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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Extra. Extra. Read all about it.

So what’s the new goss I hear you say. What new races have I signed up for to keep me entertained for the rest of 2014……?

Firstly, I went to the physio on Monday after doing the half marathon last weekend and he was very impressed at the lack of pain, inflammation or anything of a negative effect so has given me permission to start being AWESOME again. Which means that I can plan some more big races for the res of the year.

So what did i register for first? The M7 Marathon at the end of July. The M7 Marathon was my first marathon in 2013 and it was now going to be my second marathon. I know quite a lot of people doing the M7 this year too so it will be lovely knowing there smiling faces are out on the course too and hopefully i’ll get to see them at the finish line too.

And what else have I signed up for? Not another 100km I hear you say! But yes, I was asked by my good mate Emma to join her team for the Oxfam Trailwalker in August and i’m very excited about this opportunity. The teams have lots of weekend day and night training runs planned as we plan to run the course (not walk) and aim to complete it within 20 hours.

How exciting is that – woohoo!! 😀

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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 😀

It’s a good thing I love hills!

I feel like I say this every week, but I can honestly say that last Saturday’s Mt Solitary 45km Ultra Marathon was the toughest course I have ever attempted. But it was also the most fun!!

Here are some stats to give you an idea of the course (as per my Garmin):

Distance – 46.3 km

Time – 8 hrs 36 mins 33 secs

Elevation Gain – 2,308 m

Elevation Loss – 2,292 m

Fastest km – 3’43” (running down Kedumba walls)

Slowest km – 28’44” (climbing up Mt Solitary)

I got up at 3.30am on Saturday morning to have some breakfast (toast, banana & peppermint tea) before jumping in the car and driving to the Blue Mountains. It’s about a 2 hour drive from my place which includes a toilet stop at the servo near the end of the journey to avoid the queues at the start line.

When I arrived it was still dark but thankfully not as cold as I had been expecting. There were a few other runners who were earlier than me and we got our mandatory gear ready for checking by the organisers. We were required to carry a course map, waterproof jacket, food for 3-5hrs, compression bandage, mobile phone, whistle, compass, space blanket and 2L of fluid. Plus they had added thermal gloves and a beanie/buff.

I chatted with Craig from the Striders at the start line and ran into lots of running friends as we prepared for the race. I even ran into Simon & Mike from my run club in the city, I had no idea they were doing this race but it was awesome to see them out there! Sam from PwC was also there getting another long run in before TNF100 and feeling much better than when I last saw him at Six Foot Track. And the lovely Sherin who was having difficulty with her hydration pack which was leaking and I worried that she would not have enough water, but tried to stay positive and reassure her that it would be fine.

We positioned ourselves at the start, a field of 168 runners with only 28 females. I know this means that I am guaranteed a Top 30 finish, but it would be great to see many more women out there competing.

The gun went off and we all made our way up the first section towards the top of Kedumba walls for the first descent. My goal for the day was to make it to the Checkpoint at 25km before the cut-off time which was 5hrs 15mins, which meant doing roughly 5km per hour (or faster). There were some really funny guys running just ahead of me and we all laughed at their jokes and it put me in a really good mood from the start. They were hilarious!

We ran down Kedumba and I love the downhill sections so I used it to get past a couple of people, knowing full well that they would catch me on the next flat or uphill, but you have to work your strengths. I used the downhill technique that Hanny and Graham had taught us at the training camp, and I was warming up and feeling good.

The first big hill we had to climb on this course was Mount Solitary and you knew it when you hit it. This was the slowest section of the course but it was also lots of fun. I had been chatting with a few of the runners around me and a Strider friend got some great shots of us making the climb so the next 4 photos are courtesy of Craig Thom.

The first shot below is probably the least steep section, it only got rockier and steeper after this point and you had to get your hands dirty too.

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Here’s me holding up the speedsters (below). I let a few go past me on several sections as I need to make sure i left some fuel in the tank for the rest of the course.

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And that’s me having a drink break (below).

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And another break (below) for some air I think, but still smiling and thumbs up!

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Once we got to the top it was rolling ups and downs and the views were magnificent. It was quite jaw dropping to think that we had started in the valley below and climbed our way to the top of the mountain….. the fog was so low beneath us too and i felt like I was up in the heavens.

