Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2014



My first international race for the year was the New Zealand 100km Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM), at least it was supposed to be 100km. I had travelled over to Rotorua last year (2013 race report) and raced on the altered ‘fire course’. This year I was excited to hopefully race on the proper course in its entirety. Also with TUM being part of the Ultra Trail World Tour the depth of competition would be deeper and hopefully a good opportunity to race against some different girls.

My training for the TUM hadn’t been very specific. Usually I set aside at least one day a week to do a long run which replicates the course I’m going to be racing. For TUM it should have been long runnable hills covering between 60-70kms. Instead I’ve been a little more focused on time based training (6-7hrs) with lots of steep vertical climbing. I decided to make this choice with my training as I’ve got another event (ultra skyrace) only a few weeks later that is very different to TUM. So my focus was to train specifically for one or the other, but not both.
The trail at the start of the fun run.

The aura surrounding this year’s TUM had been just as good as last years with respect to the athlete information and enthusiasm from Paul Charteris and his team. The energy that exudes from the TUM Team is infectious and you cannot help but get caught up in it all.

I arrived at Auckland international airport with Brian on the Thursday before the race, and together we picked up our rental car and then proceeded to Rotorua, with just enough time to check-in at the Holiday Inn and get dressed for the afternoon fun run. We boarded one of the many buses with other excited runners for the short drive around to the drop-off point. Our bus was a-buzz with chatter which was not too dissimilar to a primary school excursion. The fun run was really well attended and the trails it traversed on the south side of Rotorua were superb. I fell into a gentle pace and found myself running near Meghan Arbogast. I introduced myself and we had a good chat for a few kilometres. Last year’s fun run I chatted to Timmy Olson, this year Meghan. These TUM fun runs are the best, truly. The fun run finished at the spectacular Te Puia. A few of us were herded to the side then taken onto the geyser plateau for a photo shoot. I hadn’t done a ‘running’ photo shoot before and it was fun following the conga line of runners being lead around in a figure of eight by Anna Frost. At the conclusion of the photo shoot I had a short pre-raceinterview with Bryon Powell of irunfar.com. After viewing a lot of Bryon’s interviews it is kind of funny being in one of them. And no, I haven’t watched it yet.

Running photo shoot. irunfar.com
The Friday morning before the race Brian and I met up with Nick Smith (fellow Berowra Bushrunner) and his wife Andrea, for a recce drive over the course and its checkpoints. Nick and Andrea hadn’t been on the course before, and Brian and I hadn’t seen the back part of the course as last year it was removed entirely from the race due to extreme fire danger. The recce was time well spent and helped to refresh my mind on what was coming up and which checkpoints are worth refuelling at. 


Recce drive: (L-R) Nick Smith, me, Brian
We returned from the recce drive with enough time to attend the Athlete Q&A before the race briefing and check-in. A few days earlier Paul Charteris had made the decision that all runners would need to carry a waterproof jacket. For some the jump from no mandatory gear, as per the standard race rules, to the requirement to carry a waterproof jacket was too much which lead to some very entertaining reading on Facebook. The decision was made as a result of tropical cyclone ‘Lusi” which was slowly bearing down on the New Zealand North Island and was expected to hit the TUM course on race day. 

On my way to dinner I passed the race registration area and there was a lot of noise and chatter coming from the room. I stuck my head in to discover that there had been an announcement and that the course was to be rerouted and the distances originally on offer (60km, 85km and 100km) would now be altered to a ‘short course’ of approximately 59km or ‘long course’ of approximately 72km. There was a lot of speculation and pointing to maps which led to some interesting dinner conversation. Ultimately everyone was in the same boat and we would have to see what the following morning’s race and weather would bring.

Following my usual restless prerace sleep I got up, got ready then Brian and I met up with Brendan Davies for the short drive to the start line. Emerging from the Holiday Inn in the early morning darkness I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was only some light cloud cover and that everything looked remarkably dry. Perhaps the weather forecast was wrong, it is after all the only profession where you can be consistently wrong and still get to keep your job. On the drive to the start line rain drops on the car windscreen signalled the change in weather conditions. We arrived just in time to do a quick prerace warm-up to loosen the muscles and settle the nerves, and then it was time to manoeuvre ourselves near the front of the pack. After the prerace formalities had concluded I turned on my head torch then joined in with the countdown, then we were off and running.
I'm in there somewhere.

