Pinters 2018

For years now, I have dreamed of completing the Larapinta Trail in the Outback of Northern Territory in Australia. So when our good friend Jane invited us to join her on a 6 day trail running adventure on Larapinta, we jumped at the chance!

The trip was scheduled to take place in September 2018, so that meant I had 11 months to prepare for my first ever multi-day running adventure. If you look online and in most books about the Larapinta Trail it will tell you the ‘end-to-end’ distance is 226km, however the distance we ended up running was quite a lot more. It would take some improved fitness and strength work to prevent any injury troubles. I felt nervous, excited and scared all at once.

As time went on and training continued, I got stronger and I felt more comfortable with the distances and terrain we would encounter on the trip. However, just 2 weeks before our departure I was forced into an early taper due to laryngitis and a chest infection. I took 2 courses of antibiotics and rested as much as possible, because there was no way I was going to let illness stop me.

The night before our flight to Alice Springs we spent in a mad panic trying to pack our bags with only the essential items needed for the trip. We had picked up our allocated travel bags a few weeks beforehand, and Jane told us we were not allowed to bring more than what we could fit into the bag. At the time this had made me nervous as my sleeping mat and sleeping bag were going to take up a lot of space, and my nerves had not been wrong. But the reason we had to pack light was because our support vehicle did not have a lot of space to store extra baggage. We got there in the end and looking back, I know there are a few more things I could have taken out of my bag.

On Thursday 20 September we met up with most of the ‘Pinters 2018’ runners at the Qantas Lounge in Sydney Airport, and flew to Alice Springs with an arrival time of 12.20pm.

As we walked off the plane and across the tarmac I noticed the one and only Robert De Castella (Deeks) had also been on our plane, flying with a few of the Indigenous Marathon Project Runners. We were all totally star struck but none of us had the courage to go up and ask for a photo/autograph, most likely as he had his phone stuck to his ear the whole time while we were waiting for our bags.

Tony our bus driver met us at the baggage claim area, and we jumped on the bus headed towards Redbank Gorge. It would take a few hours to drive to the starting point, and we made one stop on the way to drop off a few bags at the Resort we would be staying in after the trip. Tony was a great tour guide, he told me a lot about the Alice Springs area and how he had moved to the area with his wife when she got a nursing job many years ago. When he wasn’t our bus driver, he worked as a taxi cab in the town part time and was semi-retired.

When we got to Redbank Camping Area we met our wonderful crew, Janet and Gary. They arrived a few hours before us and had already set up camp for our first night on the trail. We immediately liked Janet and Gary for their great sense of humour, and over the next few days grew to love them for their unwavering care and support for us all out on the trail.

Our team grabbed their bags and we each setup our tents for the night, then met back at the main tent ready for our run (hike) up to Mt Sonder. The trail to Mt Sonder and back is approximately 15.8km with an elevation gain of 603m, so it wasn’t going to be too tough. We were all a bundle of excitement and nerves, some of us had not seen each other for a while and some of us had just met. We crossed the riverbed which had no water in it (and looked like it hadn’t had water in it for a very long time, years!) and I pretended to swim while lying on the sand and doing my best freestyle swimming impersonation. We chatted and hiked, complaining a little about the grey skies blocking our view of the landscape. We started up the final steep ascent but we didn’t end up getting to the top because we were running out of light, and had to turn back early because some people did not have their head torches.

When we got back into camp our delicious creamy pasta dinner was waiting for us and we all scoffed it down with a few beers, then headed to bed for an early night. Some of the runners had organised to get up super early for the first day, but Roger and I decided to have a bit of a sleep in (if possible) and get up and leave whenever our bodies were ready. This was a ‘holiday’ after all and we had both been recovering from illness, so we wanted to start the trip feeling well rested.

 

Day 1 – Redbank Gorge to Ormiston Gorge

Distance: 38.27km

Elevation: 851m

Running Time: 6 hrs 25mins (Moving: 5hrs 56mins)

 We woke to rumblings of runners having breakfast and gearing up for the trail. The grey clouds still covered the sky for as far as I could see, and the air felt quite cool on my skin. Getting ready took us longer than everyone else as we hadn’t prepared our packs the nights before, so we waved them off and told them we would catch-up. Eventually we got our shit together and left the campsite, thanking Janet and Gary for the superb breakfast.

We hiked roughly 2km from the campground to Redbank Gorge Trailhead and followed the signs directing us to Ormiston Gorge. Today’s plan was to run 36km and even though the clouds threatened rain all day, it never amounted to more than a sprinkle. I did have my rainproof jacket on and off several times through the day, but we ran so much that I was able to keep warm and the jacket never stayed on for long.

When we were about 10km from our destination we ran into the rest of our group who had stopped to have morning tea. We all ran into the Gorge together and eventually found our campsite, the area had been fully booked so there were lots of people (mostly RVs and 4WDs) and we had a toilet block (no showers) which was nicer than heading into the bush at night.

After a short pit stop and changing into some warm clothes, we all headed down to the Gorge as it was just a short walk. It was a very pretty place, and Sarah and I decided to dip in our legs to help them recover from the first day.

We chatted over dinner about what was planned for the next day, and we realised that last time they had done this trip it was over 7 days (not 6 days like we were planning) and I got confused about where we were camping etc. Gary and Jane seemed to be all over it though, so I didn’t worry too much as I knew we were in capable hands.

 

Day 2 – Ormiston Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam

Distance: 40.2km

Elevation: 1,185m

Running Time: 8hrs 44mins (Moving Time: 7hrs 52mins)

We set our alarm and got up super early however the main group left even earlier, and they didn’t wait for us. We left before sunrise and chose to add the Pound walk circuit, a side trip that added about 8km of beautiful trails. We were rewarded with a breath-taking sunrise, and we giggled like school kids as we skipped along the trail taking in the mountains and brown plains surrounding us.

We got back to Ormiston Gorge, used the toilet facilities and then headed along the trail towards Serpentine Chalet Dam. Today’s plan had us running 31km, on top of the 8km we had already just run. The start of the trail followed along beside an old creek bed, which had clearly been dry for many years. Eventually the trail snaked along and into the bush, everything looked dry and I felt like I was breathing in a lot of dust. We crossed many creek beds, all of them dry, and I was very happy to see blue skies and sunshine.

When we arrived at the last trailhead for the day, Adam was there to greet us and walk with us to the campground. He made a joke that we were doing 60km tomorrow and I laughed it off, they would never spring that on us. We walked and talked some more and eventually got to the campsite where it was just our crew. Nice and peaceful. We took off our packs and sat down for some cold drinks and heard about everyone’s experiences for the day.

Jane also informed us that tomorrow we would need to run 60km. Ummmm, what?! Someone had got their calculations wrong and that meant we had to make up a day. Shit. Apparently, the plan was for our support crew to meet us at the halfway point the next day so we could fill up on food and water before continuing on for the rest of the trail. My heart sank. I wanted to cry. I was so tired, I had to fight back tears or I’d look like a wimp. I quietly spoke to Roger saying that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I had not trained for this and wasn’t sure if it would trigger issues with my foot and/or knee doing this kind of distance in one day, on top of everything else.

The crew tried to reassure me that if I could not make the whole distance I could pull out at halfway, however I would never forgive myself for missing a section of the trail. It would mean that everything I had run so far would be wasted, as I would want to come back and start again, doing the whole trail end to end like we originally planned. Otherwise it would not count. I told myself and the crew I’d sleep on it and decide in the morning, but before my head hit the pillow that night, I’d already decided to give to 60km a crack.

 

Day 3 – Serpentine Chalet Dam to Hugh Gorge

Distance: 58.5km

Elevation: 1,751m

Running Time: 13hrs 9mins (Moving Time: 11hrs 51mins)

We got up super early and left before the sunrise, Sarah had decided to run with us today and we welcomed her company. She was planning on running to the halfway point and knew we would be taking it easy, and we loved having her along for the ride.

Our head torches lit up the trail for the first hour or so, and we were treated to some  beautiful sunrise views from Counts Point, the highest point on the course that morning. The colour in the sky changed every minute and we soaked up the views feeling lucky to be alive.

The next section involved a lot of rock climbing, scrambling and we saw quite a few lizards just before we got to Ellery Creek. It had some really steep, rocky sections and the going was a little tough, I was glad to be wearing my bicycle gloves.

We met up with Janet & Garry at Ellery creek and refuelled our packs. We chugged down some Coke and food, and after a short trip to the creek (and the bathrooms) we were on our way again. Sarah had decided to stop at Ellery Creek, so we said our goodbyes and Roger and I headed for Hugh Gorge.

Our trail headed up over a saddle into a large expanse of nothingness, a very flat area with nothing to see for miles and miles. It looked dry, prickly and as if the trail was going to chew me up and spit me back out. We followed the trail signs and went past Rocky Gully, we also stopped at a campground to fill up on water as the sun had been scorching us all day, it must have been at least 35 degrees with no shade on the trail.