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And then even more fun began! You would be running a long and all of a sudden there would be a cliff in front of you and the only way to go was down the rocks on the cliff edge. Here’s one of the first climb down sections that was a good taster for what was still to come.

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A new running friend (who I would later find out is called Blake) stopped to take in a shot of the view, and me being the tourist trail runner did exactly the same thing. So we decided to swap cameras and get a shot for each other. The view from Mt Solitary was amazing to say the least!!

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The steepest section of rock climbing took me a little by surprise. I had been running through some thicker bush for a while and then all of a sudden there was an edge with some pink tape.

For the non-trail runners out there we always follows the tape along a course (today’s was pink) and it helps you to stay on track and not get lost. They are usually place every couple of kilometers and are most useful.

So I could see this pink tape flapping in the breeze ahead of me and I approached it slowly and with caution….

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To say I have a slight fear of heights would be an understatement, so I crept closer and closer to the edge….

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and realised this was going to be a very tough section for me. Look at that drop! I had to get photos because something a pictures tells a thousand words. And this one below should tell you that I was packing it!!

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But slowly I made it down the rocky section and back onto some much loved dirt. It was a most beautiful course, rolling hills everywhere you looked.

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We ran along some more dirt sections and rocky sections and then we hit the rainforest. The changes in scenery around me were so impressive that day. It was breathtaking.

Apologies for the awful selfie, but at least i’m still smiling 🙂

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I took a break from photos through the middle sections which included the Furber Steps, as i concentrated on making it to the checkpoint within the cutoff time. I ran a few sctions with a lady called Tina, she was a lot faster than me on the flats so we played leap frog through a couple of sections here.

She was a bit lost as we approached the Scenic Railway and thankfully i knew this section so I guided her towards the Furber Steps. When I was about halfway up Furber Steps I looked back and saw Sarah-Jane, and if you’ve read the blog about my first marathon then you’ll probably remember this name. SJ  kept me company during my first marathon and we ran most of the second half of the race together. She’s an amazing ultra runner (who sparked the idea of doing an ultra long ago) and has a heart of gold. I was so happy to see her and we chatted all the way to the top of the stairs. She encouraged me all the way to the top and I was so glad to have bumped into her on the course.

I made it to the checkpoint in 4 hrs 45 mins, so that gave me half an hours grace. I was so happy to have made it within the cut off time, as they had strictly told me that I would be pulled from the race if I did not meet the cut off. I wanted to get in and out as quick as possible too, as I still needed to make it to the finish line within 9 hours, and there was another 20km of tough course to come.

We also ran into Sherin who unfortunately had to pull herself out of the race due to problems with her foot. But it was a mart idea for her as she didn’t want to jeopardise her TNF chances. So I wished her well and re-filled my water bladder and 2 electrolyte flasks, grabbed a banana and some lollies and headed with SJ and a few others back down the Furber stairs, I wanted to try and stay with them for as long as possible.

They pulled ahead of me a little while after we had reached the flat section below and i settled in for some quiet alone running time with yours truly. It was a great time for me to clear my head and assess how I was feeling. I had not had enough water and so I started making an effort to try and drink more than I had been all morning.

The time alone was very relaxing and it geared me up ready for the final hills that were to come. I knew there was another rocky section ahead of me and then the infamous Kedumba walls as the final climb.

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There were more and more rocks developing along the trail and it was getting steeper.

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I looked up to my left at one point and the cliffs were amazing (below).

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The next 2 photos are the official race photographers shots (GeoSnapShot.com) and they give you an idea of how steep some of the sections were. I’ve even got my hand on my knee to help me up at this point.

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The photographer just sort of appeared out of nowhere, so i’m glad I was smiling.

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Then we left the rocks behind again and headed through another rainforest section. The colours and landscapes were all so different and it was almost surreal to be running in this place. Here’s Tina giving me a smile for the camera (below).

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Then we headed for Kedumba walls and I was on track to make it within the cut off time. I ran a large section with Blake and we chatted about life and about running. He and his wife were expecting a baby soon so she’d had to stop running only recently, which was driving her nuts. One day I will probably have to do the same, but not for a little while yet… Margie, don’t get excited. You can sit back down! (ha ha)

Kedumba was tough, very tough. After all the grueling kilometers it was a slow journey to the end and i spent most of it by myself when I pushed Blake to go on ahead and not let me hold him back.

