Saturday, 11 April 2015

Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon, 75km, 2015

It is always a frustrating experience to be injured, more so when it means being unable to run and missing an event. Last year I was impaired by an injury which resulted in me missing the inaugural Buffalo Stampede in 2014. I did however make the journey to Bright, Victoria, to spectate which only fueled the fire to return the following year and attempt this Skyrace.
Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon Profile.
Fast forward a year and after some cautious training, I made it to the event ready to race. This year's Buffalo Stampede was also the Skyrunning Oceania Continental Championship with respective titles up for grabs in the SkyMarathon and Ultra SkyMarathon distances. Runners from Australia, New Zealand and abroad assembled to test their abilities on this Australian Skyrunning course. The Buffalo Stampede had been expanded from last year to include three race distances; 32km (Sky 26'er) with +/-2000m elevation gain/loss, 75.5km (Ultra SkyMarathon) with +/-4900m and 41.4km (SkyMarathon) with +2930m/-1940m held over three consecutive days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. The race that I targeted was the Ultra SkyMarathon with its out and back route from Howitt Park on the banks of the Ovens River in Bright to the top of Mt Buffalo and back. 

The first race of the weekend was the 32km, aka Sky26'er, which was altered and subsequently extended at short notice, due to risks associated with recent fires on the original course. The change to the intended route messed with runners heads, but it was a reminder that in trail running you need to be flexible and quick to adapt. The initial pace out of the starting chute was fast at the beginning, after all it was a "sprint" event, but judging by the spent looks on runners' faces back at the finish line the course had done its job of testing all who attempted it. The nett result was that the first day of racing had set the tone of excitement and a little trepidation for the races to follow. 

I was pretty happy to arrive at the race start line injury free. I had been over sections of the course a few times since the race was originally announced and was looking forward to putting all the different sections together. The female race field for the Ultra SkyMarathon consisted of the usual Aussie and Kiwi suspects; Julie Quinn, Jo Johansen, Whitney Dagg, Gill Fowler, Shona Stephenson, most of whom had bested me in trail races before. The only dark horse amongst the female field was Landie Greyling from South Africa, whom I was yet to race against.
video

The 7am Saturday morning race start of the Ultra SkyMarathon from Howitt Park in Bright saw the usual surge of runners in their eagerness to traverse the course. As usual I got swamped by runners, but I wasn't concerned as the trail is wide enough to overtake when needed, and I knew that my conservative pace would see me work my way back through a large portion of runners ahead. Running through the parklands of Bright I settled in behind Gill and Julie for awhile and soon the runners started to separate as the terrain started to rise, signaling the first major ascent for the day. The ascent followed a single trail mountain bike track alongside one of the many fire trails carved into the hillside. The ascent was very steep and I was able to start overtaking people as their earlier enthusiasm was reeled in the higher we got. A short distance up the ascent I passed Shona on the side of the track struggling with her head visor after it got caught in her hair. Fortunately for Shona a nice guy had stopped to help her untangle her hair. Note to self, don't wear a visor without having a tight ponytail. Nearing the top of the first ascent at Mystic, I saw Gretel Fortman who was spectating and encouraging runners up the hill. Gretel informed me of the gap to the other girls ahead, which was only a few hundred meters. I knew the next section into Bakers Gully was very steep and I was confident in my ability to descend quickly and catch up to the girls ahead. I opened my stride on the descent and was able to pass Gill going down this section. I knew Gill would be taking the descents cautiously having recently rolled her ankle badly in the early stages of the Mt Buller Skyrace two weeks prior.   
Summitting Clearspot. Skyrunning ANZ.
Having reached the bottom of the descent at Bakers Gully it was a short section of flat before the trail started to rise again for the second big ascent of the day up to Clearspot. It was on this ascent I was able to catch and work my way in front of, though very slightly, the leading girls of Whitney, then Landie. 
Descending Clearspot. Justine Medin.

The three of us all ran close together on the descent down Warners Wall then on into the Buckland Valley checkpoint. Landie started to gap me when I paused briefly to refuel as she kept on running through the checkpoint. Landie was out off sight before I got to the fire trail on the other side of the valley. Whitney managed to over take me as well, Bugger!, but I stayed within sight of her throughout the valley and over Keating Ridge to the next checkpoint at Eurobin Creek. 
First time through Eurobin Checkpoint. Buffalo Stampede.
I left the checkpoint before Whitney and hoped to put a gap between us on "The Big Walk" climb (+1128m over 10km), but every time I turned around she was there. I couldn't go any faster as I knew there was still a along way to the top, let alone the finish line. I really didn't want to push it too hard if I didn't have too but I was definitely feeling the pressure.
Almost at Mt Buffalo Chalet. Ultra168.com.
The higher I ascended up The Big Walk the more the trees thinned out until the view started opening up across the valley and mountains beyond. The single trail crisscrossed the bitumen road and I was spurred on by the occasional cheer from passing vehicles. I chanced a few looks over my shoulder and occasionally glimpsed Whitney charging up the mountain behind me which helped to keep me focused and not allow my pace to slacken. The ascent seemed to take forever and it was a relief to finally reach the Mt Buffalo Chalet checkpoint for the start of the "lollypop" out and back section. It was a bit disappointing to find out from my crew that Landie had extended her lead slightly, so my focus switched from chasing to being chased.

