The North Face 100

I must have typed this starting paragraph about 5 times now but I just don’t know where to start. It’s been a very emotional experience for me but I have learnt so much in the process and I thick I have come out of this with a much stronger, more determined mindset.

WARNING: You might want to grab a cuppa, it’s a long one!

On the Friday before race day the 100km runners had to visit the KCC auditorium to register and pick up our race packs from 4pm and when i arrived 10 minutes early there was already a large queue that had formed and I remembered thinking that ultra runners really are a prompt bunch!! So I took my spot in the queue and chatted to the other runners around me to kill some time and hear there stories.

When the doors opened to the hall we all rushed in and the first item to collect was our firestick and waterproof matches which formed part of our mandatory gear. Then we moved on to pick up our bibs and course maps. There was a small expo of goods at the venue and I ended up buying a metal medal hanger which was shaped like the profile of the course, and I also bought some Clif bars which I would use during the race.

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My race plan in terms of Nutrition and Hydration was to eat Clif bars for the first couple of legs, then move onto gels, and finish with Tailwind. I had been told that it got harder and harder to eat during the race so that’s why I had decided on this plan. I was also carrying water in my backpack (up to 2L) and I had 2 x 500ml soft flasks on the front of my pack which had water and Shotz (for salt). I had other treats and some of my favourite foods at the checkpoints too.

So after cruising through the expo I thought I’d go and sit out the front of the steps and wait around to keep an eye out for some of my running buddies. I ran into Russell Evans and a met some of his friends, then I saw the beautiful Sarah-Jane Marshall who had been my original inspiration to get into ultras, I saw Nigel Huband and his lovely wife Liz and I also ran into Rob Hollander from the Nike Sydney store who was like me and doing the 100km for the first time. We chatted about race plans and food and the course and there was so much excitement in the air, it was a real buzz just being there.

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I eventually went back into the auditorium and took a seat to listen to the elite athletes Q&A session. This was a real treat. The MC was great and he asked some great questions which helped us learn more about the runners and their experiences. I reckon i could have sat their all night and listened to them.

Later on we had a more formal and traditional aboriginal welcome from the original land owners and this was a real treat. For the first time ever, the Queen of the tribe came up onto the stage and gave us the ‘Welcome’ to their lands, and her speech brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could tell you exactly what she said as I know I won’t do it the justice, but she was happy that we were here to enjoy the bush and view the land that she grew up in. I’m pretty sure there weren’t too many dry eyes in the place.

We then had our race briefing and I was lucky enough to catch up with Sam Isbell and Sherin Leung. Sam was a speedstar and would probably finish in the daylight, and Sherin was also a first-timer like me (also much quicker than me). I was feeling so nervous that night and having so many smiling, familiar faces made it so much better.

I met up with Ruth Flint (a buddy from work) and the 2 Rich’s (her support crew) who were crashing at the house I booked for the Friday night which was in Leura. We jumped on a bus to Katoomba and then flagged down a cab to take us to the house in Herbert St. Ruth had run the TNF100 in 2013 however she need up pulling out at about 80km due to illness. She has a lovely positive, bubbly personality and it was so nice having her around.

We got back to the house and Shelley (my sister and support crew) showed up not long after. I was running around like a frantic, crazy lady, cooking my dinner and organising my drop bags for the checkpoints (CP’s) and I was very, very nervous. I kept changing my mind about what shoes, what clothes and what food….. I needed to sit for a minute and clear my head. So I sat eating my pasta and pulled myself into line. Stick with tried and tested and what’s comfortable, that was the smart thing to do. Breath.

I wasn’t even this nervous on my wedding day!!

Eventually I got myself sorted and put myself to bed, but there wasn’t much sleep happening. When my husband had dropped me at the house in Leura earlier that afternoon (unfortunately he had to work so would unfortunately miss the race), we had walked in to find a gigantic spider on the wall above the bed where I would be sleeping. Great!! So when I went to bed that was playing on my mind, and I half expected another spider to land on me at any moment. I did eventually get to sleep but I reckon I got 4 hours all up, which is probably normal the night before a big race anyway.

I sat watching and waiting for the alarm to go off on Saturday morning, and I woke up feeling tired, but smiling and so glad that race day was finally here!

We got dressed, had a light breakfast and made all the last minute arrangements. We then packed into the cars and headed for Scenic World, the new location of the Start and Finish for this years race. It was still dark as we got to the Start area at about 5.30am and sunrise was scheduled for 6.30am which coincided with the start of Wave 1 – the elites!