I took a total of 3 photos on this section, a sign that I did not enjoy myself.  I hit my lowest point of the whole trip and to be honest, I battled tears the whole day. I felt like a total wimp. Everything hurt, and I wanted to quit so many times, but there was literally no way out of here. A huge basin of nothingness, it kept challenging me and grinding me in its teeth. Roger was so good to me, he put up with me whingeing and moaning all day and kept me moving when I wanted to stop. We put on some tunes to keep ourselves entertained and it helped to lift my mood. When we got nearer to the end I started using the km markers to count down and keep me busy. It did not work, and I kept forgetting which number we went past last, so I annoyed Roger a thousand times by asking him “What marker did we just pass?”. There were so many rocks and more rocks, and bloody rocks. The surface we ran on for most of the afternoon was rocks, very hard on the feet unlike soft trails. It hurt.

After what felt like an eternity of rocks, and some badly numbered markers we eventually arrived at Hugh Gorge and were greeted with some lovely rock drawings from our crew (too rude to show here!). The sun was just setting behind the mountains and I said, “Thank fuck we made it” (sorry Mum). I was exhausted and amazed to have made it in one piece. I felt like I had been a big sook for most of the day, but I had made it and technically I had run my first ‘ultra’ since injury (18+ months). We celebrated with some beers and scoffed down our dinner while chatting about how everyone’s day had gone. It had been the hottest yet and we were all exhausted, so we all headed off to bed early that night.

 

Day 4 – Hugh Gorge to Standley Chasm

Distance: 35.7km

Elevation: 1,390m

Running Time: 10hrs 24mins (Moving Time: 8hrs 18mins)

I slept very well the night before, probably due to exhaustion. I woke like most day, to noises of runners getting ready for their day on the trails. We had not set an alarm as we decided to sleep till our bodies were ready to get up, after all it would only be 35km today (ha, ha). Slowly we got moving and prepared our packs, had breakfast and said farewell to Janet & Garry.

Today we followed many old river beds and creeks, winding round and round, over more rocks and more rocks. We saw cows on the trail and they ran away, they seemed to be quite scared by our presence. Other than birds and a lizard, these were the first animals we had seen out here in the wild. Where were all the kangaroos and koalas? It was probably due to the lack of water out here, it would be very hard to survive. We followed a wide creek for a few kilometres and it was scattered with hundreds of cows’ dung, clearly, they had found food and water in this area, the place was littered, and it stunk!!

We climbed up to Rocky Saddle and eventually hit Razorback Ridge where the views were stunning. There was a tent setup on the top of the Ridge, but we couldn’t spot any hikers. We stopped and had some lunch and a pit stop and kept moving on our way. It was a gorgeous day to be up here taking in the view.

At Spencer Gorge we bumped into Sarah and Sarah-Jane who were resting in the shelter. Sarah-Jane was not feeling well and had decided to stop and rest, Sarah had stayed with her as she didn’t really want her to be alone. The rest of their crew had gone ahead to keep moving, and they were going to contact Janet & Garry who would come and pick them up from a nearby road. We had some snacks with them and welcomed the shade as it was another very hot day.

Soon we were on our way again and headed for Brinkley Bluff, another of the high points along the course and the views did not disappoint. Then we hit Reveal Saddle which also had some great views, and eventually we climbed back down and ran into Standley Chasm.

The crew cheered us into the campsite and there was even a hot shower, we were very excited as we had not showered in 4 days! Unfortunately, we had missed the shop opening times, but Garry surprised us with some ice creams after dinner and we were all super stoked. Small pleasures, big smiles.

 

Day 5 – Standley Chasm to Simpsons Gap

Distance: 43.7km

Elevation: 1,261m

Running Time: 10hrs 28mins (Moving Time: 8hrs 40mins)

I had very broken sleep at Standley Chasm, so I woke up feeling very tired. A dog had barked on and off throughout the night and because there were other campers it was not as quiet as it had been most nights.

Roger and I were slow to get ready (as usual) and we walked out towards the trail while chomping on banana bread, which had become my favourite snack each morning. Our first stop was about 400m along the trail at the actual ‘Standley Chasm’ as it had been too dark when we arrived the night before. We took some photos and then a few of the others turned up and we took some silly photos with them too.

As we waved goodbye to the crew that were taking a rest day, we started up some stairs along the trail towards Simpsons Gap, we had a few climbs this morning and it was going to be another tough day. As we walked through the Chasm it was amazing to see how they trees seemed to be growing out of the rocks, I don’t know how they survived up here. Somehow, we managed to take a wrong turn but thankfully we realised before we had gone too far and soon we were back on the right track. A large sign was across the trail warning us that the next section was not for ‘Casual Walkers’ and that there was now only 60km till Alice Springs.

It was a very steep climb out of the chasm and there were lots of birds chirping as we got higher and higher. Then the trail became very, very, very, very slow moving as we had to climb and clamber over rocks of all different sizes. Some of the rocks we had to climb over were bigger than my 4WD car. I imagined that the area we were climbing through would have had waterfalls and rapids running down through them years and years ago, but they had obviously dried up many hundreds of years ago. It seemed the climbing would never stop, and it meant zero running.

Jane had told us about a low route option she would be taking, the high route was the same distance, but it had a lot more elevation and my guidebook said it would take an hour longer. Roger and I decided we wanted to take the risk of the high route and experience the views, and we were not disappointed. The trail was not as scary as we had been made to believe, much to my relief, and we ended up having a morning tea break here to take in the serenity.

We kept hiking/running along the trail and I took another wrong turn. It was a good thing we had the maps in our watches, as we used them so many times to make sure we were on the right trail.

Eventually we got to Simpsons Gap and Garry was waiting for us, he had been a little worried because we had taken a bit longer than he expected. I thought we had made it in pretty good time, but we had been slowed a lot by doing the high section. He gave us icy cold soft drinks that were heaven, and then drove us back to Alice Springs where we were all camping at a busy caravan park before our last day on the trail.

When we got to the caravan park it felt strange to be amongst so many people and so much noise, I missed the peacefulness of the campsites we had experienced each night beforehand. Our whole crew celebrated how far we had all come and planned the car pool for the next morning to get back onto the trail.

 

Day 6 – Simpsons Gap to Telegraph Station

Distance: 25.2km

Elevation: 696m

Running Time: 4hrs 38mins (Moving Time: 4hrs 21mins)

Roger and I were very organised for our last morning on the trail. We had prepared our packs the night before and basically just had to eat, get a lift, then run the 25km to the finish. As we waited for Garry to come back and pick us up we fed some local birds that had gathered to eat our scraps, it was a great experience.

Today we got to run with Sarah again and we sang lots as we trotted along the trails on our last day. I felt sad to be finishing, but happy to have made it so far. It was a strange feeling that made me think about planning more trips like this one, something I would have to look into when I got home. We ran quite a lot of the trail today, over a long ridge, under the main road, over the train tracks. Like my feelings the night before I was finding it strange to be back around cars and civilisation, like I was craving to be back in the middle of nowhere.

We caught up to the rest of our crew near the old cemetery and walked together to the end of the trail. We finally saw some kangaroos on the last kilometre of the trail and we were all so happy when we reached the Telegraph Station. We had done it.

I was extremely happy to have run every single, goddamned day, and that I had not given up on myself even when I had been thrown many obstacles. I had many ups and downs, some physical and some mental, but my body had stayed strong. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have run this trail and the amazing support that we had from Garry & Janet, we could not have done this without them. Many thanks to Jane for organising such a memorable run, and to Roger for putting up with me every, single, day – he has a heart of gold.

It was a wonderful trip with mates that I will never forget. I know it will definitely not be my last….

For those of you interested in what we took/packed for the week here’s my packing list.

PACKING LIST

  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Blow up Pillow
  • Ugg Boots
  • Thongs
  • Trail Shoes x 2
  • Head torches x 2 (+ chargers/batteries)
  • Puffy Jacket
  • Space Blanket
  • Toiletries/Wet Wipes
  • Thermal Top
  • Thermal Pants
  • Buffs x 4
  • Gloves – Woolen & Trail
  • Microfibre Towel (compact)
  • Beanie
  • Sunglasses
  • Visor/Hat
  • Socks x 4
  • Running Shirts x 3
  • Running shorts x 2
  • Running skirt x 3
  • Sports Bras x 3
  • Undies x 6
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Long sleeve top
  • Fleece jumper
  • Track pants
  • Hydration Backpack
  • Soft Flasks x 2
  • Hiking Poles
  • Sunscreen
  • Gurney Goo (for blisters)

A long weekend in the Victorian Mountains

A couple of months ago we noticed a new race was being held in Victoria on the June long weekend and we thought this would be a great opportunity to experience some solid climbs in race conditions. So we signed up, me for the 14km (1,150m) and Roger for the 27km (2,250m).