Just as I started the 7km out and back section to Chalwell Galleries I crossed paths with Tom Owens (leading male and eventual winner) heading back to the Chalet. Not long afterwards I crossed paths with Andrew Tuckey (2nd place male and Oceania Champion). I was surprised when Andrew went off the narrow trail to allow me to pass. Chivalry is alive in trail running. Seeing and exchanging words of encouragement with all the lead males helped lift me as fatigue was starting to set in. 
Approach to Chalwell Galleries.
This out and back leg is a little gem of alpine Australia. Near the "lollypop" the trail skirts around an alpine lake then a short distance beyond the trail takes you through, and even under, some large rounded boulders, for which Mt Buffalo is well known. I managed to get to the start of the "lollypop" loop without seeing Landie which meant that she didn't have that big a lead over me. The same could be said when I returned to the common out and back trail when I failed to see Whitney, Gill, Julie and Jo, which meant that they were likely in the lollypop loop already. The first female I saw was Shona. I did manage to see a few other girls and we exchanged words of encouragement as we passed each other. 

Back at the Chalet I was given another split and it was good to know that I hadn't lost any time. The course now doubled back on itself all the way to Howitt Park in Bright. We would also be crossing paths with every other runner, both fast, slow and everyone in between. Occasionally I'd get an update on how far behind Landie I was, but the times and distances varied so much that it was more frustrating than anything else. I tried to stretch out on the descent  off the mountain in an attempt to narrow the gap ahead to Landie. I can't say that I wasn't trying as I momentarily found myself falling into some bushes, having tripped on a rock, which was a wake-up call to be more careful. Luckily it only resulted in a grazed knee and compared to many other runners' legs mine were still looking pretty good.
Getting refueled and restocked at Eurobin checkpoint on the return journey. Antony Bowesman.
Returning to Eurobin checkpoint I was again informed by my crew of the time difference to Landie ahead. It was the same as the top, but what was equally important was the gap to Whitney and Gill behind me. I was hoping my speedy decent might have put more of a gap between us but clearly to no avail. Heading out over Keatings Ridge again I put my earphones on and listened to a playlist that Brian had specially compiled for me. The songs were not necessarily to my liking, but they were different and unpredictable with high tempo beats to "keep my cadence high" as Brian put it. 

Even with the long straight road section through Buckland Valley I couldn't see any girls ahead or behind me. There were a few guys that I tried to stick with but essentially I felt that I was in no man's land. Again the gaps were much the same and I felt that the podium had pretty much been decided. If I had known that Julie had leapfrogged from fifth to third in that previous leg I might have tried to run harder. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
I really didn't know what I wanted at Buckland Checkpoint. Antony Bowesman.
The ascent to Clearspot was tough and I tried to run as much of it as possible. I could see runners/walkers ahead and they all seemed to be going as slow as myself which made me feel a little better. On the descent from Clearspot I could hear the cowbells in the distance, from runners ahead passing spectators. The final ascent up to Mystic was slow, but the coke from Bakers Gully checkpoint helped me get to the top. That was a horrible ascent for me, as the sun felt so hot I wasn't sure if I had a fever or if the day was really that hot. I plodded on and eventually got to the top and managed a slow trot down the last descent. The end was near and I was starting to wish I was already there. On the run into town I passed Mum who was waiting for me. She urged me on and told me how close I was to a sub 10 hour finish.

It was such a relief to cross the finish line back in Howitt Park. Finishing second in 9:59:46 was sweetened by also being crowned Ultra SkyMarathon Oceanic Champion. Shortly after crossing the line and receiving my finishers medal from Sean Greenhill I was asked for an interview. I had to quickly decline as I was afraid that the next thing out of my mouth would not be words.
This is how I felt at the end. Skyrunning ANZ.
I really enjoyed the whole experience that Mountain Sports were able to create for this Buffalo Stampede event. The three race format over three days allowed runners not only to compete, but to also spectate, cheer and socialise. The ting, ting, tinging of cowbells heralding approaching runners is becoming more frequent in trail races around Australia. Having international runners attend and race on a "home"course is a great experience. The whole weekend was a lot of fun.
Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon female podium, Julie Quinn, Landie Greyling, me (L-R). David Baldwin.
Gear
Salomon S-LAB Running Gloves
Salomon Tee
Salomon EXO S-LAB Socks 
Salomon S-LAB XT6 Soft Ground   
Salomon S-LAB EXO 3 Socks 

Salomon S-LAB ADV Skin Hydro 12 Set   
Salomon Soft Flask 500ml  
Salomon Space Blanket  
Skort
Skyrunner Race Vest  
Service Station Sunnies

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Hillary, NZ 80km 2015

Permanent course marker.
Never before in a race have I wanted to stop more than I did in The Hillary, NZ 80km Ultra Marathon race. Not because I was injured, not because I was tired and not because I was sore, but because the views were so amazingly breathtaking. Unlike mountain races where you spend the day running into the same view, or around the same view, this race the views draw you further along the trail towards new, different, more exciting scenery. It was a pure pleasure to traverse this course, a treat for the eyes.

The start of 2015 for me has been a bit flat. This far into 2015 I was hoping to have done at least one major trail ultra, followed up with a more low key trail ultra, but the way things panned out I had done nothing. Essentially all trained up with nowhere to race. Fortunately, training is rarely wasted, and with the way trail running is at the moment there are plenty of trail races on offer. My pick for March was The Hillary 80km Ultra Marathon. As I always do, I follow races in advance before entering. For some reason, I feel more comfortable going into races with a preformed expectation.  I followed The Hillary's inaugural race last year (2014) and it definitely left a positive impression, so I marked it as a race to do in 2015.
Spectacular scenery. Ultra168.com

The Hillary stood out for a number of reasons. Most of which are evident in the event's promotional video from the 2014 race (link). It is amazing to think that an ultra trail running event such as this is held so close to the city of Auckland, New Zealand.

