(formerly The North Face)
I had registered to do this race in October 2015, after swearing I wasn’t going to do it. Twice. When I did the 50km event in 2015 I did it with an eye for whether I could reasonable enjoy doing the 100 version. At the end, I said NO. HELL NO.
In September 2015 I did the Surf Coast Century 100km for the second time. And I thought about whether I would want to do an event with the distance of the 100, but with the difficulty experienced in the North Face. I said NO. HELL NO.
Entries opened for UltraTrail Aus 100 in October. I said YES. HELL YES.
Nothing wrong with me……….
My biggest drawcard was the first 50. This covers different ground from the TNF50 race and covered the unique sections such as Ironpot Ridge and Tarros Ladders. These are only accessible on race day and I really wanted to check them out. So I needed to sign up for the 100 – even if I pulled out halfway.
In theory, the whole year of 2015 was building for this. With a half IM, full IM, 3 x 50km runs and a 100km run between Feb and Dec, I thought I’d be fairly well primed. Then Christmas happened and I buggered my knee. By the time we got back home I couldn’t even walk a few kms, and ended up having an arthroscopy to fix a lateral meniscal tear and flappy medial articular cartilage. With the recovery from that, and easing into training, I was only really on the training track (or some kind of track at least) by the end of March – only 6 weeks out from race day. I was a long way off where I wanted to be – or should have been to even hope of a finish. But I thought if I was smart about it I might be able to wrangle a time limit finish or at least complete the first half.
To toughen up a bit, I scheduled 2 x 2-day trips to the Grampians to build my climbing strength more than I can do here in Mildura. They were really awesome and I did a good chunk of the peaks and Wonderland Trail. Downhills were my worst though, and really gave my knee trouble. Ups were tough, but all-over tough. I was mostly satisfied with my trips and the chance to get some hills in my legs even though they were not optimal.
I turned up to Katoomba with a fairly neutral mindset. I really wanted to finish, but I was realistically negative about my chances. My knee wasn’t really great and my training had been even less great. This was meant to be my peak event for the season and was by far the hardest – and yet my fitness and strength were at all-time lows. But I was in for a crack.
Gear and bag check was uneventful and I was surprisingly unemotional about the whole thing.
Leg 1. 0 – 12km (Narrowneck)
Race morning came and I lined up near the back of the last wave. A few kms on the bitumen and it was off into the bush on trails and clambering over rockfalls. There were some really nice bits of track and then we started up the Golden Staircase. That thing was hell and just kept going! I passed a few people who were worse than me but I’m pretty sure they didn’t make the first checkpoint at the top of the stairs. My knee had been a bit tweaky on the downs and rock clambers, and my lack of fitness was there on the ups – but I figured if I kept it reasonable I might just tick along under the time limit cut-offs.
I sped through the first checkpoint restocking a bit of water and gels – only a few minutes behind schedule.
Leg 2. 12 – 32 km – including Tarros Ladders
I was starting to feel the heat a little now, and couldn’t seem to keep my stomach happy. I was feeling a bit lightheaded with effort and a little nauseaus with food/gels. But I kept trucking and keeping my fluids up.
This wasn’t my favourite section to start as it was a long slog along Glenraphael Drive. Some parts were open and hot, but the views were pretty nice.
The ladders were waaaaaay cool. Basically, there is a cliff face that is usually only descend-able (or climbable) using spikes in the rock. But for the event a crew of climbers and riggers set up a series of ropes and ladders to enable us to descend safely. By the time I got there I was on my own so didn’t have to wait at all. It was totally worth it.
There was a little more down and then a brutal climb up Mt Debert after which there was an even more brutal descent. I suffered greatly on the up with being lightheaded and had to stop several times. On the way down my knee was not very happy so my right leg was taking a lot of the downwards steps.
Then it was a firetrail through to Dunphys Camp which I came into flying along in a sprint as I had only minutes to get out before they cut me off. I’d passed a mother and daughter who weren’t going to make the next CP so was passing on a message that they needed “extraction” whilst madly trying to fill my water bladder and grab some food. I bolted out of there and around the first corner sat down to re-group.