We both managed to get Friday off work too which meant we could drive down on Thursday afternoon, and we arrived in Tawonga South (near Mount Beauty) close to midnight. Roger accidentally missed the driveway, and as we did a u-turn we were faced with a large deer that has previously camouflaged into the surrounding trees. It was beautiful.

Eventually we made it up the long, steep driveway and into our cosy, shed-looking Air BnB. It had a fireplace and plenty of room for us with all our running and hiking gear. I wondered what views it might have when we awoke the next morning…..

Friday morning was cold and I got the air conditioner firing as soon as I stumbled out of bed. I opened the curtains to a misty view of Mount Bogong and its surrounds, this was going to be a great weekend!

Today I was going to do a short hike and Roger would do a few repeats of Mount Bogong. He is in training for the 100 mile Hardrock Endurance run in the USA in July and he planned to do a lot of running with elevation over the next 3 days. We geared up and drove to the Mountain Creek Camping and Picnic Area which was about 20mins away. We parked the car and headed about 2km up the trail towards the staircase that heads to Mount Bogong.

I waved goodbye to Roger as he headed up the staircase and I kept going on the flat(ter) trail for a light hike.

Ever since being given the all clear to start training again a few months back, I have been cautiously easing back into running. I’ve also still been recovering from the flu and throat infection that saw me DNS (did not start) at the UTA22 a few weeks earlier, so I was conscious to wear a few more warm layers than usual, and I was thankful because it was foggy and cold with sprinkles of rain every now and then.

The sound of Black Cockatoos could be heard overhead so I stopped to take in their beautiful melody. I walked along a few more km’s along and came to a creek which covered the trail. If I walked through the creek it would mean getting my feet soaked, so I searched for another way to cross and found a thin log that had been put over the creek. I cautiously put one foot on the log and it wobbled under my feet, I tried to gain balance on one foot but the log was also slippery and impossible.

So I made the decision to stay warm and dry and turned around to head back down the hill to the car. There was nobody around, not one single person or car at the campground and I worried a little that Roger would be up on that mountain in the cold (snow?) by himself. What if something happened? I know he is very experienced in harsh conditions and he had packed very sensibly for the cold, but you cannot help worrying sometimes. I assured myself he would be fine and the regular text messages that he later kept sending helped to ease my nerves.

When I got back at the Air BnB I had a (long) hot shower and settled in to read my book with a cup of hot chocolate. Tough life. I picked up Roger from the campground at 6pm as planned and later headed to Flour + Water for a hard earned feast. After dinner we readied our gear for Saturday’s Wandi Cross race and got an early night. Check out the sunset below with Mount Bogong peeking through the clouds on the left.

Wandi Cross 14km – Race Report

We were up early to get organised and the drive over to Wandiligong would take at least 45 minutes unless we got stuck behind a slow truck/bus/camper on the mountain towards Bright. It was foggy and the temperature got down to about 4 degrees on the drive over. We arrived, parked and walked over to the Alpine Park to register and use the toilets. We collected our race bibs and headed back to the car to get our gear.

Unlike most of the past trail races I had done I knew nobody and that was largely due to the fact that we were in a different state. Still, it felt weird. We readied ourselves at the start line for a quick briefing and then we were off, the 14km and 27km runners all started together.

The first section of the course was along a hilly road section for about 2km before we ducked into a trail and started to climb the first hill. Most of the road section had been quite hilly but we had pushed ourselves to run it because everyone around us had been running too. I figured they were probably locals and knew the course well, turns out most of them were.

Our first climb was up Goldmine Spur and if there had not been runners ahead of me and pink tape to mark the way, then I’m pretty sure I would not have been able to make out the trail. It had clearly rained for quite a few days leading up the race and the ground was very wet and slippery underfoot, but thankfully my trusty new Speedgoats were up to the challenge.

I overtook a few people going up this mountain and got into a rhythm with my steps even though the terrain was quite steep and uneven. There was no clear trail aside from where the runners had pinned down the long grass,  and made way over the fallen branches and rocks. I think if I had been here outside of race conditions it would be easy to lose the trail.

Eventually we got to the top and I made my way downhill towards the first aid station. Here I said goodbye to Roger as the 27km course took off in a different direction, and headed down a fire trail which led to the first big descent. Talk about slippery! About 70% of this downhill section was slippery clay that meant you practically slid your way down the mountain. It was almost impossible to stay upright and I heard many streaks and groans from in front and behind me while going through that section. If you imagine the position you take while standing on a surfboard riding a wav, that was how I slid down the mountain for the best part. It’s a miracle that I didn’t land on my butt, as I noticed after the race most people came in with clay all over their legs and butt.

The course eventually looped back around towards the Alpine Park starting area where my race number was ticked off. I had carried all my own food and drink so I didn’t waste any time at the aid stations. Heading out of the park we took a right hand turn up a fire trail and then took a sharp left up into ‘The Goat’. The description on the race website said “hands in the dirt scrambling” and they were not wrong. There was actually a rope to pull yourself up the first section onto the trail because it was so steep. I had to really concentrate for this section as it was crucial to get your feet on the right surface/spot for every step up this mountain. One wrong foot and you would slide down and lose ground, banging your knees, ankles and elbows all over the place. This was really the toughest climb I have ever seen, and what made it harder was that so many other runners had come through here earlier today.

It got me thinking about the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in New Zealand that some of my friends and clients had raced in earlier this year, as they had completed 50-100 miles in conditions similar to (or worse than) this.

I passed a local going up ‘The Goat’ and he was starting to struggle big-time. We had a chat as I went past and I felt strong as I kept climbing further and further ahead. Surely it couldn’t be that much further to the top. It kept going, and going, and going. We would cross a fire trail and climb up the next section using ropes and whatever means possible. By the time I got to the top there was nobody around me, behind or in front and I kind of liked that. The view we had been promised was hidden by a curtain of mist and I could barely see 10 metres in front of me. There was a bell hanging from a tree at the top of Mystic Mountain so I gave it a ring and kept running towards the markers and the aid station. I rounded the cone, said hello to the volunteers, then smiled as I left because I knew it was all downhill from here.

This is the point where I got a bit excited and may not have been paying as much attention as I should have been. Somewhere as I pummelled down the steep first trail I missed a turn and ended up at the bottom of the mountain with not a pink trail marker to be seen. I walked back up the hill,, then down the hill, then up to another spot, then down. it was useless. I could not find a pink course marker anywhere. I was soo annoyed at myself and it upset me more than it should have. I looked at my watch and it said I had run 13.6km, my heart sank as I knew it was further than 400m to get to the finish now. I just hoped it wasn’t too much further as I had been pushing myself and wasn’t too sure how much was left in the tank.

Finally I got out my phone and worked out that the road below me should wind its way back to the Alpine Park and I hoped that it would link back up with the course. I ran along the road and thankfully it re-joined the course, however I had lost too many places to count and it made me disappointed with myself. I chatted to a guy who asked me where I had come from and I told him what had happened, I’d actually passed him going up the first hill and he had not seen me since then. There was another lady in front of me so I set my sights on trying to catch her, but it was useless as my legs didn’t have anymore speed to give. I felt like an idiot and had no-one to blame but myself for getting lost as I should have been paying more attention.

I tried to focus on the positives and snap myself out of the bad mood I’d fallen into. The trail followed the Horses Creek back which was trickling with water, a nice calming sound that helped improve my mood as it snaked its way towards Alpine Park. Once in the park we did a victory lap of the field and I crossed the finish line in 2hrs 55mins. My goal had been to finish in 2hrs 30mins, however my Garmin told me that I had run 16.5km so I’d say I would have been pretty close to that without the added kms. I’ll take it.

About 2 minutes after I crossed the finish line I saw Roger coming into the aid station at Alpine Park, great timing. He still had ‘The Goat’ to come and an another bonus trail that we did not travel on, so I wished him well and told him to be careful on the last downhill because I had missed the markers. He left in good spirits and I caught up with our good friend George Mihalakellis who had driven up from Melba to cheer us on and spend some time in the mountains. George and I then headed back to the car and off to get some brunch before heading back to wait for Roger’s race finish. Roger crossed the line in 5hrs 39minutes and we celebrated with a bacon & egg wrap and coffee.

The Wandi Cross organisers had advertised this as a ‘technology free run’ so I had decided not to take any photos while out on course, that is why I have not included any here in this blog. I did however wear my Garmin GPS watch during the run but I kept it hidden under a buff so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it, and the only time I looked at my watch was when I had gotten lost.

Once we were all back at the Air BnB showered and warm, I opened up a 13 yr old bottle of Sullivans Cove whisky that Roger had given me for my birthday. I had been saving it to celebrate my return to trail running/racing, and we even convinced George to have a glass too.

We went to Roi’s Restaurant for dinner on Saturday night and as always the food and service were top notch. We also found the Mt Beauty Taxi Service (a one man band) to be most helpful and friendly.