I flew over on Thursday before the event by myself and stayed with Brian's Aunty Bev and Uncle Jack at their beautiful abode on the shore of Lake Takapuna. Without Brian's usual fastidiousness I took the time on Friday to do some recce of the bus pick-up, race HQ and some parts of the course. This was time well spent, as at 4:30am on race morning, I would have definitely missed the bus to the start line. I hate early starts, it is even worse when you have to do everything yourself. I've already missed an early morning race start and didn't want a repeat performance. I was definitely missing my regular support crew. Luckily come race morning I made it to the bus pick-up on time and scored myself a back row of seats to stretch out and continue my sleep on a rough and twisty road.
The race start was very dark. Ultra168.com
Having arrived at the race start, I was ruing my decision to use an inferior head torch, as when the race started pre-dawn I resorted to using other peoples light, which therefore restricted me to their pace. I was comforted however that other runners around me with better head torches still found it difficult in the pre-dawn light on the technical terrain. The early pace wasn't particularly fast and suited my mood as I was struggling to get into a comfortable rhythm. I often find that I take a few kilometers to warm up and get switched on. For me I didn't feel race ready until the Huia (14km) checkpoint.
The terrain was mostly runnable. The Hillary.

After the Huia checkpoint the 80km field started to spread out more and more. I saw less of the runners ahead and runners behind as the course weaved in and out of sight around the coastal headlands. Running between people didn't particularly bother me. I easily navigated the trail, following the permanent Hillary Trail markers. Knowing that I had Jo Johansen, Fiona Hayvice and Justine Medin nearby kept my motivation up and pace honest. In the early stages of the race I found myself running with South Australian Andrew Hough until about the 27km mark. Andrew informed me that we met during Yurrebilla last year. He was running well over the mixed terrain and was quite fast on the downhill and uphill sections, and we found ourselves swapping places quite a few times. Its always good to have some company for long stretches during a race. 

At the Whatipu (27km) checkpoint I caught up to and passed two other 80km runners. Andrew was taking awhile at the aid station so I went on expecting him and the other two guys to catch me up but they never did and this was the last I saw of any 80km runners until the finish.
Checkpoint security was fantastic. The Hillary Facebook.

After the Piha (46km) checkpoint was where I got the opportunity to start chasing down the  34km runners/walkers. The Hillary is unique in that there are three race distances (80km, 34km and 16km) over the same point-to-point course. The start of all three races are staggered so as to have runners running and finishing together at the same location.The 34ker's had started about 45min before I arrived at the checkpoint and it wasn't too long before I started catching up to and overtaking some of the 34km walkers. The format worked quite well and I found myself eager to catch and pass the 34km runners ahead.
It was difficult to keep eyes on the the trail with view like this. The Hillary.

I came through Bethells (64km) checkpoint shortly before the 16km runners started. It was nice to receive a cheer from the assembled runners and spectators. Not running with a watch I knew from the 16km starters that I had approximately 2 hours to cover the last 16km of trail in order to get a sub 10hr finish time. As I climbed up, away from the checkpoint, I was chased down by some of the more enthusiastic 16km runners. Some were quick to pass, and I had to stop and let them go by as the trail was very narrow. Then I thought bugger this I'm losing time pulling over, if they want to get past they can make the effort, so I held my position on the trail. The other runners were polite enough to allow me my own space on the trail once they figured I was doing the full 80km event. In all honesty this race format made for a good distraction and helped lift my pace in the later stages of the race, chasing fresh legged runners, at a time when I knew Jo Johansen would be pushing hard to catch up to me.
There was lots of company in the later stages of the race. The Hillary.

It felt fantastic to descend out of the mountains and out into the finish area. The whole day had been a repetition of ascents and descents with a few short flat sections. After 80km's traversing the course I can see why the event is a sanctioned ANZ Sky Run, as the variation in grade is relentless.
Happy to finish, but not before washing my shoes one last time. Ultra168.com

I was happy to cross the finish line in 9:57:44, 1st Female and 7th overall. Coincidentally the next two finishers were Jo Johansen and Fiona Hayvice, for 2nd and 3rd respectively. Any slacking off and they would have had me for sure. In reflection this is a race I already want to return to.

A big thank you must go to Bev and Jack for allowing me to stay with them. They openly accepted my intrusion when their thoughts were understandably focused on their more immediate family.
Female podium was nicely colour coordinated (me, Jo & Fiona, L-R). The Hillary Facebook.
Andrius Ramonas and I with next years weight penalty. Marcus Warner.
Gear  
Salomon Tee
Salomon EXO S-LAB Socks  
Salomon S-LAB XT6 Soft Ground 
Salomon S-LAB EXO 3
Salomon S-LAB ADV Skin Hydro 12 Set  
Salomon Soft Flask 500ml
Salomon Space Blanket
Skort
Service Station Sunnies
The Hillary mementos.
I wonder what the beach goers were thinking? The Hillary.
80km Course profile.