I climbed and climbed and it felt like it was never going to end. But I managed to catch up to a guy called Darren who had run with SJ and i earlier. We chatted a little and eventually I let him go ahead too as he was speeding up and i didn’t have it in me.

However he did encourage me to keep running and moving to get to the line quicker and with that I started running again as soon as I hit the peak of the hill. I ran the last couple of kilometers and crossed the line in 8 hours 36 minutes and 22 seconds, 3rd last over all.

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You could not wipe the smile off my face and as i crossed the finish line SJ was waiting for me with my medal and to give me a big hug!! I’d had my doubts the week before the run and I was so happy to have completed another exciting chapter in my journey to TNF100.

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I came away from the race feeling a lot more confident about the big challenge that lies ahead in May, as i had handled this race and the course very well in my eyes. Especially when you consider that there were 11 people who unfortunately DNF (did not finish).

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Now it’s time to taper and prepare for the biggest race of my life – bring on The NorthFace100 – 3 weeks to go!!

Happy Trail Running 😀

 

Hitting 50

I’ve always thought that with every race there is a new lesson to be learnt and challenges to overcome. Last Sunday definitely proved me right as I’ve learnt a great deal from the whole experience.

With only 5 weeks remaining until my first 100km ultra marathon I was keen to see how my body would cope running 50km on the road, so that had been the reason I signed up for this race. Well it was that, and also the heckling from my running mates who are always pushing me to have a go, of which I am very thankful.

So last Friday at lunchtime my friend Georgie drove us down to Canberra for the running festival. She was racing in the 10km on Saturday, along with Todd from SHRunners. There was quite a large group heading down for the events so we all planned to cheer them on during their race on saturday and then they would repay the favor on Sunday. However I felt like I was cheating them all as I knew I would be out there for the longest amount of time, as i was the only one from our group doing the ultra.

On Saturday we got up bright and early to head to the start and see them off. We raced around cheering them on at a few different points along the course and then saw them at the finish line for some final encouragement. Georgie got a new PB which was fantastic, and Todd was happy to finish as he’d been battling a cold all week prior to the race, as well as still being in recovery mode from a stack a few weeks back.

I was also lucky enough to spot an old family friend Jess as she ran over the finish line, as well at Matilda who had used my 10km entry bib to take part in the event. Originally I had signed up for the 10km course, however I had changed my mind closer to the event and had given her the entry as she was a local in Canberra and was keen to run when I contacted her.

The morning was lovely and when I got back to the hotel I decided to have a nap before the afternoon’s adventures, which consisted of going to watch the 3pm game of Raiders v Knights at GIO Stadium with Georgie & Todd, followed by 6pm dinner with our group to carb load.

I had a lovely penne bolognaise for dinner at the restaurant and got back to my hotel so I could be in bed by 9pm. I hadn’t slept well the night before so I was feeling very tired and wanted to get as much rest as possible.

My alarm went off at 4am on Sunday and I got up to have some toast and a banana for breakfast, as I wanted to make sure that I ate more than 2 hours before the race start time. So I went back to bed for 30 minutes after breakfast and then got up and prepared for the race. We were leaving the hotel at 5.20am to walk to the start line located just across the bridge about a 20 minute walk away.

There were quite a few people doing the half marathon and a few also doing the marathon, including two of our runners  who were competing in their first ever marathon, Janet and Brendan. I was so glad that the marathoners and ultra runners were doing the same course too as it meant we got to run with them for the first 42.195km before heading to our extended lap around the lake.

Here’s a few of queuing outside the loos before the race, that’s me on the far right.

before race with shr crew

I ran into some of my Sydney Striders buddies and had a quick selfie with Emma who I have been lucky enough to share some trails with over the past 6 months. She was locked in for the marathon and I wished her well.

before race with emma

We did a few warm up stretches and made our way to the start line, the nerves were building and I couldn’t believe that I  was going to do this. What was I thinking!! ha ha

at the start lineI also ran into Tilly and Brendan at the start line and we had a quick photo before the gun went off. Tilly was unfortunately struggling with a cold (which later turned into Laryngitis, I still can’t believe she finished the race!) and Brendan was popping his marathon cherry!!