Sunday Hike – Mount Feathertop

On Sunday George and Roger were heading to Bogong for some more repeats and after looking up the local hiking trails I had decided to hike Bungalow Spur to Mount Feathertop. I drove about 45mins to get to the trailhead and the car told me that it was 2 degrees at the spot where I was starting my hike. I had worn a few layers of warm clothing and had some extras plus wet weather gear in my pack in case I needed it.

The first section of the trail was nice and flat and it followed along next to a small running creek, but the ‘flat’ would not last for long. The trail crossed the creek and started to wind up and up around the mountains before me. It was not too long before I had to remove my wind & water proof jacket because I was getting too hot. I stuffed the jacket into my pack and twisted my cap around so I could see the trail ahead and above me. About 2km up the trail I realised that my sunglasses had been on top of my hat and that when I had twisted the cap around I had dropped them. There was no way I was going back for them, or should I? I decided that I didn’t want to have to back-track and kept moving up the trail.

There was a large section of the trail that was overgrown with shrubs and I noticed as I pushed through them that it was soaking my clothes and making me feel a little cooler than I anticipated. I kept going and tried to steer clear of the branches but it was almost impossible. I decided I would just have to speed up and hike fast so my clothes would stay dry from the heat of my body. There was a small break in the shrubs and I stopped to look up….

It was about this point that it dawned on me I was actually hiking to the 2nd highest peak (1,899 metres) in Victoria, and that the entire trail to the summit would probably not have any flat or downhill sections. Great. My quads and calves had felt very stiff that morning when I had awoken and they were now reminding me that I probably wasn’t in as good shape as I could have been to attempt this, especially the day after my first trail race in 18 months. My coach had written ‘Easy Hike’ on my training program and I’m afraid this was nowhere close to being an easy hike. Sorry Andy!

Then I began to notice the ice had begun covering the leaves and the branches around me, and the trees were no longer green and flourishing. It was eerie and magical all at once.

The higher I got the more ice and snow I could see, and the temperature had dropped so much that I put my jacket and gloves on to keep warm.

My legs were burning by the time I reached the Federation Hut and thankfully it had only been about 8.6km to this point, not 10.5km as per the trail markers. I stopped at the Hut to chat to some campers so I could have a rest and take in the view while I also threw in some more food.

It was only about 2km from here to the summit so I put on all my warm clothes and wet weather gear and headed up the trail.

I passed a few walkers coming down the mountain and they commented on how lucky we were to be here on such a clear day. They were locals and had hiked this many times before but said this was the best weather they had ever seen. I felt lucky and sped up to reach the top.

I felt on top of the world. The couple at the top took my photo and then left me alone to enjoy the summit all by myself. It was magical. I felt like I was flying.

I must have taken a thousand photos at the top and I could have kept taking them all afternoon, but I started to get cold and knew I had already taken a lot longer than I had expected. I was not sure how long it would take me to get back down to the car so I took a final video and then made my way back down the slopes.

The trip down was painful. I felt like a robot as my quads and calves just didn’t want to budge, it was not pleasant. I tried running instead of walking and that seemed to feel better, for a little while anyway. I alternated between slow running and fast hiking back down the mountain and got back to the car about 5 hours after I had started. I was so relieved to get there.

Driving home was easy and I took in the views of the beautiful place I was in as I knew it was my last day before we headed home. I stopped halfway home to get a photo of Mt Feathertop from the road too. Today had been tough but it has been worth it. It reminded of the famous quote “The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow”.

I slumped into the door at the Air BnB and spent what felt like a lifetime under the hot stream of the shower, then spent the next few hours with my feet in the ‘Air pants’ by Air Relax Australia. They help circulation to help speed up recovery, kind of like a massage for your legs. At some point I fell asleep and I woke when the guys returned. We had dinner at Roi’s Restaurant again which was another delicious meal, and we all crashed into a slumber exhausted from the day’s work.

I felt so good to be free and alive.

On Monday morning we said our goodbyes to George and packed the car heading for home. What a top weekend in the mountains! All I could think about was the next time that I would be in mountains, and that would be in July as we were heading to Colorado, USA.

See you on the trails…

2016 GNW100 Miler

I’ve been dreaming about this race for a few years now. I’ve seen every video on youtube, read every race reports and heard about so many DNF (Did Not Finish) stories that I’ll admit it had me a little scared. But I’m always up for a challenge and the Great North Walk 100s sounded like it was just my cup of tea.

I eventually started telling people about my race plans and thankfully had 2 wonderful humans volunteer to crew (Sally Dean) and pace (Brad Smithers) for me at the race. Sally and I met when we crewed together for Jane Trumper at the 2015 Coast2Kosci, she was very experienced and I learnt so much from her over that weekend, an invaluable asset to have on my team! And that’s also where I met my pacer Brad, he was crewing for another runner at Coast2Kosci, his bubbly personality and helpful nature meant we became good friends straight away. Brad had also run the GNW miler in 2015 so he knew the course well and was experienced in ultra running, another invaluable asset to have on my team.

Like most of my races I would also use this event to fundraise for Dementia research at the UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) and run this race in honour of my grandmother Betty who passed away recently after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Since 2013 I have run many events and raised almost $20,000 for this cause and I think my Nan would be very proud.

Months of training went past with the experienced help of my coach Andy Dubois, and it was not without the usual speed bumps of life along the way. I got to run on most of the course before race day, and I also spent a couple of days hiking solo and camping on the course, which I later realised was one of the toughest sections. It was a great experience for me as I love the outdoors, even if it meant getting a few blisters along the way!

Fast forward to the day before race day, where I met Sally in Woy Woy near the hotel I would be staying after the race. I would leave my car there and Sally would drive us to Warners Bay where we would stay the night before the race. We checked into our Hotel (pub, big mistake!) and went to do the usual final shopping trip. We also drove to the start area, a large football field which would be flooded with runners, supporters, organisers and volunteers the next morning. We went back to the hotel and Sally meticulously organised my food bags, she’s awesome! I’d also given her a 7 page document which outlined my plan so we chatted about the finer points on that too ( I know, run nerd). I also (half) taped my feet which took took much longer than expected, next time i’m just going to call Berny, ha ha!

Now all that was left to do was sleep, but that didn’t really go to plan as it sounded like the pub band were playing directly below our room and when they stopped playing at midnight we were treated to more ‘doof doof’ from the DJ until about 2am. Not the best way to spend the night before you are about to run 175kms, but hey what could I do?!

The alarms went off and we sleepily got up and prepared for the day. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!

We parked the car at the start area and checked in, weighed in, and I visited the toilet 5,000 times (okay, slight exaggeration). Always happens to me before a race, and thankfully I found a toilet that didn’t have a queue. I spent time chatting to lots of friends who were running both the 100km and 100 mile events and I sat down to rest my legs before the race briefing.

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Wayne (Blue Dog) Gregory and I had planned to start the race together and run together as long as we could. We had not done any training runs together but he said that he was going to be slow and being my first miler I told him I would be taking it slow and easy to ensure I could make the distance, it would be nice to have his company.

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And we were off, I was talking so much I missed the starting gun (if there was one?) but everyone started running and we joined them.

I was running GNW100 Miler!! Woohoo!!

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I started the race with Blue Dog as planned, and we ran with friends Seb, George and his friend Simon for most of the first road section. I also saw my physio Pete as we crossed over the railway bridge, he was looking fit and I wished him well. It was raining at this point but only very lightly and it was actually very nice as the temperature was quite warm that morning (15 degrees if you believe the Liquorland sign near our hotel).

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Photo Credit: George Mihalakellis

Eventually we hit some trail and some hills, Blue Dog. And so it began, the power hiking up and the running down, plus running the flats. We hit our first steep, technical hill and Blue Dog commented on how strong I was going up them. I felt good, no I felt great.

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It was during the jungle that Blue Dog slowed and I kept getting ahead. It was a beautiful section of the course, very much like a rainforest and I took lots of time to look around and enjoy the view while I waited for Blue Dog to catch up, but eventually he told me to go on ahead and stop waiting for him and by the look in his eye I knew it was the right thing to do, he was struggling. I wished him well and caught up to another group of runners just ahead, one of them was Michael that I’d met at C2K, then there was Nick who has done this race 7 times before (!!), plus another first timer who from the Ukraine. They told me about a ‘huggy’ post that was at the top of the climb. We eventually got there and after a few laughs I managed to snap a shot of us all leaning on the post.

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I got to CP1 (28.6km) with relative ease and was greeted by John Love from Terrigal Trotters. I had never met him before but he was a friend of my massage therapists and he was going to help look out for me. From then on I was known to all of the volunteers as “John’s (only) friend”, the joke of the day/night/day! ha ha

I saw Sally straight away when I came into the checkpoint and she gave me all the supplies I needed, dead set legend. I made a quick dash to the bathroom and hoped that I would be able to leave with the same runners I had come in with. Unfortunately they were nowhere to be seen as I Checked-Out and got on my way. Here’s me heading out of CP1.

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Being alone for part of this section took me back to when I had hiked it a few months earlier, only this time I was not carrying a 28kg pack!! It was beautiful to hear only the sounds of my feet and the birdsongs all around me. Just beautiful.