The pace was solid as we ran up the gentle incline of the fire trail through the redwoods. The higher we climbed the more the trail became exposed and we were rewarded with a glorious predawn view of Rotorua’s twinkling lights. As we rounded the hill and dropped back down to the Water Tank we were greeted with a small cheer squad. Brian was there and as I dropped off my head torch he let me know that I was 4th girl. We headed a little further along the trail before we hit a junction where the first of the event’s course changes occurred. At this junction the short course runners were allowed to continue along the proper route and the long course runners were redirected to do a big loop back to the start line. I joined the long course runners and once again had no idea where I sat in the field. I kept my pace up as high as I felt was sustainable for the expected 7-8hrs of racing. It was a bit demoralising having raced for an hour or so only to find yourself back at the start line to do the first climb of the day for the second time in short succession. It was as though our efforts were being judged and I had failed, so had to attempt the first climb again.
Through the start line again. irunfar.com
So for the second time I was determined to run to the top better than I had done the first time. My effort must have been deemed acceptable so next time round at the junction I was allowed to go on to Lake Tikitapu and the checkpoint beyond. It was along this session I turned my head to find that Katherine Macmillan was now beside me. “Wow”, I thought, she looked so strong and glided past me on the uphill.  I Kept her in sight and caught up to her again soon after, it was then when we both saw Shona Stephenson ahead so of course I had to catch up with her. I left Katherine and had a brief chat with Shona before pulling away a little then found my own rhythm. Now I could start chasing the short course runners on the proper course. At least I knew this section from last year. Every runner I caught I used it as a mental sling shot to shoot past them to the next runner ahead.  
Katherine Macmillan and me.
By the time I got to the Lake Okataina checkpoint the weather had set in well and truly. It was raining almost constantly and the strong winds were driving in every direction but upwards. There was no hiding from the weather so I ran on, like most people, with wet clothing. At the checkpoint Brian was there to help me refuel and then I was off onto the short road section up to the Millar Road aid station and turnoff into the forest. This next leg was pretty long (14km’s) and contains the biggest climbs of the course. It was along this leg that I was passed by the charging Claire Walton (2nd). It was still too early on to charge after her, so I focused on maintaining my own pace. The early part of this leg everyone was still heading in the same direction. By the time I got to the highest point on the course the first relay runner came charging towards me. Most of the way down the other side Sage Canaday (eventual race winner) came running up the hill. Shortly after Sage passed the flood gate of runners/walkers started to open and there was an almost constant flow of faces heading towards me.
Almost at Okataina Lodge checkpoint.
I arrived at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint and was again greeted by Brian. He handed me a small soft flask and told me there was a short 2km out, 2km back section to do before I returned to the checkpoint. So I quickly left him and proceeded out along the course. About halfway along I passed Jo Johansen (eventual female winner) on her return journey. Along this section I was passed by Ruby Muir and had an “oh crap” moment until I remembered that she was doing the relay. Soon afterwards I spotted Meghan Arbogast, Katherine Macmillan and Shona Stephenson all pretty close to each other. They all looked very strong and I knew if I slacked off or struggled in any way then they would catch me so I made every effort to stay focused.
Did I mention how wet it was?

Back at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint Brian gave me the rest of my food and drink then it was onto the last leg of the run, back up and over the big hill. I charged up the hill as best I could passing more and more friends, exchanging pleasantries as we passed. On the later part of this leg I was passed by a strong finishing Dawn Tuffery (3rd). Unfortunately I was lacking the speed to stay with her.

I did not wipe my nose with the flag. I promise. irunfar.com
In the end I completed the revised course in 7:18:54 for 4th place. I’m not exactly shore what distance it was in the end, possibly anywhere between 72-74km’s with 2600m of ascent, depending on whose watch data you chose to believe. I was happy to have maintained what I thought was a fairly constant pace, or at least effort. I felt comfortable running in the wet windy conditions, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I could feel the chill start to set in. The revised course was probably better suited to me as it had more ascent and decent than the intended 100km course does over an equivalent distance.  In a way I was glad that the weather conditions had deteriorated throughout the day as it meant Paul Charteris had made the right decisions regarding the waterproof jacket and revising the course route. So ultimately I am still to race the proper TUM course, but on the flip side Paul now has an alternate route for a ‘fire course’ and ‘cyclone course’. Oh well, there is always next time. 