 

 

at the start ine with tilly and brendan

The gun went off and our first section ran around the Parliament house, here’s a shot I took as we ran up the first hill. If you look closely to the left of the screen you can spot a guy wearing his full army uniform, we saw him a few times and he didn’t even break a sweat. What a machine!

parliament house

I also managed to get a selfie of myself and Rob from the Nike Sydney Store (below) as we ran up this first hill, it’s a bit blurred but not bad to say were were actually running when I took it.

running with rob at the start

It was at this point I handed my phone to our guys in the crowd, hopefully they would get some shots of me with in down the track. We wouldn’t see them again until about the 15km mark.

Rob and I ran a lot of the first 20km together, he’s quicker than me but was also using this run as a training event for TNF100. We also had the pleasure of being accompanied by Kathy (Kathleen I think) from the Sydney Striders. I had met her only the weekend before at the 10km race in Lane Cove where Simon had paced us all the way to the finish. Kathy was lovely and had a great sense of humour so it was really great to have her with us at this point too.

As we approached the 15km mark we were looking out for our crew and there they were. Todd, Georgie and Megan all cheering us along. It was so good to see them and take my mind of running for a moment.

15km mark

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It was this point that I finally felt warm and could feel myself getting into a rhythm. This course was going to be pretty flat so I wanted to make sure I concentrated on not thinking about my legs or my feet. Unfortunately my plan failed.

By the time I got to 21km Rob had taken off and was building his gap with every out-and-back section that we saw him. Go Rob! So it was Kathy and I who stuck together for a little bit longer, we chatted and laughed and made friends with some of the other runners around us. I always like trying to make them smile as runners can sometimes look so serious during a race.

Then I walked. I wasn’t even half way and I was walking. I was so angry at myself for walking but my head was struggling. I had to let Kathy go unfortunately and I tried to turn my thoughts more positive.

I ran. I walked. I ran. I walked. I walked. I ran. I walked.

BY the time I got to the 25km point the soles of my feet were aching and I felt like my feet were the size of balloons. Every step felt painful to the pads of my feet and I was struggling not to think about it. I probably should have done some longer distance road runs in the lead up got this race, as my feet clearly weren’t used to hitting the pavement after all the trails I’ve done lately. Mental note to self.

I kept running and walking, and where possible I ran on the grassed sections to alleviate some of the pain. It didn’t seem to be getting any worse but it felt like the soles of my feet were bruised all over. All I could think about was taking off my shoes.

Then I tripped on a long blade of grass and I felt pain in my groin in the same spot that had been giving me issues about a month back. This was not turning out to be a good day.

I shortened my gait to try and minimise the groin pain that had started and i’m pretty sure if there were any photos of me during the middle sections of the race there would not be a smile. But the sun was shining and I was determined to finish.

I ran. I walked. I walked. I walked. I ran. I walked.

There were many sections on the course where there was an out-and-back and you got a chance to see the other runners. This was the only thing that kept me going, knowing that my mates were out there enduring this too. There support and encouragement kept me in better spirits than I cold muster.

For the next 3 hours I Ran and walked and tried to stay positive. It was the toughest race of my life mentally, and I think I have even blacked out some of it as I don’t know what else to write here about that part of the race. It was flat, a few hills and undulating sections and the sun was shining.

Thankfully when I got to about the 37km mark a lovely man who was cheering on runners ran with me for about 1 km and we had a chat as he got me back running again. I don’t know who he was but I was very thankful. And as we went up over the hill I realised there was a large crowd of people ahead and it really lifted my spirits to see so many people out here supporting there loved ones.

This was a great mood lifter as it was an out and back and i knew that I would get to run through here again at about the 40km mark. So I kept running, and slowly overtook a few more people. I found a bit of a rhythm again and when I got back to the same part with the crowd I spotted Anne from work. I was so excited to see a friendly face and I gave her a hug as I ran around the corner. For the marathoners they only had about 2kms to go, so I cheered them on and wishes them well and did everything I could to not think about the pain in my feet and groin.

I made my way up around a roundabout and turned left, then heard a man with a speaker announcing Marathoners to the right, Ultra runners to the left up onto the bike path. I was running up on the grass at this point and the guy on the microphone encouragement me to get back down onto the pavement and onto the course. He didn’t know the pain in my feet but I did as he said and kept running.

I got to the section where the marathoners were heading for the finish and I saw Russell from the Striders, I yelled out and encouraged him to crank it to the finish line as I followed the path towards our final lap around the lake.