After a while I caught up to Nick and the crew again, and our group chatted and laughed about so many things I can’t even remember. It was fun and I was loving this. Eventually it was just Nick and I and we were running along the road to Congewoi, it was an undulating section and we took the run/walk/run/walk approach. It was getting quite warm and the sun was beaming down on us at this time, but we were thankful of a few clouds and large trees and ran whenever we got a shady spot too.

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As we approached the checkpoint a lady who has been crewing for someone came past and offered us a Boost chocolate bar, she was running just ahead of us holding it out to show us and as we chased her we could not stop laughing, it was like dangling a carrot in front of us to make us run into the cp. I wish someone had filmed it as it would have been very funny!

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Coming into CP2 (52.5) it seemed there was a lot more excitement and atmosphere than CP1, lots more cheering and smiley faces. Sally found me straight away and got me weighed, seated and fed. I saw the smiling face of Roger Hanney too, he had just got back from his UTMB challenge and he filled my bladder up with iced water – it was divine, thanks Roger!

I did a quick toilet stop, changed my underwear & put on some tights as I was getting some chaff between my legs (TMI?) and I didn’t want it to get any worse, better to prevent if you can! Here are some pictures from the checkpoint.

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Getting my mandatory gear checked off.

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As I was leaving the cp Roger from Hoka One One made an embarrassing impromptu video interview that you can watch here (sorry about the swearing mum): https://www.facebook.com/HokaOneOneAustralia/videos/pcb.1099883286726723/1099879683393750/?type=3&theater

I left the cp feeling good, scoffing some ginger kisses into my mouth (god they were good) and hoping I would catch Nick who had left just before me. And thankfully I did. The next section of the course was a brutal one, two of the biggest climbs and not a lot of flat at all. We ran along and another runner called Roberto (from Argentina) caught up to us and we chatted about the next section. We also learned that Roberto was doing 8 milers on 8 continents, this was number 7 in his quest – wow!

The first climb was tough but I was ready. I’d hiked it before with a heavy pack and I knew I could do it again. Nick and I chatted the whole way up and it seemed to make the time go faster which was great. I pointed out the spot where I had camped during my hike and Nick named it Haileys Corner, which sounded a bit rude to me (ha ha) and I re-named it Haileys Campsite.

When we got to the top we realised we had caught up to a few runners, one of them being a good friend of mine Adam, and we were also joined by another good friend of mine Leah. So we decided to have a log party and get some food into us, good times!!

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After a few shenanigans we were soon up and on our way, it felt great to be running again on the fire trail that lay before us. We chatted to some more runners that caught up to us and continued with our running banter and stories. None that I can share with you i’m afraid, as ‘whatever happens on the trail stays on the trail’ (ha ha).

We eventually came to a property and we had to pass through some gates, past some cows, over a stream, through some more gates and then up towards the next big climb. Adam, Leah and I chatted as we made our way up the next steep hill, it seemed that it would never end. It was here that we also caught up to a friend Kurt, I hadn’t seen him for a while so it was really nice to run into him (pun intended).

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The next part I cannot remember too well, probably because it all looked the same or I’ve decided to erase it from my memory (ha ha) but I know that I somehow lost Leah and ended up heading into the Basin by myself. It was dark now and I’d prepared for this as it was a tricky section, but I had the trail etched in my memory so that I wouldn’t get lost. And as I was heading into the Basin I managed to catch up to my friends Kurt and Adam, and we chatted about the food we would consume and the things we needed to do at the next cp. We all decided that we should try and stick together for the next section and leave at the same time, it seemed like a great plan to me.

Coming into the Basin (81.6km) you could hear some (awful) Karaoke singers who had clearly been living it up by the campfire all afternoon/evening, and there was a buzz in the air as we flew into the check-in tent and collapsed on the chairs ready to get stuck into some tucker. I’m pretty sure I had 3 cups of soup and more, it was so tasty and felt good going down. I changed my shoes here and put on the trusty Hoka that feel like clouds, they were so good on already sore and blistered feet. Sally was an angel and made sure I had everything I needed, that I was fed, that I was warm, and gave me updates about other runners she knew of. I was feeling so excited and positive. This was going well and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I chatted to Nick & Pete who had come into the cp earlier than we had, but were both struggling. Pete hadn’t been able to keep food down and Nick had decided to lay down for a nap. I hoped they would be able to get up and keep running.

Sally also gave me some emails from my family, they had such lovely words of encouragement and they brought a happy tear to my eye. So thoughtful, so motivating.

After lots of laughs, lots of food, some name calling and a toilet stop we eventually got our butts organised and headed out into the night. The next cp would be Yarramalong and the finish for the 100km runners, a massive tick off the list i’d been keeping my head. My plan was to get in and out of that cp as quickly as possible. And I was really looking forward to seeing my pacer Brad, his smile had a way of making everything okay and he would be very welcome company for the rest of the race.

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It really was so much fun running with Kurt and Adam, both had a great sense of humour and were easy to talk to. We planned to take the trail section here petty easy and then once we hit the road we were going to opt for a run/walk/run/walk option along the 10km+ road section. As we were approaching the road we somehow got a tiny bit off course and poor Kurt and Adam ran into some stinging nettle. I’m glad they had been ahead of me as it meant I had fair warning and could avoid it. The trail was just 4 metres to our right and we back tracked onto it and then onto the road. As we got to the road we saw a few other runners who had stopped and were reading a map. We told them they needed to go left and just keep running.

It really did feel good to be running again and I wanted to use this road section to make up some time, so I promised myself I had to keep the run/walk momentum going. We took turns saying let’s run to that post, or that tree, or that letterbox, or that scarecrow. Yes that’s right, the road was littered with houses that had dressed up their own scarecrows in costume and themes and the local town were having a competition for the best one, you could even go online to vote for them! They were fantastic, check them out here: http://www.yarramalongvalleyspringfestival.com.au/spring-festival-events/scarecrow-competition/

We kept up the run/walk but there seemed to be more walking than running, and I remember at one point thinking shit I need to run some more, so I told the boys and thankfully they followed behind me as we put some distance between us and the other runners we had seen earlier. It was dark, but it wasn’t cold. Thankfully it was a beautiful night and you should have seen the stars, thousands of them filtered the sky…!!!

It was at this point I thought of my friend Jill who at the same time was running the Glasshouse 100miler in Queensland. I wondered how she was going, how she was feeling and felt like part of her was there with me edging me along the road.

Eventually we got closer to town and we headed into the Yarramalong cp (103.7km) where I saw the smiling faces of my friends from Trailblazers Brad, Emma & Filimon. I made a quick dash to the toilet and then headed to find trusty Sally who would get me re-fueled, re-energized and back out there.

I saw Brad and he commented on how fresh I looked and I said I was feeling good. I really was looking forward to his company and being able to ‘switch-off’ a little, as I’d been cautiously searching for trail markers and stressing that I’d get lost for most of the day. It was nice to know I had a fresh pair of eyes looking out for me and to help share the journey to Patonga. We ate and ate and ate, and I stretched a little too. The body was holding up well and I reminded myself to keep re-assessing and making smart decisions. I was surprised how alert I felt and that I was still eating real food, usually for the second half of the 100km races the only thing going in would be gels at this point. But the food tasted good. I had soup and chips and coke and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was still loving those ginger kisses!!

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Kurt, Adam, Brad and I departed the cp together as we headed for another tough section. I think we were all very glad to have Brad join our crew and he chatted to us about a plan of attack. I was so excited to be past Yarramalong and told the gents this was the furthest I had even run before. We had a mini celebration and then got stuck into the hard work that lay before us.

After a few hours into this section, probably at around 3:00am I started to get sleepy and was slowing down. I could feel my eyelids getting heavy and they wanted to close. Picture micro-sleeping while on the run, that was me. I told the gents how I was feeling and Kurt said he was a bit the same. So we tried to keep talking to each other and keep the brain awake, but it was really starting to slow me down. Brad went ahead chatted to the other guys to tell them to go ahead as I was slowing everyone down. There were only a few hours until sunrise and prior to the race everyone had told me that once the sun comes up your body will re-charge, I hoped that was true.

Brad kept me alert and upright as we kept moving through the early hours of the morning and sure enough once we started to hear the sounds of the early morning birds we knew the sun was on it’s way, and a new day could start. You could see the sky starting to lighten and as the sun lifted high into the sky so did my spirits.

I started running again and it felt great. I felt awake and alive, and was looking forward to getting into the next cp at Somersby. The sleepiness had gone and i was very thankful. We caught up to Kurt who was now alone and we ran past him wishing him well.

We ran, walked, ran, walked, ran, walked, and ran some more until we eventually go to the next cp at Somersby (132.1km). I was looking forward to some breakfast and some coffee which we had planned to have here. I had porridge and a delicious cup of ‘real’ coffee, thanks volunteer lady for sticking around and making it for me – you rocked!!