Womens Podium (L-R): Paul (RD), Jo (1st), Dawn (3rd), me (4th), Meghan (5th). irunfar.com
Race Kit
Salomon ADV SKIN S-LAB HYDRO 5 SET with Soft Flasks
Salomon XT6 Soft Ground
Salomon Ultra Trail Tee
Salomon EXO S-LAB Socks
Salomon Skort
Salomon Bonatti Waterproof Jacket
iPod Shuffle
Ay-up Head Torch HT13 (cherry red)
Hairband

Nutrition
Tailwind Nutrition x 3L
Agisko Gel x 2
Clif Shot blocks x 1
Salt and vinegar chips, crinkle cut x 4

Recovery
Hot bath
Salomon Long Sleeve Compression Top
Salomon Compression Socks
Salomon Compression Tights
2 hour nap

My boxing kangaroos. irunfar.com

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Bogong to Hotham 2014 Race Report


Well, about bloody time. Its been a three year wait for this historic (28th running) and iconic Australian ultra-trail race known as Bogong to Hotham The Rooftop Run to be run again. The wait hasn’t been due to injury, nor missing out on an entry due to a faulty internet connection, or poor statistical odds in a lottery. The wait has been because Mother Nature has been fickle in her choice of weather for the event. In 2012, after the race was called short at Langford Gap (35km) due to adverse weather, including gale force winds, hail and freezing temperatures, I was really looking forward to returning the following year for another attempt. Unfortunately in 2013 we didn’t even get to start as the extreme heat experienced in the region (+40°C in the valleys) the race was once again cancelled. So in 2014 I think it is fair to say that we were all holding our breath and hoping for kinder conditions.
Bogong to Hotham course profile.
I had a pretty quiet end to 2013. There were no big races for me. I was just enjoying running the trails around Berowra and the Blue Mountains with friends. Most of my lead-in training runs for Bogong to Hotham focused on runnable hills, non-runnable hills, steep hills, technical hills, big hills and also small hills. I’d go up these hills. I’d go down these hills. When the summer sun was at its peak I’d go out and do some of these hills in no particular order. I’ve done Bogong to Hotham in a hot year and a cold wet year, so I know the importance of training in all types of conditions.

In the days prior to the event I travelled down to Bright/Mount Beauty, VIC, with Mum and Dad for a holiday and to relax prior to my first race of 2014. Brian and fellow Berowra Bushrunner/recent training partner, Andrew Layson, along with Gill Fowler and Marc Person also joined us. As more runners started to appear in Mount Beauty and the summer weather continued to be benign, all signs were looking good. Following check-in, Andy Hewat (RD) confirmed at race briefing that the race would go ahead. Yay!! So I retired with the others to what has become a traditional pre-race barbeque dinner of freshly caught trout (sometimes salmon) from the Salmon and Trout Farm at Harrietville.
Mountain Creek (start line) with (L-R); Andrew Layson, Marc Person, myself and Gill Fowler.
The start line formalities for this event are very straight forward. Arrive 5 minutes before roll call for a quick toilet break. Announce your presence at roll call. Walk forward to the start line. 10 second call. 5 second call. 4. 3. 2. 1. GO! As the race starts on a gentle uphill incline it is a pretty slow start. Everyone wants to arrive at the bottom of The Staircase spur (+1300m ascent over 5.5km approx.), 2.5km further up the trail, still feeling fresh for the ascent which will take most people in the vicinity of 60min. Gill Fowler and I ran together from the start and settled into our own pace and allowed the guys who sprinted ahead to burn off some nerves. Gill and I had done a few training runs together in recent times. She is a very smart and calculated runner whose pace remains strong throughout trail ultras. I knew that if I faltered at any time she would be the first girl to pass me, assuming I’d be in the lead at the time. At the base of The Staircase Gill let me lead the climb, then we ascended to the top passing a fair number of boys along the way.

At the top of The Staircase is Mt Bogong at 1986m elevation (highest point in VIC). On a clear day such as this one it is always a pleasure to reach the top with it's panoramic views. The time to enjoy it is limited however as following a quick, “Hi” and “Good-bye” to the volunteers it is onwards and downwards to T-Spur. On the decent to Big River I tripped and planted my head in some nice soft bushes. It was nice to have a quick lie down. At Big River the cool mountain stream water was flowing strongly and I washed off some of the dirt from my face. Feeling refreshed I scrambled up the far bank and started running the first few switchbacks at the start of the climb.
Coming into Roper Hut. Jen Filbi, Facebook.
As I made the 700m ascent from Big River to Roper Hut, in the warm morning sun, I was thinking how unfortunate it is that the most refreshing part of the run is at the bottom of the hill, furthest away from where you really want it. I arrived at Roper Hut with Michael Keyte who had been with me shortly after my close encounter with the alpine flora. Michael and I just met up with Jono O’Loughlin who was having a casual pit stop at the Roper Hut checkpoint. Jono left first and Michael and I picked up the pace along the High Plains fire trail to catch up to him. Tactically for me it was a bad move as the two of them slowly pulled away as they clearly enjoyed the open running more than I did. As I didn’t have the speed to stick with them I plodded along at my own pace, enjoying the alpine views that the clear weather afforded.