My brain was over it, I just wanted to be finished. But I ran and walked when I needed to and about halfway along this section I realised it was an out-and-back so I got to see many other ultra runners who looked like they were in as much pain as me. We all cheered each other on and this really helped my mood to lift a little. I had less than 10kms to go.

Then I saw Matilda, I was so happy to see her. She had even brought down her beautiful dog to cheer me on. I gave her a hug and kept running towards the turn around point. As I rounded the bend I made sure I’d let the other runners know they were close to the turn around too, I knew the boost would help lift their spirits too.

I followed the path and took a left back up onto a bridge and when I got to the other side I saw Matilda again. She had come along to run/walk this section with me and I cannot express how much I needed her company and smiley face right at that point.

She ran ahead and got a few photos for me and we chatted about her 50km run that had been in the very same section of the course.

46km mark

So glad she got one of me smiling too. ha ha

47km mark

I really enjoyed running with Matilda and talking to her so a big thanks to her for taking my mind away from the pain and putting the smile back on my face. I owe you honey!

I crossed the last bridge at the finish area was in my sights. All I could think about was the faster you get there the sooner you can take your shoes off. My get felt huge and I just wanted to sit/lay down.  So I picked up the pace and then all of a sudden Parker was next to me running and cheering me on, he was a friend Karie’s from run club husband and a good runner too. He told me I had shot last him while he had been keeping an eye out so had to sprint to catch up. How lovely of him to be there.

Then I got closer to the line and Rob came to run with me too. I felt bad as he was trying to talk to me but I didn’t really have any words left and I was out of breath trying to speed up for the finish. Poor Rob, I hope he didn’t think I was ignoring him. I was just stuffed.

running to the finish

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running to the finish 2

Then i rounded the last U-turn and could hear all my crew cheering and waving and I couldn’t believe that I had made it. I sprinted the finish and overtook a couple of people in front of me. I’m not sure where the last spurt came from but I was so glad to have stuck it out and made it to the finish line.

at the finish line

after the race

Me with my first ‘Ultras Marathon’ medal 🙂

me with my medal

How cool was the medal!?!?

my medal

I grabbed some water and some bananas and got hugs from all of my team mates who cheered me up with their smiley faces. I owe so much to these guys for always supporting and encouraging me in the lead up to this race and many others. I love running with you guys and I know I can always count on you.

We went back to the hotel and showered and then headed for a recovery meal at the same place we’d had brekkie the day before. It was delish!!

recovery meal group shot

Janet and Brendan had both smashed their first marathons (front left) and I loved hearing their stories about the race. We congratulated each other and said our goodbyes. I look forward to seeing them all again at run club in just over a week.

Georgie and I headed back to her car and much to her surprise that I didn’t fall asleep in the car on the way home, we chatted all the way and scoffed down some pizza for dinner when we got to my place. Best pizza ever!!

Looking back I’m not sure why I was so hard on myself about how slow my run had been. I hadn’t been my fastest, but I’ve learnt that I can go on even when my body and head are telling me to stop. And I’m so glad that I pushed through because my legs and feet are feeling a million times better today (Wednesday) and my groin pain has gone al together. Though I know that I have lots more stretching and cross-training to do over the next few weeks so that my legs can recover fully.

Only 2 weeks until the Mt Solitary Ultra in the Blue Mountains, bring it on!!

Happy Running 😀

The Longest Run

This Sunday I will attempt to run my furthest distance yet, a 50km road race as part of the Australian Running Festival in Canberra. I’m getting very nervous about this event, which is probably a good thing, but it’s going to be a great weekend as I am travelling down with the SHR crew and lots of my running mates from the Striders are competing too.

The Ultra Marathon course covers the same course as the marathon, with an extra loop at the end.Below is the elevation chart, which looks much easier than some of the tough climbs that I have done on the trails over the past months, however I know it will be challenging in many other ways (especially that last 10km – ouch!).

Canberra Ultra Marathon Elevation Chart

Originally I was signed up for 10km run on the Saturday, but my training buddies (after much heckling and encouragement) told me to pull up my big girl pants and sign up for the 50km, so I did!! Geez I have rubbery arms!!

The plan for Sunday is use it as a training run for TNF100, as it’s only 6 weeks away now. So i’ll be taking it very slow and easy for the entire run as it’s going to be about getting the time on my feet. I’ve been reading up about the course and the toughest sections are from 20-30km and 40-50km, so about halfway and right at the end, which means that most runners shouldn’t be pushing it too hard to early anyway.

