just marginally missed out on cracking the magical 2 hour barrier. I expect he will do very well at UTA.

I went to the first aid station to get my wounds cleaned up. The first aider was pretty happy with how clean they were so she just cleaned the blood off with a bit of saline and sent me on my way.

Presentation time, and more importantly, random prize draw!

Standing next to me was Micarla, who was in red-hot form having won the Clare Half only a few weeks earlier. She was dressed in street clothes despite having run the event! I soon found out how she had had time to freshen up and change – she had WON the women’s 24k! Nice job Micarla! Second and third places were filled by some familiar faces – Bronwyn, fresh from a great performance at the Buffalo Stampede, and importantly now no longer in my age group (at least until next year!) in second, and Kazu, happily back doing well after a nasty fall in a trail race here in January, in third place. (I later found out that Kazu had also had a bit of a stack out there but thankfully only a minor one this time! See, it happens to the best of us!)

Somehow, I was 2nd behind Kazu in the 35-39 age group! Kind of like Masters last weekend except this time there were actually other people in the age group! I was very happy with this considering it’s a very tough age group (even with Bronwyn having ‘levelled up’ to the next age group!)

Speaking of age groups, I need to give a special shout out to Max who won her age group and was only a few minutes behind me! And this after overcoming a long-term injury! Well done Max, you’re a star and an inspiration!

I was lucky enough to win a prize in the random draw – entry to the next TRSA event, Sturt Gorge on 22 May. My face must have dropped a bit – I’m volunteering at that event, being 1 week after UTA100. As Claire handed me my voucher, she said I can use it for another event seeing as I’ve already got my name down to volunteer. I look forward to running one of the TRSA events later in the year, after the Gold Coast Marathon!

All in all, it was a fantastic, well run event, and I would like to give huge thanks to everyone – committee, volunteers and of course runners – that made it possible! 

I highly recommend this event to anyone. 6km is great both for relative trail newbies and for people who like to run FAST! For those who want a challenging course but don’t think they can manage 24km, there’s the 12k! (Both the 6k and the 12k are also great for walkers!)

I LOVED it (yes, even Doug’s Hill)!

Race report – 100km track championships

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250 times around a 400m track. Brutal.

When I first heard about this event I was keen to enter. I’m not sure why, but it just appealed to me. 100km on a track, with a 12 hour cut off. I had only run 100km once before, in a trail ultra, in just over 14 hours. But on a dead flat track it should theoretically be easier. Faster, certainly.

There are so many pros to running an ultra, on a track, at night.

No possibility of getting lost.
No snakes.
No need to carry any food, drinks, mandatory gear.
No sunscreen, sunnies or hat required.
Never more than 400m from food, drinks and toilet.

My race week was quiet. I had two fairly challenging trail runs on Sunday and Tuesday. After Tuesday’s run, which involved a stupid amount of stairs, I decided I wasn’t going to run again until the big day. I did one easy walk on Thursday and that was it.

Food-wise I took 3 sandwiches (a combination of peanut butter and chocolate nut spread), a couple of nut bars, some almonds and some mashed sweet potato in a tube. And a big container of sports drink.

On the day I thought I’d better switch my meals around. As the race started at 8pm, and I was used to eating cereal (or a cereal-based smoothie) for breakfast before a run, I thought it would make sense to have breakfast for dinner! So I had smashed avo and chickpeas on toast for brekky, sweet potato vegan mac and cheese for lunch, and cereal for dinner. In between lunch and dinner I managed to sneak in a few hours sleep.

I went with my favourite long distance running skirt over Skins shorts, and on the top a singlet I’d worn for my first two marathons and my rainbow striped arm socks. I also threw into my bag some clean singlets, long sleeved tops, buff, fleece headband, rain jacket (just in case), extra shoes and socks. As it turned out, the top was not the best choice as it started to chafe after about 50k, and consequently I finished the race in a different top.

I arrived at the track about an hour before the start. There were 27 starters, with 12 in the 100km and the rest in the 50km. All runners started at the same time and had the same 12 hour cutoff. Conditions were perfect, with around 18 degrees at the start, and no wind. The previous night had seen torrential rain so we were incredibly lucky! (The temperature only dropped to 16 in the stadium overnight, making for the best possible running conditions)

We had access to the stadium toilets for the duration. Unfortunately, they were up a flight of stairs!

It was going to be a long night!

Running around in circles can be tedious. I’ve run a timed event on a 2.2km loop, but this was something else entirely. I thought the track would ve easier to run on than the gravel of the Uni Loop. At first it seemed easier but as time went on, I found it really harsh on my feet, especially my toes. I could feel blisters coming on but I didn’t want to take my shoes off – mainly because that would involve sitting down, and I thought getting up and getting going again would be a struggle!

I had expected the 250 lap thing would be the biggest barrier but as it turned out it was the track surface. Paul, the eventual winner of the 100k and with whom I ran a fair bit, changed shoes and socks after 50km and found that this helped a lot.

The progress times were written up on a whiteboard every hour by event organiser Ben. After 1 hour I was in 8th place overall, 2nd female, one lap behind the first girl, Rebecca. (Interestingly eventual winner Paul was one place behind me). Also in the event were Sheena, a last minute entrant, and 2 Karens – Karen C who had come from interstate, and Karen B who will be well known to anyone who is a regular reader of my blog! On the male side, the people I knew were Paul, Barry (who was doing the 100k as a training run for a 48 hour event in March), and David who was going for a very fast time – possibly sub 7:30! David lapped me pretty much every second lap but eventually withdrew – it wasn’t to be his night! Which then made for a very interesting race as he probably would have been a runaway winner.