Sally gave me a blanket and food and took care of my emptying and re-filling my pack. I told her what I had eaten and she was impressed (ha ha). Such a caring, thoughtful woman. I really had chosen the best crew-lady ever!!

Brad surprised me with a beautiful little bunch of lavender, something for me to remind me of my grandmother. It brought a happy tear to my eye as I remembered her and reminded me of the struggles her and my family had been through with her dementia. She was a beautiful lady and I was going to get back out there and do her proud.

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I chatted to Sarah (Adam’s wife) and she said that he has left only moments before we had arrived, it was great to hear he was doing so well. I did some more stretching just to get the body moving and eventually Sally had us all prepared and on our way. I’d even filled my bladder with Coca Cola to help get me caffeinated and ensure no more sleepy patched would appear on the next section. And I only had one more cp to go, then the finish. How awesome was that!

Brad and I got up and on our way heading back out onto the road section, over a little hill and then back onto the trail. Only a marathon to go now!!

This was a gorgeous section to run and having Brad’s company was great. We chatted and laughed and I was feeling so much better than the low point I had had earlier during the morning. The new day brought new opportunities and eventually it would bring that finish line. It was in my mind, I could picture it, and I was going to do whatever it took to get there.

We got to Mooney Mooney cp (149.9km) and were greeted by the smiling faces of the volunteers and gorgeous Sally. We also met the lady who would be sweeping the course and I started to get very aware of the cut-off times and wanted to make sure we stayed comfortably ahead of them. This meant that we didn’t stay very long as we had to keep moving.

As we left the cp I waved to Sally and we headed off dancing down the hill with big grins, as we knew the next stop would be the finish at Patonga!!

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There was some lovely trail at the start of this section before we hit some nasty hills and a sh!tload of rock, rock and more rock. Oh and there was some rock too! By this point my feet were aching, the blisters had formed nicely around my toes but I was determined to ignore that and get the job done. So we went up on the rock, down on the rock, up on the rock, down on the rock, and Brad put up with my groans and sighs as we made our way through this section. It felt like we were going round in circles and not getting anywhere and I was starting to get frustrated. When would this rock ever end?!

I remember going quiet for a long time, and internally I was stressing about the next cut-off. I also remember saying to Brad “I feel like we have been on this rock forever” and he replied, “That’s because we’ve been on it for over 2 hours”. It made sense. I tried to relax my body and focus on the finish. I remembered the quote Blue Dog had said, ‘It’s going to get ugly, but it’s going to get done’, and i’m pretty sure my style at this point was very ugly! ha ha

The last cut-off was 3:00pm at the Staples Lookout Track (160.8km) and thoughts of not reaching the lookout in time seemed to consume my thoughts, no matter how much I tried to think of something else. And I’m sure I asked Brad about a thousand times ‘are we there yet?’. I’m sure he was getting sick of me now!

Brad and I sat down for a minute to rest during this section, and he read me an email that my husband had written for me to encourage me along. It was beautiful. It was perfect. We shared some more tears and then we got back up and on our way, getting back to business.

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I was still feeling pretty good, tired but better than I expected to feel at this point. I felt very alert and awake and was determined to run as much as I could, and I did.

Eventually we went past the cut-off point with 30 minutes to spare, I said my prayers to the trail running gods and promised myself to lighten up and enjoy the rest of the journey. And as soon as we got off that god awful rock I started running again, further and further than I expected to be running at this point.

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I could almost smell that finish line. I could hear it calling me. And I ran, I ran even though my head wanted me to stop. I ran. I pushed harder. I even managed to cachet up to a few runners as I hit the fire trail before the last downhill section to the beach. When I got closer I realised one of the runners was Adam, and I was hoping that he would tag along and speed up with me so we could get to the finish together, but he stayed with his pace and I wished him well (with a slap on the butt) as I went past.

The down hill section in front of me had a little bit of concrete and rock, and after that it was my favourite type of trail. I decided to give it everything I had and finish the race running from here on. I felt like I flew down the last hill. It was single track, stairs, rocky, it had lots of turns and I was having lots of fun. I passed another 2 runners on that section and Brad and I eventually hit the beach.

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We heard the bell sound telling everyone that there was a runner on the beach and we made our way along the sand to the finish area. I could see the finishers post, I was really doing this, I was going to finish the GNW100 Miler!!

I fell to my knees in awe of the race and all that it entails, I could’t believe I had made it. My eyes were filled with tears. I kissed the post. I hugged the post. I did it Nan!

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Finish line Video: https://www.facebook.com/jill.saker/videos/10153990253633380/

Tears are filling my eyes as I type this and I have so many people to thank for getting me to the start line and supporting me on this journey so far. Without them I would not have been able to plan and prepare for the event in the way that I had. I truly believe that my race could not have gone any smoother and it thanks to my wonderful crew Sally, pacer Brad, coach Andy, massage therapist Faye, husband Jared and my beautiful family & friends.

Thank you to Dave Byrnes the race director and all of the wonderful volunteers who gave up their time to support us crazies, you people are wonderful and the world would be a better place if there were more people like you.

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Thank you to everyone who sponsored me and helped me raise funds for UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, we got to $2,00 and i’m thrilled. So thanks for the support team!

You can still donate here if you have a few spare dollars: https://cheba2.everydayhero.com/au/hailey-runs-gnw100mile

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So what’s next for me? I’ve applied for a little race that’s coming up in December and I’ve got everything crossed in the hope that I get chosen to race this spectacular beast. It would be a dream come true!

Stay tuned and happy running 🙂

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Running Wild Lawson Long Course

I think i’m still in shock!

Yesterday I somehow managed to score my first ever trail running podium and I was so overcome with happiness when I crossed the line that I burst into tears.

Last weekend while I was sitting in the car being chauffeured home from the Six Foot Track Marathon, Maria and I got talking about the Running Wild race in Lawson that was being held the next weekend. I had contemplated entering earlier in the week when I received an email reminder about the race letting me know that registrations were still open, but hadn’t fully committed as I wasn’t sure how my legs would feel a week later. Somehow Maria and I came to the conclusion that it was a good idea for me to enter and before I got home I was registered for the 17km event.

The Monday after Six Foot was tough. My quads and calfs were very, very sore and I was hoping that my massage on Thursday would help alleviate some of that before the race. Thankfully it did and by Saturday my legs were feeling normal again.

I spent Saturday morning taking the walk/run group at the gym where I work and training a few PT clients, then headed into Pyrmont for the Nike Training Club Tour Sydney, a day of fitness and fun. I took it pretty easy as I knew I had a tough run coming the next day.

Sunday I was up at 4.30am and heading to the Blue Mountains. I had convinced my friend Amanda to come and join me for the run too so I was looking forward to seeing her. We are both doing UTA100 in May so we have been trying to schedule some weekend runs together and this would be the first! (ha ha)

I parked at the Lawson Bowling Club and headed down the (hilly) road to the start/finish area and collected my bib. There weren’t many familiar faces but a few people said hi and asked me about 6 foot (I wore my race t-shirt). My plan was to take the race pretty easy as I knew my body would still be recovering so this was to be my long, slow run for the week.

Amanda and her friend Vicki arrived and we chatted as we waited for the race to start.

There were 2 distances being run on the same course at the same time, so the 17km (long) option were doing 2 laps of the course, and the shorter course was just 1 lap of the trail. We eventually started and the pack seemed to be very slow moving. I had planned to stick with Amanda for the first section of the trail, but as I started to overtake people I noticed that she wasn’t behind me anymore. I didn’t think i was going that fast but maybe she was still recovering from her run at 6 foot the week before, or perhaps she had decided to run with Vicki. I hoped that she wouldn’t be upset I had abandoned her as it was not intentional.

There are thousands of thoughts that go through my mind while running, sometimes they are run-related and sometimes that are not.

The first out and back section was short and brought us back past the start area where we made a left turn onto an uphill section, we would have to do this section 3 times. Most of this course was fire trail so it was quite wide and meant for easy passing, which I seemed to be doing without too much effort. I noticed that I still felt cold as we went up the first incline, my hands were freezing so I decided to keep running up the first hill so I could try and warm up. Normally I would have walked a hill that steep but I was feeling pretty good and was keen to get warm.

The trail was very rocky and I was thankful for my new Brooks Adrenaline ASR shoes, today was the first time I had worn them on trails as I was breaking them in and they felt really good. There were lots of ups and downs and I worked hard to overtake several people on the down sections as this seems to be my strength.

We passed through a gate and headed down another steep hill as I shuffled my feet in small, quick steps moving fast and calculated. My left eye kept watering which blurred my vision a little and make it tricky, but I didn’t let that bother me.

Eventually (after another short uphill section & a spot for a photo) we got to the turnaround point and I saw my friend Luke who is a volunteer for the Running Wild Club and he cheered me on. I made a mental note to grab food there when I came past next as I knew i’d be out of my drink by then. I was carrying a 600ml soft flask with Tailwind (grape) and it was already over half empty. I had started the race with a grumbly belly (even though I had eaten breakfast before I left home and had also eaten a banana as I walked from my car to the start line) so I had been trying to get the liquids in for my body to use during the race.