I ran into just about everybody that I knew was running the race and a few other who were running the 50km and had come early to cheer and give us a big send off. This was the day that all my handwork and training had come to, I felt on top of the world.

Sherin and i made our way to the start line and the gun went off!!

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The North Face 100 2014

The first section of the course was an out and back road section for about 4kms, and we got to come back near the start line so there were lots of people still around to cheer us on which was awesome. I cheered on many of my friends as I saw them coming back towards me after the turn around point and there were lots of locals there cheering us on too.

Most of the runners were so quiet at this point so I decided to lighten the mood and make a few of them laugh. It was pretty easy as some of the outfits around me were incredible, like the guy wearing a kilt (you can just see him in the picture above, behind me about to cross the timing mat, he had dreadlocks too) and another guy wearing sandals (who I saw later wearing a pair of proper running shoes, so he didn’t last the distance in the sandals).

Before we got to our first descent down Furber steps I heard a friendly voice behind me and it turned out to be Margaret Krepmpff who had just completed the Marathon de Sables (MdS) a few weeks earlier. Margaret is such a inspirational lady, it was great to ‘run’ into her and I could not believe that she was there. What a woman!!

I also saw Shelley who was filming me running down the road towards her and I gave her a wave as I ran past saying “See you at CP3!”. I was here, I was running TNF100 – what a dream to even make it to the start line of this race!

We headed down the Furber steps quite slowly as it was pretty busy and finally got a run happening at the bottom along the trail and boardwalks near the bottom of the scenic railway.

The North Face 100 2014

We ran along for a little while through some beautiful trail and then we hit a queue just before the landslide, a technical little piece of track that is very rocky. Instead of getting annoyed to be standing still I chatted to the lady in front of me, her name was Grace and she was from Singapore. She had made the trip out here with a few friends and she has done 4 x 100km events before this race, much more experienced than me.

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Once we passed through the landslide section I politely asked to go past her as she was moving a little slower than I wanted to be, she moved aside and we wished each other well. I don’t know if she finished the run or not as her bib had a different name on it (that I could not pronounce) but I hope that she did.

I got into CP1 (10.5km) busting for the toilet and ran straight to them when I got there. I text my sister to let her know how I was travelling, a little faster than I had planned, but I wasn’t feeling like I was going too fast so I wasn’t worried. I grabbed a banana and hit the road as I already had enough food & water on me to last me till CP2. I had a quick chat to Geoff Tomlins who I had met & spoken to online about the race. He was from Melbourne and easy to spot as he was 7 foot tall. We wished each other well and I got back into my running groove. As I was running I saw another mate Paul was behind me at this section and we had a chat before I let him go past me. I was getting a stitch and I think it was from eating too fast, or too much too soon. A lot of what i had read said to “eat early and eat often” so that’s what I’d done. But I think maybe I had overdone it. So I slowed to a walk to give my body time to process the food. Hopefully it would work.

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It was here on Narrowneck that I met Tammy from Port Macquarie. She took a few happy snaps for me (and I her) so we could soak up the day and have some visual memories. We felt like we were on top of the world, it was so high up there and you could see forever.

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We ran and chatted and it was great to have her company. She works with people who have had severe injuries and/or disabilities from accidents, and helps rehabilitate them. She said that  this is what keeps her running, she thinks of what they have had to endure and if they can achieve their goals then she’s got it easy.

We got to another queue which meant that we were nearing Taros Ladders. I was a bit nervous about this section and that’s probably a huge under-statement. We chatted to everyone in line and Tammy said she would go down after me so that I could take my time and not feel pressured to go faster by anyone else. Another thoughtful, awesome lady.

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I spoke to the safety guide at the top of the stairs (once we got there) and he gave me some reassuring words to help me on my way. The photo below shows the top where you enter to start going down the ladders.

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The shot below shows the second section that you have to climb down and that’s Tammy in the blue/purple top at the bottom. I was very quiet on the way down and there was lots of controlled breathing to keep me steady. Tammy gave me lots of reassuring words and we eventually made it to the bottom in good condition.

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We were back running again. There was some really beautiful scenery around us the whole morning and I snapped as much of it as I could.

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The picture below does not do this hill any justice, it was bloody steep!!

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I had to let Tammy go ahead of me as I seemed to be slowing her down a bit and then I was lucky enough to bump into Ruth and we power walked along for a hill section together and sang songs to motivate us up the hills.