It will be so nice to know that lots of my running friends will be the course that day too and I hope to encounter them all at some stage, even if it’s only at the start line to wish them good luck (Shaun Hardy).

The rest of my week will be spent doing yoga, getting a massage, walking the dog around the block and taking it easy. Tapering is much needed but very hard at time so I just need to keep my mind busy.

Happy Running 😀

2014 Six Foot Track Marathon

Wow, where do I start. I am still on such a massive high from the best race I have ever run and I don’t know where to start. Saturday was one of the best days of my life and one that I will never forget.

One of the things I had done in preparation for this race was to put up the elevation chart at work. I also included the splits needed at each timing mat to hit the 6 hour mark. If I could beat 6 hours then I would qualify for the Mt Solitary run in April which would be a good training run in the lead up to TNF100. But honestly I would be happy just to beat the ‘Grim Sweepers’ as the cut off for this race was 7 hours.

Looking at this chart every day for the past few weeks has really helped me to know the course and make it seem more familiar.

6ft elevation

I would also like to introduce you to Kokopelli, he is the TrailRunner Nation Performance Enhancing God and he follows me on all my trail runs now. TrailRunner nation is a great site and a friend introduced me to their podcasts not long ago and they have been invaluable. If you’re into trails then you should definitely check them out.

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Now, let’s get to the good stuff 😉

Friday morning I had a nice little sleep in and then got up and packed my bag for the mountains. I was feeling very nervous and excited but so happy that tomorrow I would finally get the chance to run the Six Foot track marathon.

I met Sherin at Milsons Point around 12.30pm and we headed for the mountains. We were staying at the beautiful Carrington Hotel, which was also the location for collecting our race bibs. The Carrington is where Jared and I got married last year so it has a very special place in my heart.

We arrived at the hotel, checked-in and picked up our race bibs and race shirts. I really liked the shirts and I was so excited that our names were on our bibs, I’ve never had that before!

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Our room was on the first floor, had a lovely window seat outlook and an original bathroom with a claw foot bath. Very comfortable but unfortunately, as we found out later on, not in the best position as all we could hear until around 1.30am was the music and rowdiness from the nearby pubs 😦

Sherin and I went for a walk down the main street of Katoomba so she could buy a jacket from the Mountain Sports store, having forgotten to bring one. And we both must have checked the Weatherzone App about a thousand times. It was raining and thundery that afternoon and into the evening, with lots of fog hanging around when night fell. At least it would be cool, I’d prefer the cool over the heat any day.

Some friends of our suggested the pizza & pasta place across the road from the hotel for dinner, so we decided to head there just after 5pm as apparently it gets full by 6pm and you can’t book tables. We made our way over there at 5.15pm and the place only had a few people inside, but by 6pm it was full and there was a queue forming to either wait for tables or get takeaway. Lucky we came early! We ended up giving our table to some of our running friends so they were very thankful not to have to line up too. Then it was back to our room for some rest and chill out time to get prepped for the morning’s run.

Unfortunately I had a horrible nights sleep as the pub noise kept me up and when I did fall asleep I ended up waking every 1-2 hours checking the time and feeling nervous. Oh well, not much you can do about it so no point stressing about it. In the week leading up to the race I had slept very well every night, so I hoped that would be enough to get me through.

The alarm sounded at 5.00am and I made my way out of bed for a morning snack, which consisted of a mini blueberry muffin, a banana, coffee and a peppermint tea (to calm the stomach). Then I got into my race gear which consisted of Nike WildHorse trail shoes, Sigvaris compression socks, BSC tights (short length), Sydney Striders singlet top, Nike sports bra and Nike sun visor. I had also decided to wear my Salomon hydration vest as it would make carrying my gels/electrolytes easy, while also being good training practice for TNF100.

Sherin and I gathered our things, checked-out of the hotel and headed for the car. We drove to Katoomba High School where the buses would take us to the start line.

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The buzz at the start line was like nothing i have seen or felt before. There were runners everywhere and everyone was smiling and excited. We ran into many of our fellow Striders and I also saw a work colleague Sam who came over to wish me good luck. Sam had been sick for a few weeks prior to the race so didn’t feel all that well prepared unfortunately.

