Preparation & Training
My training for this race was less than ideal. In the 6 months since the UTA 100, I would’ve only had maybe 5 weeks of being able to run normally.
I picked up a bulging disk in my back that I couldn’t seem to get rid of for ages, which led to sciatica issues with my left glute that led down to an issue with that nerve running down to my calf. I finally got on top of it after 4 weeks of acupuncture and rolling, then a week later I picked up a case of shingles. That restricted my running for a month and a week after that had cleared I sprained my ankle.
I still managed to get the long mission runs in through all that and in the last 4 weeks before the race I felt reasonably confident in my fitness.
Together with the wonderful fellow Trailblazers doing the race I though we’d prepared as well as we could for it going on the available information. Little did we, or anyone else I spoke to during the race, have any idea in just how slow and tough the terrain really was.
I was told after the race that the race director only expected 30% of the field to actually finish the 100 miler.
I only managed to get about 2 hours sleep the night before the race. I wasn’t thinking about the race or was too excited, just couldn’t go back to sleep after 12am – probably too many carbs & sugar during the day.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle at the start of the race as everyone was trying to get their GPS tracker and it didn’t really feel like a normal start to a race, a bit rushed.
The first climb up to Mt Buller was relaxed and easy. As we got near to the summit the wind really started to whip up and I was glad I had my rain jacket & gloves on. Unfortunately it was still dark, a bit rainy & foggy as the views would’ve been spectacular.
There was a nice easy run down the hill before we reached the Four Mile Spur and everything came to a grinding halt. The terrain was really rough with lots of clambering over loose rocks & boulders, and under & over fallen trees and branches.
About 7km into the race, I slipped on a rock and as I fell one of my $270 carbon fibre poles caught in a rock and snapped just below the handle – shit. I spent the next few hundred metres trying to fold up the rest of the pole so I could stow it, as I didn’t want to litter on the course. I ended up putting it between a log & a rock and snapping it again with my foot.
I was trying to keep in contact with David Bristow, but slower runners keep getting in between us and pushing the gap between us further. I finally caught up to him just before the 1st checkpoint at Gardners Hut. It took us just under 2 hours to get there which was right on time for a fast paced runner and gave me some confidence in their timings.
Next section was probably the most beautiful part of the run as we were following a river track and was also one of the only real enjoyably runnable parts of the race. The climb up the Eight Mile spur was pretty much what I expected, just a long slow grind. When I got to the top you could see the top of the bluff not far away and it looked menacing with it being a steep rocky outcrop. The route up to wasn’t too bad and like the previous climb it was just a slow grind.
It was worth the climb as it moved into alpine vegetation and I was able to run a bit more, until the rain started, which quickly turned into small hail and lots of wind. I’d lost my hat already so had to make do with just my rain jacket’s hood to keep my face clear.
I filled up some water at Bluff Hut and began the long run downhill to Upper Howqua. The 15km of downhill was a nice easy run on fire trail. After going downhill for so long I started having IT Band issues which I hadn’t had since UTA, so I slowed down and had to walk sometimes. When we got to the bottom and the first creek crossing I rested my affected leg in the cold water to shock it and I didn’t have anymore IT trouble again.
I got into the 2nd checkpoint after 5 & a half hours which put me back to being a medium paced runner, and luckily my brother, Aaron, acting as my crew managed to borrow me a pole from another crew. I grabbed some doughnuts & gels and was off. I only had a quick mouthful of the sports drink I had there and a few 100 metres after I left it occurred to me that I should’ve finished it as it had warmed up by then and I knew there was a long section ahead with not a lot of water.
The run along the Upper Howqua was beautiful and another of my favourite parts. Big soaring trees and bubbling creek crossings. The climb up to Mt Howitt was pretty much another long hard slog and I don’t remember too much about it. The top of Mt Howitt was beautiful and alpine country again. I did enjoy running from there and over to the Cross Cut Saw, which in parts was like running along a knife’s edge with sharp drops on both sides. The sun had come out and I was starting to feel like I was getting burnt, not having a hat anymore I put my bluff on just to protect my head a bit even though it made me hotter.
Coming off the Cross Cut Saw the terrain started to get rougher and the climb up to Mt Buggery started to get tough. I started having some issues with my gut and bladder on the steep climb to Mt Buggery as I was getting dehydrated and that was affecting my speed and general demeanour. The climb to Mt Buggery was deceptively tough, on the map it didn’t look like much, it was a lot steeper than I’d thought and the next climb to Mt Speculation also didn’t look like much on the map, yet it looked like a bit of a monster in the distance.
Coming off Mt Buggery there was a landmark called the Horrible Gap, and it lived up to it’s name. Lots of scrabbly bushes and the track was quite indistinguishable at times. It seemed to take for ever to get through it all and then up to Mt Speculation. The checkpoint just off the summit was a welcome sight and I stocked up on water, had a cup of tea, finished my sports drink from my drop bag and had some noodles.
