Into Battle We Went
On Friday the 15th May, my husband Warren, friends Sheryl and Ranu, and myself were due to be flying out to Kathmandu, Nepal, to begin a 9 day trek to Everest Base Camp. Once there and acclimatised, we were to take part in the Everest Ultra Marathon, an epic knee crunching 60km trail run from Base Camp down to Namche.
On Saturday 25 April at 11:56 local Nepalese time, an earthquake measuring 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal. The death toll is estimated at around 8000 with as many as 8million people effected by the aftermath of the quake. The earthquake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 19. In what is being described as the most lethal day on the mountain. The devastation is clear to see for all and most felt in smaller outlying communities.
With many miles, and hills, in our legs for the Everest Ultra, we wanted be able to put our training to good use, and somehow help to raise much needed funds for the Nepali people. One phone call from a well connected friend (Thanks Gemma!!) and Tom Langdon Smith the race director for the North Face 100km ultra marathon event allowed us entry fee to this years sold out event! So instead of flying to Nepal on the 15 May I found myself standing in a cue registering for the North Face 100km in the Blue Mountains. Not only would my legs be helping me cover the distance, we were raising money in support of the Australian Himalayan Foundation, who were funding much needed aid efforts in some of the most remote communities effected by the quake.
Now, let’s clarify that we had been training for a 60km downhill event. Training was a little bit shorter than we would of liked leading into a 100 but our endurance from years of racing would put us in good stead, and we were confident that we had the legs and mental toughness needed for it. We’d been using Training Masks in our prep for running at altitude in Nepal, both in running and cross training on the indoor bike trainer. These helped to increase our lung strength and capacity so it would be good to put them to see the benefits on the day.
While I have experience in racing 50s this was my first 100. Events of this distance are hard to plan to the tiniest detail, the terrain is ever changing, the weather can shift around, and you can’t predict how your body will feel for the entire 100km. You have to let the day play out for itself, roll with each moment and smile! My main focus for the race was getting my nutrition in on time, as planned, listening to my body, and going as hard as the terrain would allow at any given time at any given point. My aim was to feel balanced in energy throughout, and not let myself get low mentally as the physical would follow very quickly! Motivation came from knowing so many people were supporting us on the day with donations to the AHF and or course my trusty support crew of Sheryl (who ended up not racing due to nerve pain in her shoulder) and Nathan.
Again I worked with Kira Sutherland on my nutrition, as her advice has seen me rock my last Ironman, and I trust her amazing knowledge of all things when it comes to eating for racing LOOOOOOOOONG! My basic plan was a gel on the hour and something solid between (e.g. half a bar or baby food sachet). 250ml torq, plus 250-500ml of water per hour, depending on the heat and thirst levels. I planned to eat most of my calories in the first 50kms predicting that my stomach would get more and more compromised as the race went on. I gave myself a milk bottle lolly treat every 10kms 🙂 I kept my wrappers in my pack until I got to the aid stations where my support crew were, tipped them out and the gang replaced what I had eaten back into my pack. I planned to be self sufficient until I saw my crew at the 46km mark, bypassing all the check points before then as I didn’t need to use them. My trusty food consumed on the day was baby food, winners gels, winners chews, leda bars, bananas, cheese sandwiches, frittatas and roasted potatoes, aiming for variety in taste. I sweat quite a bit, even when running in cooler temps, so I had salt sticks to take along the way at timed intervals.
My nutrition was my pacing, eating at regular times, being robotic about it. The terrain took care of the rest of the pace. I ran everything I could and settled into a strong brisk march on anything crazy steep or stairs that went on for to long to save energy. As soon as I crested the hills I ran again. I gave everything to each moment, focusing on keeping my fuel levels topped up when walking the up hills, so that I was free to push a little harder on the flats and downs.
I’ll keep the blow by blow to a minimum, its a long freaking day after all!
The start line was unlike any I’d experienced as a competitor in long distance racing. I can only liken it to an army waiting to charge into battle. You can cut the air with a knife, the nerves, the collective feeling of either ‘oh shit what have I done’ or ‘oh yeah bring it on!’ leaves the atmosphere electric. It all got a bit to much for me and I found myself sobbing into Warrens shoulder trying to get a hold of myself. An emotional start to the day.
