Monday, January 7, 2013

First 100km ultra marathon (Heysen 105)

With 4 months of running under my belt, I thought shortly after signing up that maybe it was a 'knee-jerk' reaction based on a runners high from just recently completing my first ever ultra marathon (56km Yurribilla) a few weeks earlier.

From all the reading I'd done, and people I'd spoken to, the general concensus is to have at least 1-2 years of long distance running under you belt before taking on such a task of a 100km trail ultra.

Oh well, the fees were paid and the local running community were aware of my commitment to the event.  No turning back now.  Maybe I'd just see how far I'd get.

A good friend of mine (and far more experienced long distance runner), Barry, had mentioned that we should run the first 70km together at a slow steady pace to share the journey and keep each other company on what will no doubt be both of our biggest challenge to date.  This idea settled my nerves substantially but it was still such an unknown for me given I'd never run beyond 56km, and even that was only the 1 run I'd done above 21km.

So how do I even begin the mental preparation for a 105km ultra with a substantial amount of incline?  It was too late to physically train for it as by the time I'd decided to do it, the event was 3 weeks away.  Use what little I have and make the rest up with strong mental will and smart pacing.

After gathering all the gear, including a new Garmin watch and Salomon hydrapack, it dawned on me; there's going to be a few hours running in the dark during the final stages of the race.  I'd never run at night, let alone doing it at a distance beyond my experience.  Not wanting to leave things to chance I decided to do a little 20km hills session at around midnight just to get the experience of it the one time.  I'm so I glad I did!!!!  Firstly, to highlight the 1st headlamp I'd just bought was crap and was not suitable, and secondly it taught me how different it is to run in the dark.  Depth perception on technical single track is quite unusual for the first few times making your footwork a little different.  Worthy of getting used to if you've not done it before.

A week out from the race the true measure of the upcoming haul was becoming more and more apparent.  What am I doing?  I have no place in a 105km Ultra......  I began wondering if this was a silly, half cocked idea and whether I should put it off a year.  Instead, I played with some numbers from the only experience I had; the 56km Ultra.  Although it's far different, it's all I had.  We were given a competitors list and I found some names that had competed in both events.  OK, so there's a few here that I can compare results to give me a guide to whether this is achievable.  It looks like I'm on.  With a 24hour cut off for the event, there's a few names I was faster than in the 56km who beat cut off on this event last year.  Let's do it.  Even if it's just to see how far I get.

In even better news, my wife has decided to help out on the aid stations with my daughter and neice.  Awesome!  This will help with motivation on the day.

2 days out:  Sleep time!  I doubt I'll sleep very well the night before and I'll have to get up at 3am to get ready and make the 1.5 hour drive to the start line.  Also I'd read many times that the sleep 2 nights before is more useful than the night before.

Race Day:  Up at 3am.  Breakfast, grab my meticulously and probably overprepared drop bags, and then head off.  Arriving at the start, it's around 6 degrees celcius, with low lying cloud in the valleys we were about to head into.  A group of 37 runners form and make small talk as we prepare for a big day.  Some with giggles, some others with blank stares (either getting in the zone, or possibly shitting their pants..... lol)

And off we go.  OK, first check point is a half marathon away through gentle rolling hills.  A lot of long grass mixed with overnight dew resulted in completely soaked feet within 4kms.  Oh crap!!!! Not what I wanted so soon into an ultra.  Some anxiety about how the feet will hold up for so long after being so wet set in really quickly.  About 5-6km's in I realised that Barry and myself were out way too hard (for me anyway) but for some reason we didn't seem to drop the pace even though we kept saying we would.  I must admit it did feel gentle and manageable but I was also super cautious not to burn up energy too soon.

Shortly after, we get out on to some bitumen.  Time to let the feet dry out a bit.  Whoops, We've taken a wrong turn and now have the choice of running back around 2km or taking a cut back across to the course through a cow paddock.  We decide the feet are already wet so why not just go across.  Well, 2 electric fences and 500m of 1 foot deep wet grass later we were back on course, and by comparing GPS data with other runners we realise it only cost us about 700m and 8 minutes due to stopping.

A faster than planned pace continued until around 19-20km's where another runner slowly came up behind us that Barry knew well (David).  I decided to pull back here and told Barry to push on without me.  I knew if I kept that pace up, there was no way I could possibly entertain finishing the day.

Hitting check point 1 was great; having my wife and crew there as well as having something to 'tick off' from the journey.  "OK thats 1 of 5".  A quick food grab and hydrapack top up and I'm off.

I last seen Barry heading up the hill about 500m in front of me after check point 1.  From here on, if it's going to happen, I'll have to work to my own strategy.