 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Kepler Challenge 2014

The Kepler Challenge is a spectacular trail running event in New Zealand's South Fiord, starting and finishing at the outlet of Lake Te Anau. The course follows the 60km long Kepler Track along the shoreline of Lake Te Anau before heading uphill into the mountains before dropping down to the Waiau River and back to the start. 
Kepler Challenge course map.
I have previously been lucky enough to get an entry into the notoriously difficult to enter Kepler Challenge back in 2011, but due to an injury and subsequent lack of training I swapped my entry for the Luxmore Grunt, 27km, the smaller version of the two races. The Luxmore Grunt follows the same route as Kepler Challenge, however returns on itself with the turnaround at Luxmore Hut. I remember clearly when I reached Luxmore Hut that all I really wanted to do was to keep continuing along the track. It was a disappointing feeling to turnaround, however it kept the passion alive to return and run the Kepler Challenge in its entirety. 

As my last race for 2014, I looked forward to heading back to Te Anau for the Kepler Challenge. Racing in New Zealand is like racing in any other Australian state or territory. This race is no exception. The trail running community in both countries are much the same. The sport of trail running attracts the same friendly and enthusiastic crowd. There are friends to meet up with, and friendships to be made. This is what I love about the sport.

I travelled over with Mum and Dad this time, Brian was left at home to continue building our new home (and yes, he is really doing the building). It was Mum and Dad's first time to New Zealand, and as I write this race report they are yet to complete their travels around the South Island.
Kepler Challenge course profile.
Having never run the full Kepler Trail I had no idea what I was in for. All up I'd only traversed 14kms of the Luxmore Grunt in 2011 and a few short sections near the end along the river as part of an easy walk. I'd looked at previous finishing times for runners I know and estimated a finish time for myself. It was Brian's suggestion that I should be targeting 6:10. Easy for him to say as he wasn't doing the running.

Come race morning I did my usual thing of staying in bed until the last moment. Then with a flurry of activity I was out the door and headed to the start line. Race starts never leave me with a comfortable feeling. There is always too much anxiety and nerves to deal with. At least when the gun goes off the feelings are instantly replaced with the focus of whats ahead, namely other runners heels, sticks or rocks.

Though the race starts on a wide trail it quickly narrows, so runners go from running 4 or 5 abreast to 2 abreast in the space of a hundred metres. Positioning yourself at the start is therefore important. I positioned myself at the back of the front group, so when we started running I wasn't impeded by too many runners around me. As the trail is not technical the race start is very fast. There is not much self preservation going on amongst the lead group for an ultra. The intensity of running was high from the beginning.
Enjoying a little bit of downhill after the climb up. Backcountry Runner NZ.
In the early stages of the race, along the shoreline of Lake Te Anau, I tried to keep a decent pace along this flat section. Just before the first check point fellow Aussie Sara-Jane caught up to me. At this stage I had no idea where I was amongst the other female runners. I hadn't run with Sara-Jane in a race before and didn't know what it meant when she edged past me. I upped my pace to stay with her and when we commenced the ascent I started to edge ahead. I could see Ruby Muir ahead and Jo Johansen, two girls that I wanted to remain close to if I wanted a good finish time. Even though Ruby was nursing an injury, she showed no sign of weakness as she glided along the well manicured trail. 

As we turned from the gently undulating trail to the ascent to Luxmore Hut the pace dropped slightly, but the intensity did not. Everyone's breathing got harder as we slowly climbed the mountain and the treeline thinned out to reveal panoramic views over the fiord-land wilderness. Ruby started to edge ahead as we climbed, but Jo and I stayed close together. I kept my motivation up by pretending that the low flying helicopters following the event would catch me if I slowed down.
Jo Johansen closing in on me.
At Luxmore Hut (14km) the volunteers were there to inspect our mandatory gear and replenish us runners. The cold wind was reasonably strong and I was already wearing some of my mandatory gear. Jo and I ran into the checkpoint close together. Jo was much more organised,  as she transitioned through the mandatory gear check much faster than I, that resulted in me watching her develop a good head start while repacking my bag. After that brief interlude at Luxmore Hut, I was this year able to continue on along the Kepler Track. It is always good to run a new trail, but to do it in a race leaves me with lots of uncertainty. I'm usually nervous about exhausting myself before the end, which is silly given the relatively short distance of this ultra, and it's mostly unchallenging terrain. This run however was different. I had Jo to motivate me, and Brian's motivational words of, "don't hold back". With a little less uncertainty and a little more determination, I pushed harder than what I normally would. 

The trail stayed up high for quite a long time, longer than I thought, and even though it was very beautiful I was looking forward to the descent so I could get out of the wild winds that were buffeting me around. I was still running close to Jo along this Apline section and at the Hanging Valley checkpoint (23km) we started the steep descent into the valley. Jo was being cautious and decided to hold back a bit on the down hills to avoid risking an injury, which was a smart move. I took this opportunity to go ahead and make a gap between us as I knew she would likely catch me again on the flatter sections of trail still ahead. On the descent I overtook quite I few runners, which was surprising, maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought running down hill or I was just having a good down hill day. It always feels as though I'm getting overtaken on the downhills.
Fighting the wind, not the hill. Backcountry Runner NZ.
At Iris Burn Hut checkpoint (28km), I grabbed a bite to eat and a sip of water. I found I didn't need to fill my soft flasks at all throughout the event as the check points were close enough together to survive without any drama, so I was in and out of the checkpoints pretty quick. The next section was still down hill until Rocky Point, though not nearly as steep as the section down to Iris Burn hut. Jo caught up to me at Rocky Point when I had a much needed loo stop. She was with a couple of guys all running together so I tried to run after them and it took what felt like forever to catch them all. I eventually caught up and overtook Jo and the other guys she was with on a small uphill section. I was trying to run fast to keep in front and secure second place but was unsure if I could keep this seemingly ridiculously fast pace (my description might be a little over exaggerated). It was at this time that I caught sight of fellow Aussie Mick Donges ahead. Mick slowed down so I could catch him and we ran together for a bit. He was concerned about his girl friend (Sara-Jane) as she has never run this kind of distance before and has a dodgy ankle. I reassured him and said she was running fine although that was only 5km into the race and a few hours ago. 