We passed back down the steep hill and along the trail seeing many runners coming the other way. I cheered them on and chatted to a few others near me too, it always helps make the time fly past.

As we went through the gates we were directed down a trail to the right and it was a beautiful downhill single track section, my favourite! I raced down there to try and make up some time and really enjoyed this section. I was already  looking forward to doing it again on the second lap!

The single track ended and we were back near the start area and heading off up to the original out and back section. I saw many of the front runner as they motored back towards me and noticed that there were lots of females breathing down my tail. Little did I know that these ladies were all doing the short course and there run was almost over as they were only doing the 1 lap.

I got to the turnaround and headed back trying to keep up a descent pace on this flat section. My friend Kathy caught up to me and we chatted about Mile 27 and our coach Andy. I learned she was only doing the 1 lap as she was taking it easy and it got me thinking about how many other runners were almost done too, or were they speeding up trying to catch me too?

She motored off towards the finish line and I pulled up my socks for another lap of the course. I hit the steep first hill again and this time I power walked up that section. I kept trying to maintain a comfortable breathing pattern and staying positive. It was about this time that I met Dave and we chatted about 6 foot which he had also done the week before (and had beaten me by 10 minutes, ha ha). I ran with him for a while but he kept pulling ahead of me on the flats and the uphill. My plan was to try and stick with him as long as i could, so i kept him in my sights and caught up to him a few times on the downhills.

I got to the turnaround point and I had been pushing it a bit harder than the first lap so was starting to feel a little tired. I grabbed a piece of banana and scoffed it down as Luke cheered me off down the hill again. It was the last leg.

There was a lot of downhill here and I managed to catch up to Dave again so we chatted some more. I had been cheering on the runners coming in the other direction and if I was correct there were only 3 ladies in front of me, could that be right? Oh well, surely I was wrong and I should just stick to my race plan and enjoy the trails.

And then I saw the photo man again who confirmed it for me, he told me I was in 3rd place (but I knew he meant 4th place, surely I could not be 3rd!). How the hell did that happen?

And then the brain started ticking over….. would it be possible to get a podium? If i pushed it here and caught up to that lady I could see ahead would I be in 3rd place? Was it possible? Should I go for it?

I told Dave about my debacle and he made the call for me. He was going to help me get 3rd! (I owe him big time for that, thanks again Dave!). I told him I’d be happy with Top 5 but he said ‘screw that we are getting you 3rd place!’

And with that Dave motored me up the hills and told me that I would catch her on the downhills as she was slow and cautious going down. He was so encouraging and positive and his winning attitude seemed to rub off on me. The lady in front seemed to be pulling away from me on the hills but we had a lot of downhill coming and I hoped it would be her weakness (sorry Ros).

We passed through the gates and Dave cheered me on to “go for it”, so I turned right onto my favourite single track section and (with a hidden smile on my face) gave it my all as I headed down the trail and motored past the lady in front as she slowly clambered down the rocks. I felt like I was flying! I was now in 3rd place – far out! Really?!?!

Now there was the pressure of thinking about her creeping up behind me trying to catch up. I kept telling myself that she was closing in, that I could hear her breathing down my neck and it kept me pushing all the way down to the bottom of the track and also as i climbed back up the final stairs. At the end of the single track I turned right and just had the original out and back section to conquer.

I took a quick glance behind me to see if I could spot the other lady and she was nowhere to be seen. Could this be possible? Keep your head down Hailey, it’s not over yet. I knew I had about 1km to go so I tried to find another gear to increase the gap so she wouldn’t come flying past me on the last section, but I also wanted to leave something in the tank in case I needed to make a sprint finish. God this was stressful, but so exciting!

I’ve never felt anything like it.

We got to the turnaround and I anxiously kept an eye out for the lady runner behind me. Eventually I saw her and she wasn’t that far behind. She was smaller than me so probably much quicker on the flat sections so I had to keep up my pace and finish strong.

The trail went up and down and around and eventually I could see the finish line, this was it. I was going to do it. Oh my god!

I crossed the line and a lady walked over to me holding a wine glass and a voucher, she congratulated me and told me that i was the 2nd female. 2nd female! Was that right? Surely she was wrong. I burst into tears and bent forward as I tried to catch my breath and let my legs rest. She asked me if something was wrong and I told her it was my first podium, then she gave me a big hug and congratulated me again. Her name was Annie and she told me to go get a drink, some food and then come back for a photo.

As I wiped my tears I saw Dave crossing the finish line and I made my way over to thank him for pushing me and helping me so much, what a great guy. Trail runners really are a whole different breed of awesome humans!

After some food and water I walked bak over to Anne and we got a photo together. I think I was still in shock at the result, but you could not wipe the smile off my face! 😀

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I chatted to some other friends Stephane, and Jill and then I found the ladies who had come 1st and 3rd and congratulated them on their race. They were both super friendly and really nice, genuine people. Below is a photo of us, there’s Ros (3rd) on the left, Alicia (1st)in the middle, and me (2nd) on the right.

I’m so glad i got to meet these 2 ladies, they were so kind and I wish them both congratulations again 🙂

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A big thank you to all of the volunteers and organisers at the Running Wild event. They do an amazing job and it really is the quality people who bring it all together so well. Thank you for such a well organised and well supported event. I’ll be back for Series 7, see you then!

😀 😀 Happy Running 😀 😀

Stadium Run Newcastle – Half Marathon

What an amazing weekend with a great bunch of people!

Last Sunday was the inaugural Stadium Run in Newcastle, our RunLab founder Vlad (who just ran the Berlin marathon in 2:18, what an inspiration!!) had rallied a crew to organise this amazing event and he did an exceptional job. Aside from a little hiccup with road closures that delayed the start, I throughly enjoyed the event and thank everyone involved for the wonderful experience.

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As a RunLab(ber) we were given the ‘elite’ treatment at this event, which meant we had our very own personalised bibs, an ‘elite’ room to use before and after the race, and the best part…… I was lucky enough to toe the line with Victoria Mitchell, a running hero of mine and a beautiful sole! My bets were on her for 1st woman over the line, she runs like a gazelle and is amazing to watch. Go Vic!

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I have never been on the start line of a race before and the atmosphere was electric. Usually I self seed myself somewhere near the back and find a pacer to stick with during the run, but today I wasn’t sure what pace I should run. I can hear you thinking “what was my race plan?” and to be honest I didn’t have one. My running mate Robbo was trying to get me to stick with him but i didn’t think I’d be able to keep up and didn’t want to go out too hard then crash later on. Another good friend Amanda and I decided that we would run together and just see how we felt, perhaps trying to stick with the 1:50 pacer for as long as we could.

The gun eventually went off and we watched the elites go flying ahead with beautiful motion. Amanda and I chatted and realised we were going way too fast, but we couldn’t slow down (crap!). The hype of the start was exciting and we got carried away with it. But I felt good, so we chatted and kept trying to slow ourselves down to a pace that was manageable.

Unfortunately I lost Amanda at one of the drink stations and couldn’t see her when I looked back. I like to run through the drink stations, I’ve (almost) perfected the art so that I can keep moving while drinking, as i find it hard to get running again once stopped. As i ran along without her and without being able to locate a pacer, I changed my game plan. I decided to keep pushing at this pace and run to feel, this meant I would try to not look at my watch (to check pace) and just run to how I was feeling. It has worked for me in the past in time trials so I was hoping it would work now too. Fingers crossed!!

Okay, so I cracked and looked at the pace on my watch a few times and I was surprised to find that i was sitting between 5’00 and 5’10 pace, could I keep this up? There was only one way to find out.

So i kept pushing myself and picking people off in the distance to catch them. I was looking forward to getting close to the turnaround point as it meant some beautiful beach views and a chance to see the front runners in action as they ran back towards us (and the finish).

There were a few little hills as we approached the beach and along the waterfront, but nothing compared to the mountains I’ve run (walked) in the past, so I pushed myself to maintain pace all the way up the hills and over them just as coach Damon has trained us to do, he would have been proud! I saw the front runners battling it out along the beachfront and they looked ‘in the zone’ but comfortable and flying! I cheered them on and many others behind them as I approached the turn around point.

I was lucky enough to see Julianna, Amanda, Crystal, Robbo and a few other Runlabbers near the turn around point, we were not that far apart after all and I decided to try and catch Robbo, I told him “I was coming to get him” (ha ha).

Reaching halfway is always a massive boost for me, and I attacked the last few hills as I left the beachfront and cheered on as many other runners as possible. I did a check of how I was feeling and I felt good, well, as good as one can feel halfway through a 21km race at a pace they’ve never run before!