Part of my aim was to get off The Viking by the time it got dark, I now realised this wasn’t going to happen. As I left the checkpoint another thunder storm rolled in and there was lots of lightning close by. The Viking loomed in the distance and seemed a long way away with light slowly falling. By this stage I was in marching mode. The climb up to Mt Despair was horrible and the lead up to The Viking was just horrible with lots of clambering over fallen branches and pushing through scrub – pretty much what I had expected. My mood was still good, the energy and strength were still strong, so looking back I didn’t mind the climb up Viking too much. When I got to the top I caught up with a runner from Singapore and we both couldn’t find the next marker, it took us about 10 min before we picked up the track again and then he was off down the hill.
The way down The Viking was slippery and muddy, I ended up sliding down on my arse most of the way. At the bottom I caught up with 2 other runners, Darren & David, and as it was well dark now I stayed with them for company. They were great guys and made the long slow night section go by easily. We were just marching along and weren’t even running the down hills – it was mainly fire trail now. I could feel some blisters and rubbing in my feet coming on and I suspected that my socks may have blown out. About 2-30-3am I heard Scott Enfield coming up behind me and he was running so I said goodbye to them and started running with Scott. It felt good to be running again and I realised I should’ve got running sooner.
Not too far out from the next checkpoint I started getting a bit tired, so I took a caffeine pill and perked myself up. At East Buffalo checkpoint Scott took himself off for a 30min nap. I got some food into me, a cup of tea, taped my big toe up, changed my socks and shoes, and took off.
From what I remember most of the next section wasn’t too bad, just slogging away and putting one foot in front of the other. The new shoes and socks were making things comfortable. Dawn was slowing creeping up and I was starting to get tired. I was still quite positive and kept telling myself to get to the next checkpoint, have a rest get some more food and I’ll be right. I’d now come to realise that it was going to be a long day and probably another long night to come before I could finish. I don’t remember thinking too much either way about that, just that to concentrate on the next checkpoint and the lift that would bring.
It was around the 104km mark and an hour or so out from the next checkpoint that I started to realise something wasn’t right at all with the little toe on my right foot. Scotty had caught up and passed me by that stage and I was running again with the 2 runners from earlier and the Singaporean. Every step downhill started getting more and more painful. It was ok on the flat and uphill, just the downhill as my feet were pressed against the shoe. I tried every different way of putting my foot down and with no way did I not feel pain. This was not like the dull constant pain of a blister of the grating pain of a graze, this was a sharp searing pain like my little toe nail was being ripped off with every step. I started to suspect that this might not be a good or mendable thing.
I hobbled on pretty much 1 foot into the checkpoint at South Selwyn Creek and immediately asked to see a medic. The medic’s prognosis wasn’t good. He said unlike a blister he couldn’t pop it then tape it up. He could tape it and I might be able to make it to the next checkpoint, I would also be in a lot of pain for the rest of the race. I kind of knew from a few hundred metres out that unless it could be fixed that it might be the end of the race, so I had a look at the maps and what was coming, saw how much more downhill I had to go and how long I’d need to keep going for. The medics demeanour and the way he was speaking didn’t give me much confidence, so I finally said it aloud, ‘I think I’m done now’. He agreed with me and said that it’d be the best thing to do.
I sat for a bit to make sure it was the right thing to do, and I knew it was. There was no way I could go on with that sort of pain for another hour, let alone another potentially 20 hours.
For my first DNF I felt strangely ok with it. Mentally I was a little tired, only 2 hours sleep in 50 hours, but I was still lucid and thinking relatively straight, my energy levels were still good and my legs felt ok. I just knew 100% that I couldn’t go on, and also get any sort of pleasure or contentment from finishing now. There’s a fine line between putting up with pain & hardship, and plain masochistic torture – I knew continuing would only be torture and no reward.
So I told the checkpoint people I was definitely out, called up my brother and told him I was out, he tried to make sure that it was the right decision and I told him it was. I went to lay down for a bit and get some sleep. I couldn’t sleep so got some food and tea and happily and contentedly waited for my lift with no thought about changing my mind.
It wasn’t so much a race as an endurance test (might be a clue there in it’s name). I went into it thinking of it as a normal but long race and even though I thought it was a possibility, I didn’t realistically consider having to run through 2 nights & 2 days. 1 night and 2 days I was happy with. If I’d known it was going to take as long as it did I would’ve approached it differently, slept more and taken it more easy through the tricky parts. I also would’ve invested in better socks and taped up my feet.
I’d never had any real issues with my feet previously, it was always other things to worry about, I know now not to take them lightly.
The main positive I can take out from this is the experience gained, I know what it’s like to run through the night now and to run for more than 24 hours.
I reminded myself after it that I only did my first ultra barely 18 months ago. They say you need to do 3 or 4 milers to get close to understanding them. I’ve got time and I’ll be back to do a miler soon, probably one a bit more achievable and enjoyable this time.
In the end I still managed 108km of some of the toughest terrain in Australia or the World, 28 hours on my feet, 6,300m of climbing (almost 3 x Mt Kosciuszko’s), being the most sleep deprived in my life, and if it wasn’t for 1 little toe I might have gone further. All in all I’m not that disappointed in not finishing the race, it just wasn’t my race to finish, and I’m pleased with my effort.
Now time to get back to some fun running.