Well it was 2 weeks ago I was lying in a bunk bed in Leura, sleeplessly waiting for the alarm to go off. I never sleep well the night before a big race. Particularly if I'm really hoping for a good result. Which is very counterproductive, but that's another story.
It's North Face 100 time! The third running of this race, and my third start. I'm not sure why I love this race so much... it could be the stunning scenery, the fact that to get to the end is so hard, the friends, the tonnes of gear... who knows, but I love it.
5am, and I figured 'Bugger it, everyone can get up now'. So I woke up my 3 room mates with my muttering and shuffling around with food and gear. Bart, from my old running club in Sydney, who will run another blinder today. Brett, my neighbour from Wodonga, who last year watched me run a few 100ker's and thought he'd like to have a go. And Scott. My little bro, who is graciously running with me again today/tonight/tomorrow. The brother and sister Freaky Footwear Act :)
Breakfast, joking, repacking, water, more breakfast, and we're set. All formalities out of the way, we stand on the start line, not at all cold. I took off my thermal and jacket since it was about 6 degrees. Much warmer than Canberra. Scott was cold... Queensland boy :)
We set off, with Sonia and Scott just in front of me. Last year Sonia met me at Check Point4 with some pasta and help to warm me up. This year she's tackling the 54k. She is seriously the best dressed runner out there :) Looking gorgeous! Anyhow after a few km on the road, we headed into the first bush section. There was a huge bottleneck here, and we waited in line for abut 15-20 minutes to get moving. Which just became a slow conga line down to the water. I love the downhill technical sections, but we just walked down.
Once it opened out a bit, we got moving. The first section went by quickly, and the stairs up to Check Point 1 were as brutal as I remember. Scott talked me up the steps, waiting patiently for me when I needed to rest. At the top I grabbed some food, and kept moving. Up the steep concrete path.... how did I forget this bit??? Yuk!
Soon the path opened up to some gorgeous firetrail, with spectacular views and sunny skies. Down to Tarros Ladders which had NO wait at all this year. I am dead scared of the ladders, but scurry down them each time, knowing it will be over in only a couple of minutes.
There are so many parts to this race that I enjoy. The steep downhill where your legs are screaming for rest, the steep uphills and steps where your lungs are screaming to burst... the little creek crossings.... but my favourite bit is Iron Pot Ridge. It's on private land so no one can train here. In fact, you can't go out here except in this race. There is no trail. You have to climb a horribly steep hill and pick your way through nasty sharp rocky outcrops, on hands and knees if you're a chicken like me. Then some scrubby bush to the turn around and one of the most amazing views I've ever seen. The whole valley laid out before you... I long for this point in the race every time. And so quickly it's gone.
Check Point 2 was going quickly, and we moved on, Scott calling out times and paces to me to keep me going. I found this really helpful. He judged the pace needed to keep at about 20 hour time, and I just had to follow. He had started to cramp at only 20k, so was hurting in his own run, and here he is, keeping me going.
CP3 is the first for crew, so we got some hot food and a change of gear, headlamps and snacks to head off with. Some nice flat running for a while before heading up Nellies Glen. Brett caught us here and overtook us. I struggle up steps, I just hate them. I don't mind a hill, but not steps. Not a good race if you hate steps... Once at the top, we trotted off again, though I was starting to feel tired by now. We pulled into the checkpoint, got some hot food again, and headed off with Brett into the night.
This is the part of the race I usually find quite enjoyable. Down the Giant Staircase and then 10k of mostly downhill running. This time I was tired. Just weary. I wanted to rest. But we kept on moving and hit the 3 water crossings before the long uphill of Kedumba. Here is was that I wished I had rememberd to put No-Doze in my pack. I just wanted to sleep. My vision was being partially blocked out, so I felt like was looking through binoculars. My brain convinced me that it would be a good idea to stop, get all my gear out, put it on, wrap myself in the space blanket and have a little rest. Just for half an hour or so... Really you'll feel better if you do. So I shared this cunning plan with Scott, who sensibly yelled 'NO! That's crazy! Keep moving'.
Half way up we encountered the SES guys, and I begged for caffiene, but to no avail. Their tent looked inviting and warm and my brain again told me to stop and have a rest. But no, push on. This was the lowest point for me. I desperately wanted to sleep so told Scott I wanted to quit at the next check point. He told me in no uncertain terms that there was NO way I was quitting. He did not come all this way to DNF. There would running, walking, and crawling, if required, but no DNF. I warmed to this idea, particularly after CP5 and some food. And several No Doze.
Leaving here with only 11k to go you can be lulled into believing that it all be over soon. Folly! Utter folly! The road is easy to move on and move we did. Faster and faster... till we going about 7km/hour at times :) But mostly about 6k/hour ;) The sandy tracks give way to rough rocky single file technical trail. My favourite kind. We moved even faster, overtaking many people during this section. At one stage we picked up Ray (eagle from CoolRunning) and he tacked on with us. I was very feeling very emotional at this point, with my long suffering brother in front, and a dear friend (and someone I ran with in my first ultra) behind me. Ray matched my steps, running when I ran, walking when I did. What a great place to be!
Down the steps into the valley and Lillians Bridge. Why did Lillian put her silly bridge all the way down here?? I'll never know, but at least after last year I knew we had 2km to go to the finish. By now the extra pace I'd put on meant I was feeling quite sick, and every time I stopped to catch my breath, I felt I would be ill. So I stopped stopping. Each step hurt, but no stopping. No talking, just moving.
We came out onto the grass and launched into my speech about how much I valued Scott's company, about how much he meant to me and how grateful I was to him for staying with me. And of course how much I love him.... We managed a slow trot here, and out of the dark came Brett, who had waited for us to arrive so we could all cross the finish together. How blessed I am!
22.22.18 And a very nice PB for me. We didn't make 20 hours, so for the third year in a row I go home without a buckle. But I am proud of what I did. The last section tested me beyond my normal level of running, and I kept going. I moved faster than the previous 2 sections, and managed to hold it all together to the end. We sat around eating and drinking, wrapped in blankets, trading stories of the trail.
I love this sport. This stupid, crazy, maddening, obsessive, ridiculous excuse for a hobby. Anything would be easier. But this is where I find joy. The friends, the hills, the tiredness, the pain, the tears, the laughter.
It sounds so cliched, but I come alive here.