Approaching Langford Gap I saw a group of three people ahead walking the same direction as I was along the aqueduct trail. I first noticed Jo Brischetto, then Mum and Brian. I kind of felt sorry for Brian as we were still about a kilometre from the checkpoint and he would have to run ahead to get ready for me. I called out to them, then watched Brian high tail it to keep in front of me. Arriving at the Langford Gap checkpoint Brian had everything laid out for me. We exchanged soft flasks. I emptied my pockets of rubbish and half eaten food, he filled them with new food. Brian let me know that I was under my race record splits, which motivated me to stay focused on the second half of the course. A quick drink and lathering of sunscreen then I was off again to chase Jono, who was just disappearing out of sight along the track as I was entering the checkpoint. I left the checkpoint with the goal to catch Jono before the finish.
Coming into Langford Gap checkpoint. Courtesy Andrew Hingeley.
On the approach to Cope Hut and the Omeo Road checkpoint I meet Andrew Lee. Andrew was struggling with cramps. We left the checkpoint together and we shared each other’s company up until Pole 333. I have done a few training runs with Andrew in the past, which usually consists of a chat for the first handful of kilometres before he strides out and disappears into the distance. It was a pleasure to run with him for a bit longer than usual this time round.

Along this next section of ‘high plain’ running to Pole 333 I ran in hope of once again seeing brumbies on the horizon, as I did on my first run in 2010. Unfortunately I wasn’t that lucky, but as a consolation I was caught and passed by Dave Coombs. Dave was like the Phantom, who appeared as quickly as he disappeared. I pursued Dave out along the last of the high plains before descending down to Dibbin Hut. After Dibbin Hut it is a short ascent of only 350m or so onto Swindlers Spur, but the climb in the heat of the day with 50km or so in the legs can be truly testing. On the climb I finally caught up to Jono, again. He was in a bad way. I suggested he use me to pace him to the top, but he was struggling and couldn’t stick with me. I’m sure that this will be the only time he lets me in front of him. There was no way that I was going to slack off in this last part as I was confident that Gill would be powering through this back half of the course.
Running up Great Alpine Road from Mount Loch Car Park. Courtesy Jim Rowland.
I passed the Mount Loch dam knowing that there was just one more climb was ahead. As I got closer to the summit of Mt Hotham I could see Dad ahead in the carpark with his camera. He cheered me on while taking photos as I passed. Near the top of the climb I was met by Brian who joined me for the last 200m to the summit cairn. I touched the stone cairn in 8:09:47 for a new female course record and 7th overall. Close behind me was Jono and not surprisingly Gill in 8:19:32.
Gill and I at Mt Hotham cairn (finish), with Mum hiding behind me.
The overall race winner was Stu Gibson who finished in the trail ultra equivalent of ‘blink and you will miss him’ time of 6:44:42. Interestingly the last time the complete race was run in 2011 both Stu and I took out the honours. That year it was a cold and overcast day, and I’m glad to say that given the heat we endured in this year’s run we both managed PB’s.

There isn’t enough praise that can be given to the Race Director Andy Hewat, Assistant Race Director Brett Saxon and all the volunteers who have persevered with the changeable weather conditions in the region over the previous two years. It is one thing to cancel one event at the latest possible notice due to extreme weather, it is something else to come back from a consecutive cancellation. I’m pretty confident that all those runners who lined up at the start line of this year’s Bogong to Hotham are very grateful for the race organisers' continued efforts. I think however after a successful event this year all can be forgiven (maybe?).