Mick and I ran into Moturau Hut checkpoint (45km) together and not far behind was Jo. Mick gave me the "you better get out of here" look so I quickly stuffed one more orange in my face before we both ran out of the checkpoint together. That was when Mick said we should up that ante and run hard until the finish. I was worried that he would stick with me and that I would ruined his run but he didn't seem to care much about his result, he just seem happy being out on the trails enjoying himself. Mick picked up the pace quite a bit and I tried desperately to stick with him. I'm not going to lie, it was hard work trying to keep up with him and at times he would slow down and let me catch up which was very kind of him and much appreciated. 
Warming up as the pace increased.

We briefly stopped at Rainbow Reach checkpoint (51km) where I ate and drank something. I can't quite remember what it was though, as I could feel the exhaustion setting in.  We didn't hang around for long before we took off again with 9km to go. I turned around every so often and could see no one in sight which was a comforting sign. I was doubting anyone could catch us anyway at our new speedy pace.

Catching Mick was fortuitous for me. Though I was feeling the exhaustion of the run, running with Mick was good distraction and helped lift me. Sitting in second place I wasn't going to slack off and surrender my position. So, together we motivated each other towards the finish. 
Mick and I crossing the finish line. Backcountry Runner NZ.

Ultimately we crossed the finish line together (it will make purchasing race photos cheaper). I don't know if Mick was happy with his finish time, but I was happy with my run of 6:07:53 and second placed female. I'm glad that I put my self doubts aside at Luxmore Hut to then run hard for the remainder of the race.

I'd like to thank Salomon Australia for their continued support. It has been a pleasure donning their gear. Running ultras can be very uncomfortable at times, but its always good to know that the gear is not contributing to the discomfort. I'm also yet to have any gear failures, which is surprising seeing how rough and how much I ask of my gear.

Gear
Salomon XT Bandana 
Salomon Tee
Salomon MD WT Long Sleeve Crew Neck W
Salomon Bonatti WP Jacket W
Salomon Active Glove U
Salomon Endurance 3/4 Tight W 
Salomon EXO S-LAB Socks
Salomon S-LAB XT6 Soft Ground
Salomon S-LAB ADV Skin Hydro 12 Set
Salomon Soft Flask 500ml




Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon 2014

When I last visited Adelaide 12 years ago I left with fond memories of fun times and friendly people along with a desire to return to experience it again. I'd been following the growth of  Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon, a 56km trail run meandering through the Adelaide Hills, from a distance with a longing to one day be part of the event as an excuse to return to Adelaide. Subsequently, when the Yurrebilla race committee asked me to be the event's 2014 race ambassador I was ecstatic.
Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon course profile.
Following my run at Western States back in June I took it pretty easy with my recovery in an attempt to avoid injury. My running had been pretty easy going, just enjoying the trails with friends.

A month out from Yurrebilla race day I was fortunate enough to visit Adelaide for a long weekend of all things Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon. I was billeted out to Emma Barlow and her lovely family. There were a few social meals. There were private group runs. There were open group runs. There was even a girls' run with Adelaide's very own Chicks Who Run, whom were nice enough to teach me some of the finer points of koala spotting, something that I thought was very novel but I'm sure they all thought was an everyday experience. They managed find 10 koalas for me in our short run.
Chicks Who Run training run. Yurrebilla Facebook.

I departed the Yurrebilla training weekend with a feeling of excitement for the event ahead and a resolve to up my training. It's always good to be part of an event, such as Yurrebilla, that has an atmosphere which extends beyond the event day. It sustains the motivation to train and stay focused on the goals ahead.
Being initiated into Chicks Who Run. Chicks Who Run Facebook.
For race weekend I ditched Brian (who was building our new house) for my mum, Joan. Mum has proven herself to be a good travel partner and support crew/spectator. We flew down to Adelaide on the Thursday before race day which allowed use time to participate in the pre-race activities with plenty of time to also play tourist in Adelaide. Coincidentally, Mum and I were joined on our flight with Andy Lee who was also flying to Adelaide for Yurrebilla. Our meeting worked well as we were able to organise a course familiarisation session the following day together.
Course recce with Andrew Lee (calf whisperer) and Howard Norton.
The race start for Yurrebilla is one of self seeding. There are four start waves, all staggered with the intent of having the bulk of runners finishing together, sort of. The slow runners head off first with the faster runners heading off last. It is a similar format to my local running club's (Berowra Bush Runners) 10km road handicap. Having someone faster come from behind helps lift me while running, if only for a short while. It also makes for some very social running and minimises those lonely times in ultra running.

Mum and I stayed pretty close to the start line at Belair. I didn't quit know how close until I was leaving to go to the start line and noticed the first wave of runners running through the trails just a short distance away from our accommodation. Our accommodation was near the 10km mark of the race and I still had over an hour and a half before my wave started, so all the runners I saw all had a good head start on me.