I’d put myself in the 16-18hour group not wanting the pressure of faster runners around me at the start. Warren went off 10mins before me and then it was my turn to line up. I met Karmea Athlete Carly Steggles in the start box, and we had a last hug, both admitting to having a cry, and then before we knew it the gun went and we were off, starting a 100km run, just for the fun of it!!
It’s hard to describe a race like the North Face 100. The terrain changes constantly, one minute you’re on twisting single track, then scrabbling up rocks, running wide fire trail with spectacular views, and chasing across fields with horses chewing grass and passing their day. There is no boredom, no tediousness, only sublime pure running.
The stand out nasty bit was the descent from Ironpot Ridge! Dusty mud and grass, zero traction and steep. With my toes jammed into my shoes if I ran forwards, I adopted a sideways trotting style that was neither glam nor joyful to my knees. I saw hubby Warren, and our friend Derek on the out and back along IronPot which was a nice high five moment.
I didn’t need to stop at any of the check points prior to CP3 at 46km where Sheryl and Nathan were waiting for me with smiles and everything laid out on towels. It was like an ultra marathon runners sweet shop! Just brilliant. Strict instructions from me to them was that I wanted to be through as quickly as I could. Nathan took my pack and filled my water, Sheryl replaced my empty food wrappers with new and I just crammed a banana in my gob! My pack was resettled on back, clipped up and I was good to go. Formula 1 eat your heart out! I was back off again with the next CP at the aquatic centre, a shorter 11km section to reach there but with Nellies Glen to add into the mix.
As I ticked off my 5th milk bottle treat it was cue for a halfway selfie 🙂 Why not. I was having fun and loving every km. I’ve come to the conclusion that Nellie was not a nice person, so they named a big set of bloody stairs after her! I caught up with Derek again close to the bottom and we marched up the bugger together. Then at the top is was time to start running again.
Into the CP4 at the Aquatic Centre and the super slick pit crew took over. I also saw Tom and Bea who were Warrens pit crew, they had just seen him off 15mins before me. Tom had done the race in 2014 so he gave me a quick low down on the next section of the course which was invaluable. The section from Katoomba to Leura is tough, you go up and down just about everything they can send you up and down, to get in more vertical and stuff in the kms. I grabbed a gluten free white bread, butter and cheese sandwich in my hand, waved the guys goodbye and off I ran, eating, eating, eating. Funny how at 57kms a cheese sandwich can taste like cordon blue cooking!
There are stairs, lots of stairs on the next 21km section of the course. The ups were fine, but this was where my knees decided that going down wasn’t what they wanted to do anymore. Quads war was now taking place with every set of stairs bringing out a slight yelp. Thankfully this seemed to ease after a while as they resigned themselves to the fact that is wasn’t going away and my ‘shut up legs’ seemed to work! (Thanks Jensie!)
As the daylight faded, I stopped to put on my head torch and done my garbage mens fluro hi-vis vest. I reached the CP at the Queen Vic hospital just as the sun was finally setting on the day.
I had text Sheryl from the trail to let her know my knees needed looking at and she had the physio all ready to strap me up. Sadly, he did a bit of a complicated strapping that would only last 2kms into the final leg of the race. But, thankfully I had checked with the medic at CP5 that it was ok to take 2 panadol so I had this as a back up and knocked them back for some pain free running.
Leaving the final checkpoint in the dark, saying good bye to Sheryl, Nathan, Tom and Bea was hard. Bloody hard! I wasn’t struggling with my energy, physically (apart from the knees) I felt amazing, mentally I was all smiles and loving it. But there is something about running off into the dark on your own, onto part of the course whose profile resembles the Devils teeth, that is a bit unsettling! Soon enough the excitement took over as I was surrounded by the night, the noises of my own breathing, with no one around, in the middle of the bush with just these tiny little amazing miniature scorpions on the trail with me (did anyone else see those or was the panadol that good!!).