We got into CP2 (31kms) and I was busting for the toilet again so that was our first stop. I re-assessed how I was feeling and I was feeling great. I’d almost used up my 2L bladder and both of my flasks were empty so i set about filling them up first. I wished Ruth all the best with her journey and sent her on her way (as she was ready before me and I still hadn’t filled my bottles). I texted my sister to let her know how I was travelling and I was again moving faster than planned but feeling in good shape.

Leaving this checkpoint I grabbed some mandarines and lollies and thanked the friendly volunteers who were working hard there that day. It was great to know that the next Checkpoint I would see my crew, and I think this spurred me on to keep a consistent steady pace throughout the next section.

I eventually got to the Iron Pot Ridge and the views up there were amazing. There was also a man playing the digeridoo and a man banging sticks in time. You could hear them a while before you saw them but it was great to know they were coming up, another landmark to tick off the list of places we’d been.

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There was also an out and back section here so you could see who was ahead of you (I saw Ruth and wished her well again) and also who was behind you. I didn’t know many of the people behind me but I wished them all well anyway and everyone smiled to spur each other along. We also ran through some private properties and one of them had lots of horses, I think the below is their (very long) driveway.

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These two horses seemed to be cuddling when I got to them, they were standing right in front of the gate that we had to go through – aren’t they beautiful. (I took the photo from behind the gate)

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I don’t remember too much more about this next section, but it brought back memories of the Find your Feet Camp (run by Hanny Allstom) that I had run earlier that year, as we had run this section together and enjoyed it then. I’d learnt about technique here so I made a mental note to keep reminding myself about technique, especially as there were lots of stairs coming up not just at Nellie’s Glen but all of CP4 to CP5 – it was going to be tough!!

I ran along the Megalong Road and could feel my stomach churning a little as I was in need of a toilet stop (and it wasn’t for number ones, I know – gross). I think that’s why I ran most of the last 4-5km into CP3, because I was busting for the toilet!

The North Face 100 2014

When I ran into CP3 (46km) I saw my sister getting some pictures and she took my pack from me while I queued up for the toilet. What a relief.

And there they were, my trusty crew all setup waiting for me with my food and backpack re-filled and ready to go. By the looks of all my gear you’d think I was running for a week!

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Here’s me below stuffing myself with food, some yummy french fries!! I also had a shirt change here into a new top and changed into my Hokas as the soles of my feet were getting a little sore from the Nike’s. In the photo below you can see Todd (left) sorting out my backpack, and Megan (centre) who helped me change and was checking how I was feeling etc.

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My sister Shelley is the one behind the lens. My sister had been with me when I ran my first marathon less than a year ago, she met me at every spectator spot that day and has been a huge support to me in my running adventures. My big sis and I haven’t always seen eye to eye but she’s now one of my closest friends and I am so glad I got to share this with her too.

Megan is my sister-in-law and one of the most positive and friendly women I know. I met my husband through her and she was the one who encouraged me to start running with a run club a couple of years ago when we both entered the Nike She Runs in 2012 and needed to get fit. And we did!

Todd was one of the Run Leaders at the Nike Run Club where we both started running. He has seen me come from not being able to run 5km in 2012, to where I am today – attempting 100km! He’s been a huge running inspiration for me and we both ran the M7 marathon as our first marathon (he ran it in 2012, myself in 2013). He was also the instigator for getting me into Six Foot Track!!

Now back to the race!

After I changed, ate, chatted and hugged them all I made my way out of CP3 towards what would be quite a tough section. And I needed to wee again!! So i found a hidden section off the road and sat quietly waiting for some runners to go past me. I didn’t want to make any noises because then they would turn around. My legs ached when i tried to stand back up, but eventually I got going again and made sure that I had some food before I got to Nellie’s Glen, a large stair climb that was very tough.

While going up Nellie’s the tree cover is quite thick and before I got to the top I had to stop and get out my headlamp, vest, buff, arm warmers and gloves. This only took a minute or so but it meant I could see the track more clearly in the failing light and also kept me warmer as the temperature was starting to drop.

It was quite surreal knowing that you’d seen the sun rise and now I was watching it fall. And then fall is what happened… I slipped on a tricky bit of step/rock and my right leg went out from under me. It didn’t hurt too much at the time, but later it would be the beginning of the end. I didn’t think much of it, just got back up and kept moving and kept thinking about seeing my crew again at CP4 which was at the Katoomba Aquatic Centre where I knew I could change into some warm clothes and get my proper headlamp for the darkness which was spreading all around me.