Gear for the Race:
Salomon Trail T-shirt ¼ zipper
Salomon Bonatti Waterproof Jacket
Salomon Long Sleeve Thermal Base Layer
Salomon Soft Flasks 500ml
Salomon Advanced S-LAB Hydro 5 Set with Space Blanket
Salomon S-LAB XT 6 Soft Ground Trail Shoes
Skort
Visor
Service Station Sunglasses


video 
Start line video.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Eureka Tower Climb 2013


Eureka Tower
Sitting atop of a mountain above Canazei, Italy, having just finished my first Vertical Kilometre (VK) event, my newly made Aussie friend James Stewart and I were discussing races he had done. Having recently been initiated into the world of steep ascents James jokingly suggested that I should do the Eureka Tower Climb (88 floors, 1642 steps) in Melbourne, which he had done the previous year. He suggested that I submit an application form for an elite entry which would guarantee me a little more space in the start waves. Now that he had seeded the thought in my mind I put it aside until the entry dates opened a little later in the year.

Filling out the elite entry form was a little peculiar. Amongst your name and contact details were questions such as:
Times for your most recent runs: 1500m - I have never raced anything so short before, 3000m - still too short, plus I know 13 year olds that can run faster than me over that distance.
Have you completed a stair climb event before? No.
So I didn't have anything to write on the forms for those questions, but whatever I wrote was good enough and I got the start I applied for. I found out on the morning of the event that the elite start was so elite that only 3 other girls and 9 guys had secured one.

So with my entry sorted it was time to start some sort of specialised stair training. Where I live and work there is a serious lack of stairs; plenty of hills but no stairs. To start there is the gutter outside my house which got a serious work out under my training regime. So much of a workout that I’m sure I started to wear a groove into it. The next closest stair is behind my local primary school which has 65 steps in total spread over 7 flights. Not much to train on, but better than nothing. For some speed work I had been doing a weekly interval session and some cycling.
Why are there bees on the building?
For me most event weekends involve travelling to the event for gear check/rego, then the event, then recovery, followed by presentation then the trip back home. This event weekend came around pretty quickly and was unlike any event weekend I have been to before. Brian and I flew down to Melbourne the day before the event and enjoyed the sights, sounds and tastes of the city. The next morning we turned up just before the wave start to pick-up the bib number, have a 30 second brief, queue briefly for the start, climb, rest, wait for Brian, then go back to the hotel for a late breakfast, before departing for home. It was all very civilised really.
A brief briefing.
Standing at the start area was a little daunting. Not an unusual feeling for me, but this was for  different reasons. To start with I didn't know anybody (clearly no one from the ultra trail running scene was there that I recognised). Around me were a lot of very fit and strong looking people. Ahead of me was an open door with a dark room beyond. Never have I started a race running through a doorway! Above me was the large glass fa├žade of the Eureka Tower, which I was about to ascend. Runners in the elite wave we were given 15 seconds clear between each runner. I watched the nine elite males head off, then the two elite females in front. There would be one more elite female starting behind me. I watched those ahead of me sprint off when the red numbers of the race clock ticked over.
Possibly the fastest start I have ever done!
When it came my turn I sprinted off the same as those before me, but it didn’t last very long. Through the doorway I sprinted into what turned out to be a very short dark corridor. My eyes strained to adjust to the darkness and my pace was quickly halted by a red rope directing me to do a very sharp right hand turn into the stairwell. The stairwell was better lit than the corridor and I quickly fell into a rhythm of bounding up two stairs at a time. The stairwell consisted of one continuous flight of 18 steps stairs running between floors repeated 88 times up the full height of the tower. At every floor was a closed red fire escape door with the floor number stencilled on it, which was pretty much the only thing that varied from floor to floor.

It didn’t take long before Brooke Logan (the elite female who started behind me and eventual winner with 10:28) to come bounding up behind me at around Level 15. I could hear her getting closer and closer as her breathing was heavy and laboured. My breathing wasn't nearly as laboured and I was left wondering if I was pushing it hard enough? The night before I had been discussing with Brian the best way to race the Eureka Tower. His advice was to go out hard, reach my threshold early, then try to hold it until the end. I do feel that when I exercise I have a subconscious desire not to exert myself. This inhibits my ability to push hard over short distances.  I'd much rather race over longer distances keeping well within my fitness threshold than burn myself out in a shorter period of time. I consider it to be my innate survival instinct.
My stair running technique is almost as good as my snow running technique.
Photo courtesy Eureka Climb Facebook page. 
The event rules are to stick to the right and to overtake on the left. Brooke followed closely behind for a while and I didn’t break my rhythm so she had to sprint to finally get around me. I observed Brooke when she came up beside me and then eased past. She wasn’t sprinting up the stairs, but instead was power walking up them two at a time. Once in front she slowly pulled away and I didn’t see her or any other competitor until the top. The occasional event marshal were good supportive substitutes though.