Leg 3. 32 – 46km. Six Foot Track CP. Including Ironpot Ridge
This was another unique part of the course as it’s only traversable during the vent as its on private land.
The first part was a slog on gravel roads before turning onto the private land and along the fence line. Then you come face to face which looks like a wall. The “trail” goes straight up the face that it looks almost impassable – but the little flutters of pink flagging tape assure you that it’s the intended way. In fits and starts I make it up, then a clamber to the top and along Ironpot. Totally worth it. Again. A nifty little out and back with awesome views and the descent started. This was a particularly cruel descent and was about the time I decided I wasn’t going to be able to finish the whole 100km. It was so steep you virtually slid down and it was loose dusty dirt. A bit of paddock traversing, frightening wallabies and a few cold damp gullies and I popped out at something that could have been out of deliverance. There were numerous old cars, old buildings, and horses. Just standing around. I had to walk between a few of them before seeing some people who looked normal enough.
This next section was tough. It was getting dark and cold, and the road just kept going. It was pretty uninteresting and my knee really didn’t like the downhills. One of the crew cars came back a few times looking for other runners behind me – but I was sure I was last. He also kept saying the top was just around the corner. He forgot to say which corner! Then it was a long descent down the road and a quick right back across some more paddocks. Headlamp was on by now and coming into the checkpoint was a mandatory gear check. They wanted to see my headlamp (on) and my rain jacket (which I had strategically packed at the bottom of my pack as the thing I would be least likely to have to access).
I’d fairly well decided I was going to pull out at this CP to save my knee and because I’d had trouble getting calories in for the last 6 hours or so – but once there I thought I could make it to the next one at Katoomba and have completed the first loop. I knew what was coming in the last 40km so I’d really know by then if I should go on or not.
A bit of tape from the medic for my toes and some noodles and I put on fresh socks and warm dry clothes and took off. It was mostly uphill back to Katoomba and at that point I saw that as a positive thing as it wouldn’t give my knee as many problems.
The first part was OK, along small trails and roads until we turned off and started heading up Nellies Glen. I did see a wombat which was pretty cool.
This was a ripper of a climb and not in a good way. I was so buggered and lightheaded I’d go 5 steps and have to almost sit down. At this point, the course sweepers caught up with me and stayed with me as the last runner. I felt terrible I couldn’t get going as this was the worst I’d ever felt. I felt like I needed to throw up but nothing would come – and all with an audience!
Eventually I managed to make my moving segments longer and a few burps showed my stomach was starting to process things. It was wet and horrible but when I emerged at the top I felt great. I took off running much to the surprise of my sweepers and actually caught up to a couple more people. Unfortunately, after saying my thanks to the sweepers and taking off I rolled my ankle off the edge of the path and went down in an unceremonious heap. I swore and ran it off – but it wasn’t a good addition to the party.
I’d told the sweepers I intended to pull out at the Katoomba checkpoint so didn’t hurry too much the last bit. I tottered in and made it official – I felt fine then, but every time I went uphill I would feel very lightheaded and nauseous. I was in a massive calorie deficit and I didn’t want to put my knee into permanent damage territory. Then there was my ankle.
It would have been about another 10 hrs on the track to finish, and if I kept going there was a chance I’d put myself and others in a position of difficulty needing assistance to get out. I knew the second part of the course and it wouldn’t have been a good idea. The benefits would have been pretty insignificant really, compared to the risks. So I caught the bus back to the start and back to my cabin.
I came, I fought, I survived to tell the tale. There’s always 2018! (2017 is the year of the short course for me).
- I did the bits I wanted to – Tarros and Ironpot.
- I hit the lowest lows I ever have in an event – and I got myself out of them.
- I left the race on my terms with no ongoing damage and didn’t put anyone else in harms way.
- A good day. 58km, 14 hrs.