Having gone over the entire course the month prior to the race I was confident on how I would run the course come race day. For courses I haven't been over before I find it difficult to know when to push the pace and when I should back off. This run however I was able to run it with confidence and didn't get concerned if I was being over taken or falling behind. I got into a good rhythm chatting with people around me and just enjoyed the day.


Lucy Bartholomew, Connie Richards, me, Tymeka Warburton. Yurrebilla Facebook.
I arrived at the start a good hour before hand and chatted with some locals and caught up with friends. I watched the B start group (8am) leave, then it wasn't long until my A group left. A quick count down from 10 and we were off to chase B, C and D groups. 
Group A start. Yurrebilla Facebook.

I started off at a nice pace and ran with Lucy Bartholomew for a while. I noticed she wasn't her normal happy self and thought she might have been struggling. Later I found out that she had been quite ill during the run but she showed her strength of character and still manged to finish strong. The first 10km flew by quite quick as it was mostly down hill and went past my accommodation (caravan park). The course climbed a big hill which revealed glorious views over Adelaide which marked the second check point, where I was met by my support crew (mum). I came into that check point equal first with Charmaine Symons. Leaving that check point the trail turned into a lovely green open paddock then single trail with more views overlooking Adelaide. Cleland was the next major check point that followed, where I ran in with Campbell Collins-McBride (son of Barry McBride, Yurrebilla race director). Campbell and I stayed together for quite awhile. It was Campbell's first ultra and he seemed to be pacing himself well. No wonder where he gets his ability from.
Cruising one of the short road sections with Dej Jamieson. Yurrebilla Facebook.


Was great to run with so many people during the race, especially those who I had met the month prior. One such runner was Dej Jamieson who kept see-sawing with me for quite a while. It was also a pleasure to see many of the women form Chicks Who Run throughout the event, both those running and supporting. Their encouragement and kind words were all very motivating. 
Nom nom nom. Yurrebilla Facebook.

The next major check point where I met mum was Norton Sumit, at about the 36km mark. It was good to meet mum again with all my gear, but I still took time to test out most of the food on the check point table. The event volunteers did an amazing job, not just at this checkpoint but all checkpoints, making sure there was plenty of variety with the food the locals often joked that it is the only ultra where runners can put on weight. One last quick drink and I was off to face the last 20km of the course which consisted of open fire trail and long stretches of single trail with more spectacular views of Adelaide.
So happy to see mum at the next check point. If only she had made it in time. Yurrebilla Facebook.
This next leg had a section called Black Hill, which is the biggest and toughest climb of the course. When I got to the base of Black Hill there was a marshal who asked if I wanted to be timed on the ascent. As one who loves a race within a race, I said, "yes of cause, how fun would that be." As it turned out the climb was not as fun as I thought it was going to be. It was a tough climb and the sun was hot on my skin after 50km but I tried to run as much as I could. When I reached the top there was another marshal who was also recording times. I continued on along the trail thinking 'yeah I'm up the top so just down hill now'. I had forgot this section of trail, as it did not go down at all, but it seemed to still be climbing. I ran along the top of the ridge for quite some time, thinking that the end was near, until finally the down hill single trail appeared, then I new I was nearly home.

Nearing the end I did manage to spot a koala beside the trail, however it wasn't too difficult as I'm pretty sure rigor mortis had already set in, or it could have been in a really deep sleep having just fallen from a branch, but I'm pretty sure it was the first. Poor little fellow.
Just before finishing. Yurrebilla Facebook.

Crossing the finish line in 5:53 wasn't a fast time, but I wasn't really looking at a particular finish time, nor splits (the warm windy weather would have made any goal time difficult to attain). During the event I ran in the moment when by myself and with company. It was a good day to share and enjoy the trails. The event to me  didn't feel like a race just a run with friends.
Always happy to finish. Yurrebilla Facebook.

From all accounts it looked like Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon was a huge success. It's growth in participants is testament to it's previous years successes. The course is interesting enough not to intimidate newbies, but has enough variations in terrain and elevation to test seasoned ultra runners. The atmosphere surrounding the event is infectious and positive. Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon is not an event for the bucket list, it's an event worth coming back for.
Yurrebilla Race Ambassador's Plate with No. 1 and No. 2 training partners.

Gear
Yurrebilla 2014 T-shirt
Salomon S-LAB Exo Twinskin Skort
Salomon X-Scream
Salomon Pack 1L (I'll let you know what it's called when I know)
Salomon Soft Flasks 500ml
Service station sunnies (yes, I'm getting lots of use out of them)
Some take home Yurrebilla ceramic artwork by Jen Greeneklee.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Western States Endurance Run 2014

When training for long ultras you usually never train covering the full race distance in one session. Usually you try to match the race distance with multiple runs throughout a training week that equal the race distance or greater. When you are unable to run much more than half the race distance in a training week it can lead to some interesting experiences come race day, especially in a 100 mile trail run such as Western States Endurance Run. You cannot just turn up and run with the expectation of finishing, although that is how I felt going into this years event.
Brendan Davies and I at the shrine to endurance sports at downtown Auburn.
After completing my first run at Western States back in 2011 it was a dream to be able to go back and do it all again. Every subsequent year I'd register my name in the lottery and wait with baited breath for my name to be called out again. At the conclusion of this year's lottery draw my name still wasn't called and I resigned myself to it being another unsuccessful attempt. I was very surprised however when several months later I was given one of the six available spots through the Ultra Trail World Tour. My mid-year race plans were sorted, at least I thought they were.