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Sarah and Tanya (in the blue bibs above) were in Wave 3 and are both super speedy, Sherin was in Wave 4 (green bib) and I was in the lucky last Wave 5. We talked and laughed and the excitement was filling the air. The gun for Wave 1 went off at 7am and everybody cheered with excitement. The gun had actually been fired by Max BogenHuber, who at the ripe young age of 71 years has had the privilege to run in every race since Day 1. Max had run 30 x Six Foot Track Marathons, what a legend!

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As our Wave 5 readied for the start we hugged and wished each other well, it was race time!

The gun went off and we ran about 20 metres before we had to slow to a walk and head down the narrow path towards Nellie’s Glen. And the pace stayed at walking speed until we got all the way to the bottom of Nellie’s Glen. The Glen is a narrow, slippery, muddy, uneven, challenging section of stairs that last for a couple of kms down the mountain. We were about halfway in the pack the going was very slow, which I thought was perfect. Perfect because this section has been known to take ankles and break bones, so my game plan has always been to take this section as slowly and carefully as possible.

Unfortunately my GPS didn’t work until I was already a couple of km’s into the race, so I was a bit annoyed but wasn’t going to let it get me down. I would just have to add a few kms and about 20-25 minutes to the time and remember to do this for the whole race.

At the bottom of the Glen we hit the fire trail and I got to run with my training buddy Maria. We had spent many hours together on the trails in the lead up to this race, and had qualified with the same marathon time (4hr 14mins) so we are well matched in terms of pace. We even got race bibs with sequential numbers, i was 912 and she was 913!! I always enjoyed my runs with Maria so it was wonderful that we ended up spending majority of the race together on Saturday too.

I desperately needed a toilet stop (I think it was the nerves), so i snuck into the bush at about the 4km mark and then snuck back onto the course making my way back up to meet Maria. We also had another training buddy Emma run with for some of the first section, and it was so nice to have my friends with me, supporting and encouraging each other. We talked to other runners as we ran and worked out our plan of attack for the race. Basically we were going to take it easy all the way up to the Pluviometer (26km), as that was the hardest, hilliest section of the course. Then try to run consistently through the Black Ranges, an undulating section that was mostly a slow up hill scramble. And then we would try to continue that pace, if not a little faster through the next section towards the final 2km downhill, quad killer finale. My plan was to run the whole downhill section at the end, no matter how my legs felt – I was going to run that sucker!

We made our way down to the Cox’s river crossing which was the 15.5km mark and we giggled our way across the river, wading most of it as it was up to hip height. The cool water was quite refreshing on my feet and calves, and our shoes squelched as we made our way out the other side. Due to the slow start and being held up by a slow group through the narrow section down to the creek we hit the first timing mat before the crossing in 1 hour and 54 minutes, and I had was the 780th person to this checkpoint.

Our minds turned to the sweepers, and we definitely wanted to try and put some distance between us and them, but as we turned the corners as we started to make our way up mini mini saddle we saw the 7hr pacers from Wave 4, which meant ours were at least 10 minutes behind our position. I think this gave us confidence and we walked and chatted to those pacers as we passed them on our way up the hill.

Maria was looking very strong and I new that at some stage I would have to give her a kick and tell her to leave me behind. I very much welcomed her company but there was no way I was going to hold her back!

We started the next climb up to the Pluviometer and were thankful the fog had stuck around to shade us for most of this open section. The weather could not have been any more perfect. We were very quiet through this tough uphill section, but we stuck together, encouraged each other and had mini celebrations when we finally got to the peak, hitting the timing mat at 3 hours 44 minutes in 776th position (I had moved up 4 places).

We were over halfway!!

I should mention that we had water/aid stations scattered all the way along this course, and they were run by the local Blue Mountains Rural Fire Service (RFS). They all greeted us with smiling faces and encouraging words and I made sure I said hello and thanked every group that I passed. After all, they had volunteered there time to assist us so the least I could do was say thank you.

From here I pushed Maria to go ahead of me. She was looking strong and I was feeling a little light-headed, so i told her I needed to slow down a little to get my breath back and find a comfortable rhythm. She wished me well and crept ahead as we made our way through the Black Ranges.

I slowed for a few kms until I started to feel better and then decided it was now or never. There was a chance I could hit the 6 hour mark and I felt like I might get there. I ran a lot more of this section than I thought I would and I actually started to feel quite comfortable even when i decided to pick up the pace and start looking to pick off people in front of me, wishing them well as I overtook them. I found that moving at this faster pace actually felt more comfortable than walking, so i stuck with it and overtook more and more people.

