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 exhauseted 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

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.

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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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)

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

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

My boxing kangaroos.

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
Service Station Sunglasses

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.