Here’s a shot of me just before CP4, and I only know this because I’m still wearing my pink arm warmers. I’m not sure where it is (sorry).

The North Face 100 2014

Just before CP4 there was a road section and I was surprised to see a few locals out cheering me on. I was alone for 90% of this section so it was lovely to hear some encouragement and see they were out braving the cold night air too.

Running into CP4 was wonderful, it was heated (that’s why i’m smiling below, ha ha). My right side/hip/butt was hurting a little so my crew gave me a rub down and I went to change into some warmer gear. I also made sure to have a toilet stop, and I remember thinking how nice it felt to sit down (which I mentioned to the other runner using the toilet cubicle next to me, we both had a good laugh about that).

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I scoffed down some food and chatted to the crew while they filled my pack and got me ready for the next section. I felt a little stiff in the legs so I stretched. The pain in my side was a bit annoying but I felt like I had lots of energy left to finish the course. This was good, things were going to plan!

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I probably had my longest stop here, but it wasn’t that long (I don’t think, maybe 20 mins). And I set off out the door grabbing some last minute lollies for the road. When I got outside I chatted to another lady who had set off at the same time and we both didn’t want to run the next section alone in the dark, so we made a pact to stick together and get to CP5.

I learnt that her name was Kylie and she was actually a triathlete, this was her first ever trail race and she looked super fit. We both had AyUp torches (mine thanks to Anne Powell who let me borrow them for the race, I owe you big time Anne – thanks!!) so the trail was lit up like daylight and this was great for 2 ladies who seemed to be a little scared of the dark. I had done a bit of night training, but nothing prepared me for this.

Most of this next section is a blur to me and I have no idea of what order things happened or where we were, as the darkness makes it hard to keep track. There are a few things I remember from this section and the main one is that it was filled with stairs. If you weren’t going up stairs, then you were going down stairs (and if you weren’t doing either of those then you must have gotten lost!).

I think the reason I can’t remember much of this section is because of the pain in my leg/hip/butt that slowly got worse and worse during this section of the course. So here are some of the professional night shots, I don’t know where, but at least I kept trying to smile!

The North Face 100 2014

The North Face 100 2014

That’s Kylie below in the front. I’m so thankful that I had her company through this section, she was such an angel to me and she kept me moving when my leg and head cried for me to stop. I’m not sure what we talked about much, I think as the pain got worse my brain kind of switched off to ignore it which meant that it ignored other things happening around me too. Sorry Kylie!!

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This section ended up taking me twice the planned time, which meant my support crew had been standing around for hours in the cold. I remember thinking about them and how I had to just keep moving, I just had to get to CP5 to see them and everything would be better when I got there.

Kylie and I finally hit the road section before CP5 and she asked me if it was ok for her to run, “Of course” I said, I think I’d been holding her back. I wished her the very best of luck (at least I think I did) and i shuffled/hobbled my way along the road as fast as my legs would take me. I could hear 2 guys talking behind me and they were getting closer, I tried to stop crying but couldn’t. I hurt, I was in a bad way and they said they could see me limping. They offered some pain killers but I was worried that with my weak stomach it wasn’t the best thing to do (and who knows what they would have given me!!). They made jokes and cheered me up a little. But I had a sinking feeling that this might be it for me.

It’s very hard to put into words the thousands of emotions, feelings and scenarios that were playing around in my head. For example, should I just take some pain killers and soldier on till the end risking further injury, or should I just stop being a baby and keep moving, or should I take this seriously and look after my body by pulling out and trying again next year. I kept going through ‘what if’s’ and couldn’t really come up with an answer. This was the darkest time of my run and led to one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

I hobbled into CP5 (78km) in tears and saw my support crew cheering me on. I also looked up and saw 3 of my childhood friends who I hadn’t seen in over 10 years, they had come along to surprise and support me. I was overjoyed and saddened all at the same time. I’ll be honest, I felt like a huge disappointment for getting into CP5 so much later than planned, as it was now 1.30am.

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We moved into the First Aid tent and I was still intent on finishing the race at that point. I asked for a chair so i could sit for a minute but they offered me a bed and I couldn’t say no. I laid down and my support crew rushed around me making sure I was warm and eating and hydrated. The nurse and doctor came over to see me and they were ever so helpful. I kept telling them that I was getting up in a minute, but when I tried to get up the pain in my right leg was unbearable.

I laid back down and I cried, I was a failure. I was going to have to pull out the race.