As I passed another water/aid station I heard my name being called, I turned around and Sam was sitting on a chair under the tent with a blanket wrapped around him, he looked very pale and told me that he couldn’t go on and that he’d had to pull out of the race. What a tough decision. He asked me how I was going and was I going to finish the race? I told him that I felt good and that ‘Yes, definitely!’ (I was going to finish the race).

I kept Maria in my sights for most of the last section, but I did not catch her. I did catch up to a few people i knew from our weekend training runs and had a chat with some fellow Striders. Plus I ovetook my friends husband Craig who told me I wasn’t allowed to and we had a laugh!!

I was smiling from ear to ear and nothing, no run had ever felt like this. It’s hard to describe, but I felt so comfortable and so right being there in that moment, in that race, at one with the world. It felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what i was supposed to be doing.

I had caught up to a few friends Leonor and Margaret, and we spotted the Pine forest ahead – the Black Range was over. Then on the side of the trail I spotted Anne, a friend from work and also an avid runner who has given me great advice and encouragement in the short time that I have known here. I gave her a huge hug and she wished me well.

There wasn’t far to go now.

At the Caves Road Crossing (38km) I saw a sign for the Jenolan Caves and I burst into tears…. I was really doing this. I was going to run 45km, the furthest I had ever run and on the toughest course I have ever seen. I had to get control of my emotions, so i used them to pick up the pace and I don’t know how it was possible, but my mood shifted up another gear and I felt amazing.

I kept moving forward and over taking more and more people. Lots of runners told me I looked great and to keep pushing and one lovely old man yelled at me telling me I looked like I was flying. The energy in his voice was so powerful, I will never forget that moment.

The downhill section had begun, the rocky, dusty path near the end was before me and I kept running. I shortened my steps and stuck to the technique that I had been taught for downhill and I kept the speed up. I saw others walking in front of me and I caught them quickly.

And then I heard it….. I heard the crowd and I burst into tears. I could see the cars as I peered through the trees and I knew I was on the final descent down to Caves House. The terrain turned into a flat concrete path which required hardly any focus, so I decided to give it everything I had left. I increased my stride length and sprinted down those ramps, zig-zagging my way to the last set of stairs and rounding the corner towards the finish line.

I sprinted over the line in 6 hours 8 minutes in a position of 691st, which meant I picked up 85 places from Pluviometer to the finish line. How awesome is that?!

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My medal was placed around my neck and the next 10 minutes are a bit of a blur to me. I hugged many of my friends and we all shared our results and experiences. It truly was the best race of my life and I cannot believe the high that I was on. Here’s a shot of Maria, Nigel and I with our winning medals and grinning faces!

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I ran into David from the Find Your Feet training camp in the Blue Mountains that I had done a couple of months ago and he told me that Hanny Alston (my mentor) had won, so i raced over to wish her Congratulations (she had also finished in the 2nd fastest time ever!). I also bumped into Julie (David’s wife, who I had also met at the camp and run many trails with) and she gave me a big hug as the tears ran down my face. Later I found out that she had come third, what a legend – I wish I had given her my congratulations at the time but I was so emotional when I saw her that I forgot to ask how she’d gone. Silly me!!

I saw Mark from work who had successfully finished the race, and had a photo with Craig (below) who had also had a great run! The noise and the atmosphere in that finish area was like nothing before. Very powerful.

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We watched more and more people cross the finish line, cheering them as they finished and eventually the sweepers crossed the line just after the 7 hour cut off.  It was all over and i felt a little sad for all the people who hadn’t made it to the line that day.

I picked up my drop bag and they made us walk up a hill after the race to collect our drop bags ( ha ha) with our dry clothes and we had some more photos with our running crew. Check out our bib numbers below, ha ha

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I started to feel a bit light headed and decided that I should sit down for a while. Maria grabbed us some salty hot chips (yum) and a beer, while I got some water and electrolytes into me. We managed to secure some chairs and eventually a small group of us gathered there to chat and celebrate.

What a magical day. It truly was the best organised race, on the best course I have ever run. I have never enjoyed myself as much as I did on that run, for the entire run and I couldn’t be happier. If you are considering entering this run, don’t even think twice – just register, as you will not be disappointed.

Happy (trail) Running 😀 !!

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