Taking the stairs two at a time was becoming exhausting. I could feel the lactic acid build up in my legs and they were becoming heavier. I switched to walking the stairs one at a time. This felt too slow so I went back to two at a time but pushing off my knees with my hands, the same way I saw Brooke do it.  This felt more comfortable and I could feel my pace pick up a little. Occasionally I tried using the hand rail for variation, but this felt clumsy and awkward so I reverted back to hand on knees technique.

The floors quickly passed by without much variation. At around the 84th floor I could start hearing voices and cheering from above. It is surprising how poorly sound travelled in the stairwell. I would have thought it would be noisier with so many people in it. Perhaps it was a mixture of other exhausted people being unable to make much noise, and me being unable to hear them over my increasingly deep breathing. Sooner than I expected the stairs stopped and we emerged at the 88 SkyDeck to a cacophony of noise. Again the barricading led us into a series of very tight turns and reversals before coming into a small finish area.  I found a nice spot to settle down and wait for Brian who was starting a little later. I finished with a time of 11:41 and Brian finished in a time of 15:41.
Its a rewarding view from the top.
I learnt a few thing about myself while climbing the tower. Firstly,  although I am competitive, I do struggle to really push myself to exertion in such a short event. Secondly, I really do enjoy the trail running above all else. Thirdly, I enjoy the exhausted feeling that comes from long periods of running.

All up it was a fun event to experience and I’m glad I’ve ticked it off. It was also good to have finished it so early in the morning where I could return to my hotel room well before breakfast ended and check-out. After having a short rest and some food I'll admit that I was tempted to don some running gear and give it another crack in one of the afternoon waves.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Surf Coast Century 2013

Last year I watched with interest the inaugural Surf Coast Century race unfold down in Victoria on my home computer with the occasional update on Facebook and Twitter. I liked the thought of doing an ultra trail (100km) race along the coastline. When the opportunity arose for me to attend this years event I jumped at it. Surf Coast Century would be a bit different to my forte trail events. Yes it is 100km, but it is considerably flatter with just 1800m elevation gain/loss. There are long sections of dead flat running along some gorgeous coastal beaches. It would also be my first time in the Surf Coast region, let alone on the actual Surf Coast Century course.

Brian joined me for the flight from Sydney down to Avalon airport on the Friday before the event. We arrived early enough to pick up a hire car and then drove down to the RACV Torquay Resort to check-in before driving around to some sections of the course. I wouldn't call our stops course reconnaissance as they were short and sporadic, as we kept our eyes open for pink tape and red arrows. I managed to get the gist of what I would be running on the following morning. As the last of the daylight disappeared we made our way to race briefing at the Anglesea YMCA Camp. After a quick and easy registration it was time for an equally quick Q & A session with Rowan Walker (last years winner and overall record holder) and myself. I think it is good that the race organisers are doing these Q & A sessions. It gives me an opportunity to get some last minute pointers on the course and nutrition before the race. I hope people find my answers entertaining because at the end of the day it is all just simply running. The main thing is that you enjoy your running. After briefing it was a quick dinner back at the RACV Resort before an early nights sleep.
Race start. www.supersportimages.com
My goal for Surf Coast Century was simply to finish in around 10 hours. I wasn't sure how I would perform on such a flat course as I suspected my lack of speed would let me down. I doubted that the course would have any features to really challenge runners and that it would be the faster endurance runner who would probably prevail. 
Andy Lee, me and Luke Kohler at the start.
Up at 4:20am Brian and I drove down to the start line at Anglesea Riverbank Park, where we meet up with some fellow New South Welshmen and Women. It's funny traveling so far to do events like this and seeing the same faces as you see at events a lot closer to home. I suppose it is reflective upon the sport and the camaraderie within it. In the dark we all meandered down from the park to the beach where the starting arch had been erected. This particular race has a unique start in that it has to be timed with the ocean tides in order to allow competitors to run along the beach and under ocean cliffs without the threat of being washed out to sea. So with the tide being 'out' we all headed south along the beach in the dark following the lead headlight for a short loop before starting out on Leg 1 in earnest.