Following Tarawera in March I started to develop a few niggles in my leg. I couldn't run it out and it just kept getting worse. My mileage slowly dropped and still my leg didn't get better. As a result I had to withdraw from the inaugural Buffalo Stampede ultra in April. I continued to drop my mileage to almost nothing and I started to notice a decrease in discomfort while resting (watching TV). After a few weeks I started doing some short runs of less than 10km's, but I could still feel that something was not right. I did a 50km run two weeks out from The North Face 100 Australia and at the conclusion of that run I knew I wouldn't be running that event either.


In order to get some training in I joined a gym and started road cycling a little. At least I was doing some cardio while not aggravating my troublesome leg. I tried to stay positive through these critical months, where I should have be averaging 140km of running per week, by remembering that the build up to my last Western States experience was equally as poor. Four weeks out from Western States I finally decided to get an MRI which confirmed a calcaneal stress fracture (stress fracture of the heel), although the discomfort was more up the leg than at the heel itself. At this point I felt even worse for knowing.
Western States Endurance Run Monument at Squaw Valley, with Brendan Davies.

Two weeks out from race day I flew over to San Francisco with Brian and mum (Joan Rowland), although this journey was not without its own problems in that our direct flight was cancelled and we instead had a three leg flight starting the following day. Arriving over a day late in San Francisco we met up with Brendan and Nadine Davies and started our journey to Auburn. Brendan is another Aussie who also gained entry into Western States through the Ultra Trail World Tour. Our plan was to spend one week in Auburn doing recce runs on the lower parts of the course to acclimatise to the heat (40C/100F) before relocating to Tahoe City to acclimatise to the altitude (+2000m/+6000ft), both of which I felt contributed to my troubles last time.
Brian setting the pace for our recce run at Deadwood Cemetery.
Every day in Auburn I did a run with Brendan on different parts of the course. He was pretty considerate and kept to a moderate pace, however I still felt as though I was being pushed and I definitely started to notice my lack of fitness. On a few occasions Brian joined us for a run and it was good to go at a much slower pace. During these runs however I could still feel my leg. It wasn't hugely troublesome, but I just tried to ignore it and enjoy the beautiful surrounds.
One of the peaks we climbed at Squaw Valley.
After Auburn we all relocated to Tahoe City which was a good 'taper' week. Most days Brendan and I made a trip to +2600m where we would just hang out for an hour or so enjoying the view. Each day I made the climb I could feel it getting less taxing on my body and my breathing. 
I didn't show any pre race nerves.
When race day came around Brian reminded me that at least I had the opportunity to start and what happens happens, but at least I was able to start. At the obligatory 'bang' from the starter's shotgun we were off and I was able to run most of the way up. I noticed no one around was running just walking fast and the lead guys ahead were walking as well. So I decided to walk like everyone else so I didn't look out of place and reminded myself it's 100mile not a race to the top of the hill, as the first 3.5 miles (5.6km) is predominantly uphill, climbing almost 800m. I ran/walked part of this section with fellow Aussie David Eadie. As we climbed together we admired the dawning day over Squaw Valley. It looked beautiful.
The three token Aussies: David Eadie, Brendan Davies and me (L-R).
After reaching the highest part of the course, the Escarpment aid station, the track turns into single trail and was enjoyable to run on. I was running in a congo line with some of the top women which was awesome to be running near them until I fell over in front of them all. I was so embarrassed and let them all pass and slotted in behind them and did what they did. Clearly they knew better then I. 


Lyons Ridge was the next aid station at mile 10.5 (16.9km). I gabbed some food, topped up my soft flasks and was on my way. Our congo line had disappeared and I found myself running alone. I was feeling good and was enjoying the views of the valleys beyond. At this stage I certainly felt that I was running within my abilities.

Early on. Ultra Sports live TV_Nate Dunn.
Nikki Kimball passed me at the next aid station Red Star Ridge at mile 16 (25.7km). I kept sight of her all the way to Robinson Flat, after which she was out of sight for good. My first crewed aid station was Robinson Flat at 29.7 miles (47.8km) where I was met by mum and Brian. They were full of support for me and reassured me that I was well within the top 10 females. In my mind I was perfectly placed with Nikki Kimball and Meghan Arboghast, both two very seasoned to 10 female Western States finishers, around me. Shortly after Robinson Flat I was caught by Denise Bourassa whom I ran with more or less until Dusty Corners at mile 38 (61.2km).
Robinson Flat. Nick Cifuentes_FB
After Dusty Corners the temperature started to rise as we descended towards the canyons. The river crossing under the burnt out Swinging Bridge was a pleasant relief before the steep climb up to Devil's Thumb at mile 47.8 (76.9km). I overtook a few people on the climb and everyone I pass looked pretty stuffed from the heat. At every opportunity I was looking to splash water over myself. I was running with my bandana which I would dip in creeks and at aid stations into their buckets of water to keep myself cool between other opportunities. After Devil's Thumb we ran past Deadwood Cemetery before we went back down into another canyon, El Dorado Creek, which was a long downhill stretch that seemed to go on forever, before an equally long climb back out which was hard work. A video of the decent can be found on Brendan Davies' blog here.
The climb up to Devil's Thumb. The burnt trees are from last year's fire.
At Michigan Bluff, mile 55.7 (89.6km), I was again met by my crew. While being serviced a guy casually walked by, excising himself, as he was relocating a docile looking rattle snake who had decided to check out all the commotion in town.