The last section of the course (just a half marathon ish from the last check point to the finish line) is by far the hardest part of the course. Much purposeful walking was required, running what I could without knowing how long it would be before hitting another up hill. I know this section of the course well as it’s a favourite training route and I’d done the 50, but it felt very different in the dark.
With the finish line just 9km away my stomach started to cramp. First just slightly spasms, then full on bent double knocking the wind out of me pain. I was reduced to power walking and taking on water. I attempted to get some food down to unlock it but my mouth was so dry I had to spit it out. I massaged my tummy as I walked (thankfully a lot of the section was uphill anyway) and just focused on the finish line.
You can see and hear the line way before you get to it. The party sounds surreal when you are all alone out in the bush. It sounds loud and then you turn a corner and it goes quiet again. With my walk run tactics now in full swing and the tummy pain not letting up the Furber Steps felt like they may never arrive. The bugger of it all was that I was still smiling, and I had so much energy, and my muscles felt great. If you have anything left in the tank on the final 7km of single track to the base of the Furbers, it’s hard to open out and go any harder. It’s dark and every changes constantly. My spirits still felt so high, I was going to finish the North Face 100, I had gone into battle and was still bloody loving it!
The marshal at the bottom of the Furbers is a pure angel! 900m to the finish line is probably one of the most amazing things you hear ever in your life. Up you start to climb, your smile getting bigger and bigger all the way. I have renamed the Furbers, the Stairway to Heaven, seems appropriate somehow. I took off my fluro vest at this point to, no way was I having a finish line photo looking like a bin man!
When I hit the top of the steps I started to run. Stomach protesting but I wasn’t listening. The welcome home is an assault of lights, noise and the smell of food! The supporters (all freezing cold!) are loud and after some much time out in the bush alone it all feels a bit overwhelming. While most peoples finish line photos are hands in the air celebration, my are hands to heart, tears pouring down my face in sheer joy. The release of emotion crossing the line was quite unexpected! As always Warren was there to scoop me up and wrap me in a huge hug.
The memories I have of the race are of sublime joy!! I loved every minute of it. I ran everything I could until the tummy pains put a scupper on that, but still I didn’t let it dampen my spirits. I’m ecstatic with my 15hrs 12min time for my first ever 100km event. Warren finished in 14hr 19mins, one very happy boy. Sorry to keep you waiting so long at the finish line darling 🙂
The other runners on course were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met racing, there truly is a share respect, and a collective understanding that goes around on the course. The marshals on the day… what can you say, if it’s a long day for us racing, it’s a bloody long day for all of them, thank you for being all smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement when needed.
For me this feels like the start of a new trail running obsession. Ultras are simply the purest form of racing you will ever know. You discover more about yourself than you do in any other race. Single discipline races are by far the most relentless, enduring, kick arse events that you will ever encounter, I love it!!
Until next time…..
Some much needed thank you:
Gemma – the one phone call that made this all possible. You ROCK Gemma, let’s go running soon!
Tom and The AROC team – thank you for allowing us to race this epic event and raise money for Nepal.
Sheryl and Nathan – you guys ROCKED!!! Thank you for giving up your day to support me.
Tom and Bea – Warrens support crew yes, but still a big part of my day, with advice and smiles.
Bec – again you teach me so much and guide me through it all.
Kira – food glorious food is all I can say.
Training Masks Oceania – for providing altitude training mask for lung strength and acclimatisation
Ben – massages on very tired legs that always felt like new after.
Carolina – yin yin glorious yin yoga! I know my body would fall apart without it. Thank you for teaching me to let go.
Warren – time and time again these adventures are shared with you. I couldn’t think of a better play mate to share these quests and my life with.
And Finally to YOU our amazing sponsors. You helped us raise over $7000 for the Australian Himalayan Foundation. From Warren, Sheryl and I, thank you, thank you, thank you. You were all the wind beneath our feet on race day. Nepal has a long way to go before it is back on it’s feet but every dollar you donated makes their work possible and directly helps those in need. We will be back to race the Everest Ultra in 2016.
Our donation page is still open if you wish to donate.