Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The North Face 100k 2009 Edition

I headed up on Friday 11th May. My plane left at 6.30am and I was already nervous. I had so much gear and as always, too much food.

Arriving at Sydney on time, and stepping onto a train, I realised I was far too early to meet Craig who was going to drive me up to the Blue Mountains, so I hung around the train station ..... eating. A theme for the weekend really :) Eating that is, not train stations.

Last year I talked Craig into running, and he must have liked it, since he was back this year to run again. He is much faster than me, so I would be on my own this time, no running partner. We did the usual drop bag 'comparison' and the usual 'oh no... i forgot that!' along with a bit of 'crap, 100k is a long way'.

Everything packed and we headed up to the Katoomba. Arriving at the Leura Gardens resort where a few of us were to stay, by early afternoon. Checking in was the first adventure. This 'resort' has been in press a fair bit lately, for alleged poor service and inferior room standards. Although exaggerated, the reports were right! Eventually, and with much difficulty we got a couple of rooms for the 4 of us. Two more friends (one runner and Craig's crew) arrived shortly after.

A short trip to the Fairmont and time to check in. By this stage the wind was blowing a gale and I was beginning to worry about the rain and cold. Last year I ended up nearly freezing and didn't want to do that again. Those thoughts were put away with the long rego queues and even longer gear check queues. All was in order and so with a tshirt, hat, timing chip, and bib; dinner seemed the next logical step.

I had the pleasure of dining with Justin (osmo on Coolrunning) and Sonia (Fred) and her husband John. Fabulous vegetarian thai meal and a nice glass of wine..... which could easily have become 3 or 4 in Sonias company :) Thanks guys, it was a wonderful evening out.

I have never learned the art of packing a drop bag and then leaving it ALONE. At 10pm, I was repacking what I'd already done twice, worrying about what I had put in each one, with the wind becoming increasingly strong outside. Vic, who was staying with us, is such a calm, reassuring person. I must drive him nuts. He quietly packs his gear, never fussing or worrying, while I jump around changing my mind 100 times a minute. Maybe when I've done as many ultras as him, I'll get that calm badge too.

This time was to be different though, I was running alone and I had no crew. Sonia and John had offered to help me out, but that was only to be if Justin was finished and they could race back to see me. All these thoughts rushed through my head as I went to sleep. Along with the usual thoughts of wondering why I was here, if I was up to the challenge, how my legs would hold up, etc.

A few hours sleep and I awoke to howling wind. More gear changes, breakfast and out to the start line. Bags dropped, pre race announcements done and we were off. I start at the back and finish at the back. I quickly saw a good friend Nick, who also wears Five Fingers. I felt a huge wave of relief to not be the only one this time. Nick told me as we plodded along together that he was injured and would possibly not make the whole distance. We ran together for a few kms before he took off.

From this point until about 70k I was on my own. Although people passed me (and even on rare occasions, I passed others) I was alone. I liked it as first, enjoying the scenery and thinking through my run. The section out to the CP1 was as I remember it, so the constant up and down was not a shock, and the stairs seemed easier this time. I had a drink and toilet stop at CP1 and kept on moving along the ridge. The wind up here was so strong it made moving forward difficult at times.

The next milestone was Tarros Ladders. A long queue (37 minutes for me from stopping to reaching the bottom) saw me get very very cold. I hit a flat spot mentally after this, but just kept on plodding forward. Around this point my left leg came good. I had come into the run with a very tight hammy/calf/hip. Not sure why, but it hurt at lot up to here, then strangely got better.

The trip to CP2 was uneventful, with a call from my mum, who worries about me when I do these things.... it's all good mum. Quickly in and out of here, and then to the Iron Pot Mt and Ridge. I love this bit, the views and the climb and the untracked route. It's so pretty.

I was hoping to get to CP3 before dark, but didn't quite make it. I was a bit disappointed by this, and must have shown it on my face, with a couple of SES folks asking if I was ok. Some fried rice at CP3, a headlamp, extra tights and I was off. I love the nights on trails, headlamp on, listening to the bush sounds.

I had a magic run up to Nellies Glen and even the steps up this year seemed so much easier. I came across some SES guys going down Nellies and they called out to me "are you a hypothermic exhuasted runner?" To which I replied, "No, but I am a grumpy tired mother". We talked for a bit, but I had not come across the person they were after, so I plodded on.