The next 30km's was the hardest climbing and slowest stage of my day.  So many tough, relentless climbs were beginning to take their toll.  At approximately 40km's on the way up a steep climb, Terry Cleary, an experienced veteran caught up to me and we shared each others company for a while. As our watches ticked over to 42km he piped up and said "that was the hardest marathon I've done".  Whilst it sounds harsh it kind of relieved me a little because I knew he had the ability to finish this thing and if he felt trashed already then it was OK for me to feel this way too.  We find our way to the top of the hills for a while.  Finally.  A few runners seem to regroup along this section for a little while, and at approximately 45km Terry lets out an almighty yelp from a few meters behind me.  Given we were in long grass again in a wide paddock, my first thought was snake bite, but he soon tells us he'd rolled his ankle in a deep hole.  The way he looked at that point, I thought he was out but after convincing me he was OK we slowly trudged on to let it loosen up. (I find out after the race that he'd amde it to 93km's before pulling out due to massive blisters)

We push on at a steady pace and walking some of the uphills until around 50-52km's where we regroup with some different runners.  Graham Tottey and Emma Vaughan (possibly a couple of others but I can't recall).  Graham is having some belly troubles so he tends to stay back with Terry as Emma and I slowly push on forward.  The next 8km's were the best I'd felt since around the 20km point.  I think it was due to a combination of a reduced pace as I stayed with Terry, mixed with knowing I'd be seeing my wife and crew again at the 60km check point, which will simultaniously mean my longest run to date.

Hitting the 60km checkpoint, was a fantastic feeling.  Felt really fresh, refuelled, topped up the hydrapack, kissed my wife and off I go.  Clean, clear solid run again for about 3-4km's and I see another runner stopped to fix a blister problem.  Assured he was OK I keep pushing on, only to have him catch up as we play infront/behind tag for about 8-10km until we seem to settle in next to each other for a while.  I eventually push on and later find he'd pulled out not too long after.

At about the 70km point, whilst the legs and body in general continued to feel relatively good, I noticed my belly beginning to feel a little queezy.  Oh no!  I think I ate something that didn't agree with me at the 60km point.  Stupid me; eating something untested on a training run, even after so much readings of 'don't try anything new on race day'

As I'm nearing the 75km checkpoint it begins to worsen.  Not good!  I have some energy left but not a lot.  I need to eat soon!  I find myself coming into the check point where my night buddy runner (Blake) is waiting for me.  I change tops, put on the headlamp and hi-viz vest.  Try some spaghetti in a cup but can only stomach a couple of forks.  This is not a good sign.  Oh well, can't stay here too long.  Let's go.

The last of the major climbs was just ahead.  Signage was a little poor through this section and Blake was fantastic in running ahead a couple of times to confirm directions (thanks Blake).  We took one small wrong turn but it only cost a couple of hundred meters.

By the time we hit 85km's I was flat.  Not able to take in anything but water, energy was flying out real quick.  By now I was walking all inclines, and slow on the flats.  OK still on the downs.  Coming into the final check point, blisters on my right foot needed to be fixed or they'd be the end of me.  Fixed and redressed, I tried a couple of pieces of watermelon but no go.  Got 2 down but that's it.  Tried a gel but as I put it to my mouth I almost heaved.  20km to go, and no fuel!!!!!!  Well, I'm not stopping here put it that way.  Let's go!

Due to the stop I had a little recharge so I was able to gently run the flats again. Still nothing on the inclines but still OK on the downs.  By 95km's the flats were out again.  I'd work up to a shuffle for 50% of the flats but that was it.  Blake offered me an apple as the belly had slightly subsided a little and I tell you what, I don't know where he got that apple but I would've paid $500 for another.  That was awesome and soon gave me a little shove.  Not a lot, but something.  I still couldn't stomach a gel though.  Damn!!!!

To help the time go past, Blake would keep talking and we'd share stories and general chit-chat which really helped break up the slow nature of this final leg.  Some entertainment of watching a couple of cars trying to get through a 4x4 only muddy path gave us something to think about for a while until we passed and moved on out of sight.

OK, 5km, to go.  "I really am going to make it.  WOW"  I tried to build up some energy through excitement and adrenalin but this only came in small waves until we seen a torch coming back our direction.  It was obviously a volunteer or similar from the group so I ask Blake to ask him how far he was from the finish.  "750-800m" he responds.  AWESOME!!!!! I don't care, I'm running.  Even though it was a gentle uphill from there on, I pushed on.  I felt like it was a fast striding pace but Garmin data later proved it was only at 5:15/km pace.  Oh well, it felt fast at the time.

I'm there!  Somehow, this nutter has completed a 105km ultra marathon in 16th place of a field of 37 from 4 months of running and no real ultra preparation.

A lot of the day is blurry in the mind and some even completely missing, but that finish line will stay with me forever.

Clearly, physically I was not really ready for the adventure, but mentally I'd worked myself into a state of MUST DO!  Especially after the 60km point.

I can't wait for next time where I'll have a real base of training and hopefully discover what fuelling works for me.

Ultra's are amazing, and you learn so much about yourself whilst out there faced with such challenges.  The pain, the solitude, the strategies, the views.  It all adds up to a mass of soul building.