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I got hugs from my crew and from my friends and I’m not really sure what I said to them as I had thousands of emotions running through my head. They were all so wonderful, they kept reminding me that I had run the furthest distance I had ever run and how proud they were to see me get that far. I tried to smile and be happy to have come that far and I was so lucky to have had them all to support me at that moment, but all I could feel was disappointment in myself. The hardest part was that I felt like I had the fitness to go on, I’d got the hydration and nutrition elements right but my leg had failed me.

Eventually I pulled myself together and stopped crying. I wished my friends well as they had to head home, they’d been there since 8.30pm!! It really was so great to see their smiling faces (below: Melissa, Kylie & Jessica) and I’ll never forget that ladies, you are so wonderful for coming along.

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The nurse came over and got me to sign a form to confirm that I had to pull out and she joked saying that she didn’t want to see me next year (not in the First Aid tent anyway!!).

My amazing crew gathered everything and got me to the car in one piece. We headed back to the house in Leura and I wrapped myself in a blanket they’d given me to keep warm. I hobbled into the house and jumped into the shower to warm up and then change into some warm clothes. The plan had been to stay and sleep for a few hours but everyone was wide awake so we sat and chatted for a little while and then we all packed up the cars and headed for home. Luckily I had Megan driving me home and I nodded off a couple of times during the trip. I just wanted to be back in my own bed and in my husbands arms, and thankfully he was home waiting for me.

So that’s the brutally honest version of my horrible ending to the the race, but one week on and I’m feeling much better and positive about the whole experience. I’ve learnt so much from what I went through and I have learnt a lot about myself and what I am capable of. I’ve already decided that I will be back at TNF100 in 2015 as I have unfinished business to take care of, and I know now what to expect and what areas I can work on and improve. You haven’t seen the last of me yet!

One of the greatest things about this race, is that fact that I managed to raise over $10,000 for the UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, that’s a huge mountain in itself. And I could not have done that without the loving, caring and kind support of all my friends and family (actual family & running family) near and far. Check out the EverydayHero page here for more information: https://cheba2.everydayhero.com/au/running-hailey

I owe a HUGE amount to my support crew for spending the day looking after me and mostly waiting for me. I could not have done the race without their support and I will be forever thankful and happy that i got to share this experience with them. I could not have chosen 3 better people to do the job. So thank you so much Shelley, Megan & Todd – you are the best!

The last thing I want to mention is my family and friends. I received hundreds (no joke) of calls, messages, emails, comments and posts of encouragement before, during and after the race. And when I was at my lowest point you all brought me back to life in some small way. You made me realise that I have done something most people will never attempt, never even dream of doing. You have reminded me that this is not the end, it’s only the beginning. I feel so lucky to have you all and I hope you all reach for the stars and follow your dreams, because I know it’s now possible for me to achieve anything I put my mind to. And if it’s possible for me, then it’s possible for you too!

Happy Running 😀

14 thoughts on “The North Face 100

  1. I read this at work whilst sticking labels on lollipops for our open day… I know exciting! and I had to contain my tears at times throughout your story. you’ve come some far Hails in the time I have know you. You make me feel proud to know you xxx

    • You are so sweet Ros, thanks for all the support. I has been a tough journey but I feel so much better for it.
      I hope you didn’t eat all the Lollipops!! 😉 xxx

  2. Hey Fav Cous’
    Well done & truely a GREAT effort. Truly inspirational. Glad your leg is better. Now you can start running again for next year. Awesome amount of $ for your charity. Great story. Good luck for next year…..lots of love xo

  3. inspirational stuff! Thanks for sharing. I did the Oxfam sydney trail walker many moons ago – injured my knee – kept going – and 20 years later my knee is still a little “hows your father”. Sometimes I think it takes more courage to exit gracefully and come back stronger next time. Your story has me inspired to tackle something similar again – for myself and the awesome opportunity to do good for others as well. Huge effort, and all the best for next time!
    btw: it’s amazing what support is out there on the trails, huh! 🙂 You run into the most incredible people who give so much! Thanks again for your support – hope to see you sunday!

    • Sorry to hear about your knee Darren, but i’m glad my story has inspired you. What next for you?
      I’ll keep an eye for you on Sunday too, Happy Running 😀

    • Hi Darren, thanks for the feedback. It’s good to know people actually read (and appreciate) what i’m sharing with the world. Hopefully it inspires people to follow their dreams…
      See you on the trails soon 🙂

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