The initial pace was solid and with a mix of solo 100km runners mixed with relay teams consisting of runners doing either 25km or 50km legs, it made running interesting. I mainly focused on the solo 100km runners who wore two red bibs, a large one on their front and a small one on their pack at the back. The girls around me at the beginning were Whitney Dagg, Lucy Bartholomew and Shona Stephenson, pretty much the girls who I suspected to be at the front. The long stretches of beach intermingled with sections of rocky outcrops meant that we were all within sight of each other. In a way it was frustrating, like running on a treadmill, as it didn't matter how much effort you put into running the gaps all seemed to remain the same and any change is position was slow and gradual. I found an inner peace on this leg watching the early morning sun rise over the ocean to my left. It wouldn't be the only time that I use my surroundings as a pleasant distraction throughout the day. I did have a good laugh on this leg when my mate Luke Kohler (running relay with Peter Tracey) caught up to me to give a surf report after going for an impromptu swim.
Leg 1. The sand was nice and firm under foot. www.supersportimages.com
Coming into the first major checkpoint at Point Danger, Torquay (21km) I was greeted by a chorus of cheers from the support crews and spectators who were lining the top of the embankment at the edge of the beach waiting for the runners to arrive. Coming into the checkpoint I spotted Brian along with Shane, Belinda, Veronica, Jo and Pete. I was in and out of the checkpoint in about 15sec not wasting any time. Ultra trail running is never going to be a mainstream spectator sport.
Almost at the checkpoint.
Leg 2 had a bit more variation in terrain. After a short section of bicycle path it was back onto a mix of well groomed sandy/clayey/gravely narrow and wide single trail. There were parts of this leg that I imagined I was a mountain bike just cruising along enjoying the bends and gentle undulations. I quickly caught up with Shona and we ran together for a little while. I could see that she was struggling as our usual conversation while running was non existent. A bit further on I stopped for a nature break and got passed by Whitney. Half way along the leg I met up with Brian again at the intermediate checkpoint Ironbark Basin (32km). Brian let me know that I was just 90sec behind Whitney and urged me on. Back in my mountain bike mentality I just enjoyed the easy running on the trails all the way back down to Anglesea Riverbank Park. Not too far from the checkpoint Lucy came up beside me and after a short time running together she edged just slightly ahead before entering the checkpoint.
Easy running on Leg 2. www.supersportimages.com

Another quick service at the second major checkpoint (49km) saw me leave for leg 3 just ahead of Lucy, but it didn't last very long. Lucy looked pretty focused and I'm pretty sure she had eyes for the lead. Less than a kilometer outside the checkpoint we had to cross the Great Ocean Road. Now most road crossings involve the help of traffic controllers with lolly pop signs or the use of an overpass, but to cross from one side of the road to the other required commando skills as we lay down low on our stomachs and crawled under the road bridge. All I could think was how was my larger friends running this race going to cope crawling under the bridge. Lucy drew level with me again and then pulled away slowly, again.
Great Ocean Road bridge, we had to crawl under it.
Brian met me at the 60km mark as we crossed Distillery Creek Road. The race was still really close between us girls with Whitney who was leading still just 90sec ahead. A little further on down the trail I was caught then passed by Sonia Condron. I was starting feel at this point that I had an entire beach worth of sand in my shoes, although that was not the case as my gaiters were doing a terrific job of keeping debris out. I was just feeling slow and flat. If I was going to make the podium it was because one of the girls ahead had given up and none of them were showing any signs of weakness. Even on the only big hill of the course I wasn't able to close the gap on them, although I could sense how close they were.
It was a very runnable course. www.supersportimages.com

I cruised into the third major checkpoint at Moggs Creek Picnic Ground (77km). I think this was the most exuberant checkpoint given the volume of cheering as I ran in. This service was not as quick as the others and I was looking for a distraction, but I left with words of encouragement that I could still chase the other girls down. This last leg was a bit of a mixed bag of emotions and energy levels. The leg was a mix of all the days terrain so far; trail, trail, bike path, beach, trail, beach, steps, hills then finally a bit more of trail and beach. It was good to be on the final stretch with the finish line so close. At the same time I was overtaking people I was also being over taken, mostly by relay runners. The relay runners had been a source of frustration all day, not that they were getting in my way or anything, but I was doing a 100km event, therefore naturally one should get slower as fatigue sets in. While feeling fatigued in the later stages of this run along comes the fresh legged relay runners who would sneak up behind you then blast past in a cloud of dust. All I could think at the time was, "its not fair". I was tempted to reach out in the off chance they could tow me along.
Rest time.
Crossing the finish line I was happy to have been so close to my goal time, finishing in 10:01:39 for 4th place. Much credit goes to Whitney, Lucy and Sonia who all ran superbly and with hunger. These three girls were all within 7 minutes of each other, which is possibly the closest 100km trail race amongst the girls in Australia, ever!