This course was all on road so i had been worried about my knee leading into the race, and also the lack of training, but my knee had not given me any niggles and I was feeling pretty good. I was getting a bit tired at one point and a lady in a pink shirt came past me, I looked at my watch and I had slowed to 5’20. I wasn’t going to let this slip away. I made a decision to pick up my feet and get the pace back to 5’10 and I did, I caught the pink shirt lady and we chatted. I told myself to stick with her and i’d get to that finish line. So i put my head down and worked on my form making sure i was running efficiently and kept her in my sights.

There was another turnaround section and i got to see Robbo again, he was just ahead of me. I cheered him on and told him that I was getting closer, I told him he looked good and should finish strong. Helping others always helps me forget about myself and makes the run go quicker, plus i’m sure it helps them to hear positive encouragement so I do it as much as I can, even if I don’t know the person.

We rounded another bend and another water station, I didn’t need any water between here and the finish so kept pushing on. I passed pink shirt girl but she caught up to me (again) and we chatted with what breath we had. After a little while she got ahead of me (yes, again) and I just tried to get into a comfy pace not thinking about her and trying to relax into my strides. I felt tired and hot, but like I could push myself and hopefully keep up the pace till the finish. Here is an action shot, I think we had about 4km to go from this point.

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I kept pink shirt girl in my sights, she was only 20-30 metres ahead of me and there was less than 3km to go now. We ran back along the road we had earlier and saw the start of the 5km race. We actually had to cross in front of the runners to get to our course which was a bit of a challenge, but we found a break and made it through. I was starting to feel the heat of the day and i’m sure my face had gone bright red, maybe I should have stopped for more water? I’d taken a gel at 10km and had stopped 3 times for water/electrolytes so hopefully that had been enough.

Then I looked up and who did I see in front of me? It was Nat Lennon, she was doing the 10km and had only just got back into running, she looked good. I sped up to catch her and gave her a wave and some well wishes as I went past. It was so nice to see another friendly face along the course!

Gosh it was hot.

But there wasn’t far to go now and I could hear the stadium noise building the closer i got. Pink shirt girl was still not far in front of me and with about 1km to go I decided to pick up the pace and finish strong. I went past her and thankfully didn’t see her again (yay!).

As I entered the stadium the buzz was incredible, it pushed me to keep up the speed as I did a lap of the field. I rounded the last corner and heard people cheering my name as I approached the finish line. I saw the clock at 1:48 (and something seconds) and thought “My god, i’m going to break the 1:50!!” so I sped up and managd to finish in 1:48:51 – a half marathon PB for me!

I was wrecked, I was dizzy but I was so, so happy. I was given my finishers medal, then found some water, food and some RunLab friends. Below pic with Justine and Robbo.

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We chatted as I tried to get my breath back and I kept moving my legs which were ever so tight now. The dizziness got worse, so I made my way back to the ‘elite’ room to recover, chatting to a few other friends on the way back. I got to the room and lay on the ground with my feet in the air up against the wall, and eventually the dizziness subsided.

What an amazing run, an amazing event, with amazing people. I knew I had given it my all, I could not have given anything more and I was so proud for not giving up. And the best part was that it had been pain-free!!

Happy Running 😀

Southern Highlands Challenge 19km

On Sunday 30th August I competed in the 19km Southern Highlands Challenge in the beautiful Wingello State Forest, and I have to thank Runners Kitchen for providing me with the entry as I won a competition they advertised on facebook. I literally won the entry a week before the event so there was not a lot of preparation. I’m also very lucky that I have 2 wonderful friends who live 10 mins drive from the start line, as apparently there will little or no accommodation available in the area at this late stage. So thank you Urusula and Carlos for letting me crash again this year!

This race was a favourite of mine lat year, so many good friends and a great start/finish area with stands and food stalls to suite very runners needs. Hats off the April for organising such a great event, if you haven’t run it then you’re missing out and need to get in marked in your calendar for 2016.

A couple of days before the race I decided to drop back to the 19km (instead of the 22km) as I felt I hadn’t really done enough training and in hindsight I think I should have stuck with the 22km as apparently it had less hills (and perhaps would have been a little easier, oh well). So I toed the start line with some fellow Striders and chatted to ‘Mr Ultra’ Craig Thom. We stuck together for the first part of the run but eventually I think I let him go ahead, or was it the other way around (?), I think I let him go ahead. My knee was giving me a little pain but I focused on improving my technique and it get better.

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This was a tough course, lots of hills early on and I felt really good at the start, I felt strong. But eventually the gas wore off a little and this meant my technique faltered and brought on more knee pain.

I had to slow down, I event walked. Not happy with myself. Watched lots of people go past who were all so lovely and asked if I was okay, “was i limping?”. Crap. Kept telling myself to stand up tall and just keep moving, get to that finish line. It was ugly, my legs felt like lead weights and I probably should have been resting after the C2S the week prior.

We runners are so stubborn, we hate to miss out on a run. So I plodded on, found a way to run that didn’t hurt (as much) and kept moving.

About 2km from the finish line I was overjoyed to see some of my Striders friends who were doing the longer course versions, as we shared the course at this point. I got to see my buddy Maria who I ran with at TNF100 and that brought the smile back to my face. She was looking strong and enjoying the run, it really raised my spirits.

I bid Maria farewell with less than 1km to go and picked up the pace to finish strong. Maria had given me the kick up the butt I needed, even if she didn’t know it. And I crossed that line with a smile on my face after having conquered the inner demons pulling me down.

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After a sausage, bacon & egg sandwich (included in the entry) and a coke (my treat after long runs) I met up with all my mates and we cheered others over the finish line as they came in with smiling faces.

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Every run teaches me something new not only about myself, but about others. I learnt that I can ignore my brain (ha ha) and talk myself into (or out of) anything. Then there are the people I meet on the trails, they are such genuine, caring people and it’s good to know that there is kindness in the world which can seem so cruel at times.

I went home with a smile on my face and a medal around my neck. And I had made the conscious decision that the negativity which had been creeping into my brain during recent runs needed to stop. From now on only positive, encouraging thoughts and actions were allowed. Wish me luck!

Happy running 🙂

Woronora Dam 10km

I was having lunch with my friend Amanda a few weeks back and she mentioned the upcoming Woronora Dam run, a local trail run organised by JORG. She was entered in the half marathon and there was also a 10km option that she suggested I should enter too, so I signed up.

The weather on the day was not ideal and I was prepared for a muddy trail as it had rained the few days prior and also on the morning of the race, but that never gets me down. I actually like playing in the mud. The course was unknown to me, I hadn’t looked up the elevation chart but I was assured it was one hilly bugger.

I chatted to Amanda and some other friends at the race HQ and after hearing more about the course I decided that my goal would be to run the entire trail to use it as hill training, I didn’t set myself and goal time and wanted to just go out and enjoy it.

The half marathoners set off first and Amanda looked strong and ready, she was coming back from injury and I hoped she would do well. After a short break it was our turn to start the race, I was nervous but feeling good.

The gun went off and we ran up the first hilly road section towards the trail. It was a tough slog at first running up the wet road and having to dodge other runners, and my right knee didn’t like the concrete too much either.

Eventually we hit the trail and it got hillier, great (ha ha). This was an out and back course and there were mostly downs on the way out, which meant only one thing….. lots of ups on the way back! So I slowed a little and made sure that I reserved some energy for the way back. There were some nasty steep declines at the moment and I knew it was going to take a lot to run them all on the way back up, it sure would be challenging.

It was great to be able to see the front runners smashing it back up the hill as we came down, they looked pretty puffed which only confirmed my fears of how hard it was going to be to run all the way back up!

There was a drink station at the turn around point so I grabbed a water and turned to head back up the steep hill we had just come down. This was it, time to hit the run button and just keep running no matter what.

I don’t remember looking up much on those hills. I had my head down concentrating on finding a rhythm with my breathing, to keep swinging my arms and lifting my legs. I managed to pass quite a few people as I ran up the hills, most of them were surprised I was able to run them and they encouraged me along. This gave me even more determination to not stop and to finish strong. They were some steep bloody hills! I had my coach Damon’s voice in my head the whole time, pushing me and telling me that it was possible, to just keep running, and that’s exactly what i did. He would have been proud if he saw my run that day.

During the last few kms I had the pleasure of running with a young girl called Sian, she was running her first trail 10km and doing really well. We chatted a lot about running and life and it made the time fly past. We were making good speed and I was surprised to note that we might possibly finish in under 60mins, i’d be VERY happy with that considering the hills!

We flew down the last hill both pushing ourselves to try and make attainder the hour. We overtook a lady as we neared the finish line and crossed in 58:37 – wow! I hugged Sian and we celebrated our fortunate race result, it was a great way to end a run!

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After some food & drink I went for a short walk after the run to check out the pipeline and the views, it’s a great spot and i will definitely be back for some training runs.

I waited for Amanda to come into the finish line and chatted to the race director Jim as I hadn’t seen him for a while. Eventually Amanda came flying home to finish in under 2 hours, a very great time!! Go Amanda!!

It really was a great event and you should all come down and run it with me next year!

Happy Running 🙂