About this time I contacted Sonia, who it turned out was near CP4, so my spirit was bouyed by the thought that I would see a familiar face. The oval was almost being blown away, so the North Face guys let us use their tent to sit in to eat and change. Sonia and John had bought me some pasta YUMMMMM and I was sorely tempted to join John in a beer or 3. Sonia helped me sort out a few extra layers and went way beyond the call of duty helping me warm up my feet WITH HER HANDS. You're a gem Fred!!

To stay here and chat would have been heaven, but onwards and upwards.. or down those steps actually. 900 odd steps to the bottom I've been told but chose not to count them tonight. It was here that something strange happened. I suddenly became overwhelmed with tiredness. It hit me like a wall and I could not stop it. My eyes kept closing and I yawned constantly. Struggled down the bottom and reached the trail. Sitting down on the trail, I put my head on my knees and dozed off. Only for a minute or two (I think) but I tried to get up and stumbled a few feet forward, wondering how I would finish the last 30k. I know this section well, and know that there is no phone coverage for a long time. Being near the back of the pack, I had no idea if anyone was behind me, and if I got into trouble, how long I'd be alone. In hindsight, I think that I was just sick of my own company and my brain was trying to shut me down!

I walked down the track, up the track, all the time trying to wake myself up. I finally decided to go back to CP4 and pull out. I felt unsure enough that failure seemed better than damage or disaster. After about 100m of feeling depressed about my decision, I came across my rescuers :)

2 cheery young guys, both with walking poles came toward me, asking if I was ok. I said no, and that I was on my way out. They wisely suggested that climbing back UP the 900 steps was a totally daft idea and that I should stick with them,at least to the next check point.

I had a drink, some sugar, and started to follow them. These two guys (Mark and William) saved my run. They joked, laughed, sang, told stories and generally enjoyed their way through the next 20 odd km. Without them I would've been a certain DNF.

We went quickly down to the valley floor, crossing the rivers and then climbing back up Kedumba. My brain was playing tricks on me, seeing all kinds of silly nonsense, which is strangely enjoyable. I was very cold by the time I reached CP5 and was overwhelmed to see Craig and Jez who had come out to help me. Craig had finished in a fabulous time of 19.15 and showed me the bronze buckle he'd earned. Jez helped me get a few extra layers on, and again helped me sort out some sox and dry VFF's.

Only 11k to go. How hard can that be? A bit of flat, a small dip, a bridge and then home. Or so said the CP volunteer. A bit of flat... yes. And the sun came up. Renewed spirit and light to see by is sensational. The ensuing STEPS down down down to the valley again were not. At first I was happy again, in my element on some nice trail, but the enthusiasm ran out so fast. We reached Lillian's Bridge and cursed whoever thought that this was a good idea in the last 5k of this run. But at least the end was in sight. Literally, just at the top of that massive hill, up there.... oh Dear God, how will we get up there??

Slowly is the answer. After 26 hours and 4 mins, I finally crossed the finish line. I even managed a jog for the last 100m. 6 hours after I wanted, but still finished. I thanked and hugged the 2 guys who had dragged me the last 30km when I was done for. Second last over the line, but with so many people who had pulled out, I placed 229 out of 333 starters. Also, I will lay claim to still being the only person to have completed this course in Vibram Five Fingers. Twice now.

Tim and Andy and Kathy said a quick hello/goodbye, it was so nice to see some friends at that point. Tim later told me I looked totally wrecked at the end. I went inside and chatted to Paul E and a few others before Vic took me back to the hotel to have a shower.

The awards ceremony was excellent, with Alina in fine form as always. This year Dean Karnazes had come out from the US to run and was signing books for anyone who wanted.

Several years ago, I read his book when I first started running and was inspired to try longer distances. So it was a huge buzz for me to meet him and tell him that. He was gracious and spoke to me as if he was happy to meet me, not the other way around!

So, my goals are achieved. I turn 40 next Saturday, and decided that I wanted to be as fit, strong and healthy as possible for this milestone, and that I wanted to run 100k as close to my birthday as I could. 100k, mostly on my own, in Vibram Five Fingers, on a beautiful trail in my home country. And to meet the person who helped inspire that desire in me.... pretty damn good.

Can't wait for next year.....