All in all it was a great weekend away. The Surf Coast was a beautiful place to visit with nice friendly people. Rapid Ascent organised the race extremely well, from information updates, registration, briefing, course marking, aid at checkpoints, presentation and event expo. The mandatory gear list is quite reasonable, with the emphasis placed on the competitor to run with what they feel is appropriate. I think Rapid Ascent are on to a winner here at Surf Coast Century allowing people to enter a 100km event in the form of a relay. A 100kms is a long way to travel on foot, but by breaking the distance down into 50km and 25km legs it helps nurture people towards potentially stepping up to bigger distances in the future. It will be interesting seeing how many actually make the transition.

Gear for the Race:
Exo Motion Zip Tee
Exo 3/4 Tights
S-LAB XT 6
XT Bandanna II
Running Gloves
Bonatti WP Jacket
Advanced Skin S-LAB 5 SET
Salomon Soft Flasks
Suunto Ambit 2S

AYUP head set 13
Sunglasses

AYUP Head Torch HT13

Let me start off by saying that just like most other people, I (or my husband to be accurate) still had to purchase my AYUP head torches. I've written this because I get asked by people what is the best head torch. This is also to my husbands Aunty Bev who at the age of 80 years young is using her AYUP for her early morning runs along the beaches on Auckland's North Shore.


I first started needing a head torch when training for Sydney Trailwalker in 2007. I wasn't yet 'into' running at that stage and thought that I'd make do with a small, light weight LED head torch that fed off disposable batteries. My first impressions of using a head torch at night were mixed. I wasn't totally comfortable running at night on the streets, let alone on any fire trail or single trail. My eyes and brain took a while adjusting to running towards a small circle of light in front of me. I also noticed when running with a head torch at night that even though I thought I was going fast, in reality I had really halved my speed (clearly evident when I upgraded to a GPS watch).
Before I brought my own head torch I got the opportunity to swap and compare different head torches amongst my Trailwalker team mates and I found good and bad thing about all of them. As my running improved and I became more serious I upgraded my head torch to a more prominent brand of disposable battery powered head torch that had a slightly more powerful LED (70 lumens). I noticed the improvement, but when doing Australia's TNF100 my new head torch paled in comparison to the AYUP's that were out on the trail. The beam of light thrown out by the AYUP's just swamped my insignificant head torch, so much that I was able to turn mine off and run in me competitors extra light. At the end of the race I had made up my mind that I wanted a powerful head torch like the AYUP's. At the time I was finding it difficult to justify the price of the AYUP. The more research I did the more I found that the AYUP was the superior head torch. In the end I ended up making the purchase and am so glad that I did. I was able to light up not just a small circle of trail in front of me, but the entire bush in front of me. When running in the local streets I have cars pull over to let me pass thinking I am another vehicle. For races I now don't have to buy a new set of disposable batteries just in case the ones I have been using might be running low, because now I just recharge the AYUP battery pack before the race.

My first AYUP got a pretty good workout in the the 3 years I was using it, but after near daily use it started playing up. As it was still withing the 5 year warranty period I contacted AYUP and they were honest with me regarding the problem headset and the 2 batteries I had. The options were to replace the head set, or upgrade to the new Head Torch Kit - HT13. I'd known about the new HT13 for a few months, mainly through Marcus Warner (ultra168.com) who was raving about it. Marcus was saying stuff like, "its brighter than than the previous AYUP model". I was thinking, "surely not". So with recommendations like Marcus' I just had to go for the upgrade. I got to use my new Cherry Red AYUP HT13 in the week leading up to my next race, Surf Coast Century. I was pleased to discover that during those lead up runs that the new headset really was noticeably brighter. The new harness, which houses the battery and head set, contours better to my head, even with my ponytail.
 
Just before the start of Surf Coast Century

Using the AYUP for the first time in a race situation at Surf Coast Century was superb. The race starts as a mob start about half an hour before first light. Just about everyone had a head torch of sorts and standing amongst them with mine still turned off the sand and people around me were covered in a patchwork of light. As the count down to the race started I turned my AYUP on and the patchwork of light disappeared and in front of me was a flood of light from my own head torch. As we ran down the beach in the dark I was able to see clearly what was immediately in front of me as well as what was ahead which allowed me to pick my line well in advance. Running amongst all those other head torches no one else's light interfered with mine.