I have started this post about 10 times. I don't know where to start. I'm elated and drained at the same time....
I drove up with friends on the Friday about lunch time to the Blue Mountains. Found the backpacker accommodation we would be using, then set off for a leisurely stroll with Andy and Craig. We managed to wander around for a couple of hours, checking out Echo Point and enjoying a fabulous hot chocolate at a cafe nearby. We collected some supplies on the way back to the hostel and then headed off for the registration.
The checkin was well organised, t-shirts (in my size!!) maps, a full gear check, then a huge dinner with like minded crazies. All of us chatting about the impending run, what we had in our drop bags, how nervous we were etc.
We were back at the hostel nice and early to do a last minute fuss over what gear what going in our bags for checkpoint 3 and 5, the only two points we could collect extra food and gear. If only I had known that I would barely even touch the stuff.... oh well, I was fully prepared for anything.
I didn't sleep at all that night. The other 3 in my room were out in seconds and I lay there wide awake, begging sleep to come. I don't know why, but it never did. Thankfully I can operate for days on no sleep, so I didn't worry too much. Perhaps I was just fearful that I had taken on more than I was capable of handling.
Finally at 5am, it was time to get ready for the biggest adventure of my life. Breakfast, 3 layers of clothes, camelbak, garmin... check, check, check... then off to the start line. It was so cold, my feet were frozen within 5 minutes. My choice to do the race with Vibram Five Fingers new shoe called the 'Flow" was starting to worry me already. After a bit of pre-race banter and instructions we were off. Straight up a hill! Albeit a small hill, but this was to set the tone for the entire race. I felt slack walking already, but I know there's such a long way to go.
The first 15km were a total surprise. On the map it looked like gentle undulations, but was so much more than that! By the time I climbed the Golden Staircase at the end to reach CheckPoint 1, I'd already used 3 hours of the 30 hour time limit. Managed to hit my head on an overhanging rock just before the top, almost knocking me out cold.
The fire trail to Check Point 2 was much eaiser going, with breathtaking views of the Blue Mountains. How lucky we are to be running here. Down Tarros Ladder with all the ropes to keep us in check, and then an easy run to the Check Point. I grabbed a bun and some drink, my plan being to never spend more than a couple of minutes at any stop. The out and back section on Ironpot Ridge was amazing. My feet were hurting a little with the constantly rocky terrain, but I felt good as I ran along with Craig.
We both moved very well along to Check Point 3, at by this point I began to overtake people, a new concept in running for me! At one stage I even passed a relay team runner, who looked spent, though he was stopping at the 52k point. Running down the hill into CP3, I felt terrific, like I could take on the world and had gotten here in under 10 hours, which was my goal.
I stopped too long at this CP, but changed into warmer gear and sorted out my headlight, before eating some fried rice and having a cup of hot tea. Shortly after heading out, Craig and I passed more runners, bouying our spirits and pace. I love running at night on trails. The mesmerising beam of light, the sounds of the bush, the need to be constantly alert... I feel so alive.
We ran strongly to the bottom of Nellies Glen at the 60k mark, where I told Craig to go for it. He runs up hills so strongly, even the stairs. I knew there were over 400 wet, slippery stone steps to go up so set my brain on 'trudge' mode and set to it. Frankly I struggled. I don't mind hills, up or down, but stairs are not my favourite. I try to get to the edges as much as possible, to relieve the pressure, but I noted at this point that my right calf was really starting to ache, almost like a cramp high up towards the back of my knee.
Thankfully the top came, and it was a nice easy run/walk to the CP4 at Echo Point. By this stage the cold became unbearable. It was seeping into my bones, or so it felt, and I had been unable to find my gloves. I borrowed some gloves from a friend and we set off down the 900 stairs.
Reaching the bottom began the lost descent into the valley. I decided to run as much of this as I could, knowing a huge climb awaited me on the other side. Having never run at night before on my own, it was interesting. My new headlamp was awesome! (thanks Dad xx) I experienced a little of what I've heard others talk about, seeing things in the bush, strange shapes and figures and animals that aren't really there. All good fun. I continued to pass people in the section which was a boost again to my confidence. Reaching the valley floor and crossing the river I knew the hardest section was about to begin.
Craig and I had agreed that I would forge ahead on the downhills and he would catch me on the ups. He caught me about 3/4 of the way up and he pushed on to CP5. By the time I got here, I was too cold. My appetite had gone and was replaced with nausea. In hindsight I should have kept eating regardless, but didn't realise the full process of a bit of mild hypothermia. Lesson learned.... I didn't eat for the last 30k or so of the race, which was far too long.
We left the CP together, and slowly plodded up the road. I found this part of the course very hard. The winds had picked up, and the temperature plummeted. When checking the weather the next day, with wind chill factor and gusts of up to 60k/hour, it felt like -7 degrees!! Earlier in the day Craig had mentioned how cool it would be if it snowed. He got his wish. About 4am, up on a ridge somewhere near Wentworth Falls, it snowed! Only for about 10 minutes and never enough to land and build up, but snow that you could see swirling in the headlamp ray and catch on your gloves. It was fun, but FREAKING cold!!
The last 14k of the course dragged in the cold. Once we reached the sign that said 95k, knowing it was mostly road from this point, our spirits were bouyed again, knowing we'd go under 24hours. Both of us had garmins, so were doing a bit of guesswork about our finishing times. Reaching the resort and then having to head back off into the Golf Course was a bitter pill to swallow, but the finishing line bought great rewards for the detour. It was like running in and being a winner. Flags and banners and a finish area, a few very hardy spectators and the race directors there to cheer us in at 5.57am. 22.57 for the full 100km!
I thought I'd cry when I finished, I usually do. I didn't this time. I was tired, spent, and more than a little cold. I crawled inside and begged for blankets. Craig on the other hand looked terrific and as if he could keep going!
This is the hardest thing I've done so far. To finish under 24 hours was awesome! 4500m of climb, across 100k of hard terrain, steps, mountains, ladders, rivers, more steps, rocky trails, wide open areas, more steps.... This is magic! I can't wait to do it again next year. I'll be aiming for sub 20 hours and the nice silver buckle :) I feel like I'm edging closer to calling myself an ultrarunner.
P.S. I did the whole 100k in Vibram Flows. They are nothing short of brilliant. No rocks got in, no blisters or pain. They kept my feet as warm as can be hoped for in such harsh conditions. These 'shoes' rock! I guess it shows that any trails can be done in Five Fingers, just go and do it.