It was great having the 50km runners out there too. Many of them were going super fast, including Alex (the eventual winner), Simon (who led for much of the race and ended up finishing second, not bad for a last minute entrant!) and on the women’s side Anna and Tina (who took out first and second place respectively) looked strong throughout.

There was also Michelle, who was the 3rd placed female but took first place for most entertaining runner! She was the one who started the singing (she had her iPod in) and not long after that I decided it was time to pull out my iPod too. I don’t normally like to run with music but in an event like this where there are no road crossings, no marshal instructions to follow, not to mention the monotony of running lap after lap, most of the 100k runners and a lot of the 50k runners had iPods.

To distract me from my feet and legs screaming at me, I started singing (pretty loudly, and hopefully in tune), much to the amusement of the spectators. I hope it wasn’t too off-putting for my fellow competitors!

The laps went by quickly at first. I was sitting on sub 10 hour pace until probably 65km (I haven’t uploaded my Garmin data yet due to tech issues) and it would have been amazing to be able to sustain that, but I knew it wasn’t realistic. I hoped/expected to finish between 10 and 11 hours.

The support tent was fantastic. Every time I passed, the volunteers gave great encouragement and were always willing to help me with anything I needed. Ziad, Chris, Katie, Vic and anyone else I may have forgotten, ably manned the support tent/food table and I can’t forget to mention Kieran who I think came to support Michelle but even after she left he stuck around right till the end and was my unexpected but much appreciated support crew – what a champ!

After 2 hours I had moved into 7th place and one lap ahead of Rebecca.

By 5 hours many of the 50k runners had finished including the top 3 men and top 2 women. I had just cracked 50k myself and moved into overall third place, one lap behind Barry and Stuart in equal first place. Somehow I had managed to open up a 13 lap lead over Rebecca, that’s around 5km. This gave me a little breathing space when it came to toilet breaks (I only had two – those stairs were a struggle – and managed to keep them to around 2 minutes which equates to 1 lap or less).

At 6 hours I had moved ahead of Barry into overall second behind Stuart. My lead over Rebecca was now 17 laps. Paul had moved into 4th place, one lap behind Barry and 2 behind me, and looking incredibly strong.

Around this time my left hip started playing up. Michelle, who had not long finished the 50k, offered me some Voltaren which I gratefully accepted and which seemed to help, although I still looked like a 90 year old during my walk breaks (interestingly I was a lot more comfortable while running than while walking – I just had to take more frequent breaks as the race went on!)

By 7 hours Paul had leapfrogged me into first place and that was where he stayed. My lead over Rebecca was now 22 laps, and a further 2 laps to Karen C in third position. I thought, surely neither of them can catch me now? Even if I end up walking most of it? Fortunately it didn’t come to that. I started with a 30min/5min run/walk strategy. After about 5.5 hours I went to 25/5 (it was easier to keep track, plus I was tiring). Later I tried 20/5 but quickly went to 15/5 and then 10/5. By the end I was doing 7/3 but still managing to maintain my position (obviously everyone, with the exception of Paul and possibly Barry, was struggling as much as, if not more than, me!). I was constantly checking my watch and counting down to the next walk break!

At the 8 hour mark Paul had opened up a 5 lap gap between himself and second placed Stuart, who was beginning to struggle and was walking more than he was running. Paul was looking unstoppable and regularly lapping me! I was still 3rd, 3 laps ahead of Barry and 25 ahead of Karen C who had moved ahead of Rebecca into second place.

Getting towards the pointy end, at 9 hours Barry had passed me into a strong second position, and I had passed Stuart so still sat in 3rd overall, with my lead over Karen maintained.

After 10 hours Paul was practically finished and Barry only a few laps behind. Hearing Paul and Barry’s finishes called by Ben over the PA gave me a lift, as I knew I wouldn’t be too far behind them!

My Garmin was well out, so I didn’t really know how long I had to go until Adam, the timing guy, started calling out numbers of laps. Once that number was into single figures I knew I was really nearly done! I was up to the 7/3 run/walk by then but once I got down to the last 3 laps I somehow managed to run the rest of the way. The best feeling was when Ben announced me over the PA as I started my last lap. I can quite safely say that was my fastest lap of the whole 250!

I finished strongly and was glad to see some friends who had come to see the finish, including Neil who made it just in time to see my last lap, and James who had come down for the last hour or so before going rowing. Mum had also come down and had seen my last 3 or 4 laps – I didn’t realise she was there until I’d finished and it was a nice surprise as I hadn’t expected her to come!

I finished in about 10 hours 43, just before 6:45am, in daylight! I then sat down, had some delicious vegan pizza, and Kieran helped me get my shoes off before first aid legend Susan came and taped up my epic blisters.

It was only just over an hour until the 8am cutoff, and I sat back and watched the rest of the runners struggle around the track. Stuart finished 4th overall (3rd male) and another guy John was the last to finish the 100km, with 4 minutes to spare! The only other 2 left by that stage were the two Karens who stuck it out to the end but didn’t quite make the 100km. Still – a fantastic effort to keep going for 12 hours, I’m not sure if I could have done that!

After the presentations Karen treated me to a guest pass at her gym where we had a very luxurious spa interspersed with quick dips in the cold plunge pool – perfect way to finish a very tough but very satisfying event!

Thanks as always to Ben and all the amazing volunteers, all the supporters who came down to watch, and last but not least all the legends who ran in the event!