As I emerged at Bath Road I was joined by Adam Chase, from Salomon USA, my pacer for the next 40 odd kilometers, my motivation and my distraction. Together we climbed to the top of the hill where we were joined by Brian, then together we ran into the Forrest Hill checkpoint. Although I was feeling exhausted by this point, having run 62 miles (99.8km), I was feeling pretty good. I had passed the hottest part of the day without too much trouble. My leg wasn't hurting as it had in the months prior. I was 9th female. All was looking reasonably good.
The climb up to Bath Road was very runnable during our recce runs.

Between Forrest Hill and Rucky Chucky crossing at mile 78 (125.5km) it all fell apart. Both my knees started to hurt. On the inclines my energy levels started to drop and I was reduced to a slow walk. I sat down a while at Peachstone aid station, mile 70.7 (113.8km) and forced down some broth, at which time Meghan Arboghast passed me looking all too strong. I had just lost another spot. Even with Adam's enthusiasm, of which he has a bottomless pit to draw from, I was struggling. 



My crew met me at Rucky Chucky Near. Brian could tell something was wrong and scavenged a seat for me to use. I let him know how I was feeling and his reply was "do you want to pull out", an option which he has never given me before. As he explained later, it wasn't going to be an option, just a lead in to a motivational talk. I didn't really need it though. As much as I wanted to stay in that chair, give up, walk away, rest, chuck up, eaten by a bear, none of these were really an option. Another run at Western States was something I had wanted to do every year since 2011. I was also using the state that I was in as a form of transcendence. I knew deep down that there was nothing actually stopping me from getting to the finish line. It may be a slow and uncomfortable process, but I would get there. I would remember this moment in time to help me get though equally uncomfortable race situations in the future, and hopefully be better for the experience. 
Rucky Chucky river crossing. I'm following Adam Chase across.
I crossed the river without drowning. It was shoulder deep on me and extremely cold against my hot body. On the other side I was freezing, but that would shortly change with the next climb. My pacer for the next 15 miles, until Highway 49, was Kristina Owen, from Salomon USA.  She had waited hours for me at the Rucky Chucky Far aid station, but I was very grateful she had. Kristina's personality was a complete contrast to Adam's. On the climb up to Green Gate, mile 79.8 (128.4km) we power hiked but I was feeling pretty low. David Eadie passed me on the climb. I had not seen him since our climb to the Escarpment, something that seemed an eternity ago. It was great to see David and his pacer Nikki Wynd. David walked with me for a short while waiting for Nikki to catch him and gave me some encouragement. It made me feel a bit better and soon after Kristina got me back into a slow jog again. The sun had gone down and we were now in darkness. 

At Brown's Bar aid station, at mile 89.9 (144.7km), the medics taped up my knees in the hope that it would ease the pain. It didn't however and I was over taken by another female and therefore bumped out of the coveted female top 10.
We spent a lot of time posing for photos during our recce runs. This one at Highway 49.
At Highway 49, mile 93.5 (150.5km) I was met by my crew. As planned I exchanged Kristina for Adam who would rejoin me for the final stretch to the finish. It was slow going, but together we kept moving. My motivation this late in the run was to get to the finish without being caught by too many people. 

I was met at Robie Point by Brian who joined Adam and I for the run to the finish. This leg is entirely on road and is marked by red 'WS100' footprints painted on the pavement, leading tired and exhausted runners to the finish. It marked a significant moment as Brian and I helped to paint some of them the week prior. I didn't quite realise how slow my running was until I started running on the flat and Brian was still able to keep up while walking. As I approached a downhill I thought I'd show him, but he was still able to keep pace, so I resigned myself to a power walk. At least Adam humored me by pretending to run beside me. 

One of the WS100 footprints I helped to paint.
At the end of raced I don't usually get emotional, but it was quite an emotional feeling to cross the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn. For months leading up to the event I was wondering if I would even get to the start line. During the last third of the run I had to battle every emotion that told me to quit. At the end of 100 miles (161km) I was just relieved that I had put all my doubts aside to complete a dream. In the end 21hrs, 55min and 11th female didn't reflect what I would have liked to have achieved, but its an achievement that I can still be proud of. Essentially I still live in the pursuit of the perfect ultra race.
I finally got there.
I'd like to say a big thank you to Salomon Australia for all your support, as well as Salomon USA who helped me at the last moment with gear. Another big thank you to Adam Chase and Kristina Owen for sacrificing their own time to pace me and keeping me moving towards my goal. It was also great to hang out with Brendan and Nadine prior to the run. Brendan was a great source of encouragement and helped to give me confidence in the lead up when it was greatly lacking. A big congratulations to Brendan for his superb run where he finished 8th overall in a time of 15:56:49. Also congratulations to David Eadie for finishing in 20:29:14 and getting his third Western States buckle. And of course, thanks to Brian and mum for structuring their Californian holiday around my running. 

Race Kit
Salomon XT Bandana
Salomon Light Tank W
Salomon Sky Tee W
Salomon S-LAB Exo Twinskin Skort
Salomon S-LAB Sense 3 Ultra SG
Salomon S-LAB Advanced Skin S Belt Set
Salomon Soft Flasks
Service station sunnies

Training
Suunto Ambit 2S
We even took selfies. This one above Squaw Valley with Lake Tahoe beyond. He was so chuffed to hang out with me.