So I have written in the past about the requirement for balance in ones life to find enjoyment from everything that you do. When balance starts to slip its a painful process for me, where I spend time doing a lot of one thing, and become divided about what I am doing because I want to be spending time doing something different. Essentially I need to do a variety of things in order to do any one of them well.
Unfortunately I have this issue with some of the tthings that I take on being rather large, and therefore they tend to take up more time that what was originally planned, and balance becomes compromised... One of these things that I recently decided to do was run a 100km ultra Marathon.
I make it sound all spur of the moment, and I also make it sound like there was no real prep, well it was sort of both of these things. I do have a history with endurrance sports, I have raced 6 Ironman distance triathlons in the last 4 years or so, but I have had 12 months away from competitive long course racing, and I have never run more than 42.2km before, and I have never even run a marathon without riding 180km first.
So this came about when I went and crewed for my wife in an event about 8 weeks ago, where she ran 100km through the Victorian Alps. I thought it looked like fun... Crazy, but fun... I was both wrong and right at the same time. Mel did this on little training prep, but also has a history in endurance sports, as well as a pain threshold well beyond anyone on this planet I am pretty sure... I may not have realised at the time, that what she was making look rather easy (with perspective) at the time, is actually freaking hard work.
So, 7 weeks ago I decided that I was going to run the North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains in Sydney, and the plan was to run the race with my wife.
The race started at a little past 7am on Saturday morning. Our weekend involved leaving Melbourne in a car on Thursday afternoon, driving halfway to Sydney, the rest of the drive was Friday morning. Saturday we ran, into Sunday morning in fact. Sunday we drove halfway back, and we drove the rest of the way home today, Monday. Tomorrow I go back to work.
We went with the goal of finishing the race in under 20 hours. If you achieve this then you are awarded a bronze belt buckle. We achieved this, and I learnt some lessons along the way. I thought that I would write up a little synopsis and share what I learnt along the way.
Lesson 1 - You can really do anything you put your mind to. As I said, I do have an endurance sports background, but I was far from prepared for this run. I am a running/triathlon coach as well as a SPIN instructor, and I can tell you now, do as I say not as I do. In the lead up to the event I have calculated that I ran a total of about 200k in the 7 weeks prep. This did include a couple of 35k runs, a 45k run, and a couple of 20k runs, but nothing like what I would have usually done as prep for something like this.
Lesson 2 - I struggle when I run from KM 30 or so, to about KM 35-38ish. After this, I come good. I need to remember this. fact for the time when I feel like crap. Its a very interesting thing to learn about yourself as an athlete. You will feel like crap when you run for a total of 19 and a half hours, but in most cases you will come good again.
Lesson 3 - I can run down hill really fast... Especially when the race distance is over 50k. Not trying to show off here, but its true. I was overtaking people like crazy on the downhills, and loving it. Some of them were very long.
Lesson 4 - If you run downhill really fast between KM 50 and 70 of a 100km race then you are going to pay for this at some point. This point came in the form of a 9km hill climb from 80-89km.
Lesson 5 - 11km can take a very long time. The last 11km of the race took us nearly 3 hours. Thats a really long time. Mel went into the race with an injury and only got off crutches 2 weeks before the race. This was always going to be an issue. Coupled with her clumsy ability to fall over at the best of times, we were in for a struggle. It came in the form of seething pain in the ankle for Mel. The fact that she finished at all was truley amazing. I really dont know how she did it.
Lesson 6 - Running 100km hurts like hell, and its probably not a good idea.
Lesson 7 - When Mel says something is going to be fun, you should worry. She will be right of course, but there will be a trade off for the fun factor that you get in return. I am yet to work out if the price paid for the fun factor is worth it. I will let you know if and when my legs start working again.
The race itself was a very strange experience. We started on the back foot with Mel really struggling in the opening 10k or so. This didnt do a lot for my confidence I dont think. She is of course the vetran at these things.
After some time spent crawling through spiky bushes finding somewhere to answer the call of nature, we were off again. This started to get a little worse before they got better. Mel jammed her knee against a rock and was fighting tears, some early painkillers... Just before check point 1 she took a dive and gashed her knee.
Then I started to get cranky... At about KM 30 or so I was adamant that I was going to pull the pin at check point 2 at 38km. Mel was great during this time, playing the ignore Tristan game and just let us get on with things.
We were OK from check point one, through the ladders... LADDERS? Who the hell has ladders in a 100km foot race?
Come check point 2 and some food, I was ready to go, and Mel was picking up as well. This is where we started to find out feet. The fun started here, and we were able to take in some of the amazing views and surroundings.
The photos dont do it justice at all.
So, now we are flying... Ticking off great k's and having a ball. Looking forward to check point 3 where there is coke for sale. Love a cold can of coke on a long run. Best sports drink ever... Check point 3 came and went, no worries at all, and we were still flying along. About 6km from check point 4 and we encountered a set of stairs that was 514 stairs long. They were massive as well. This was the start of the trouble. Mel's recent injury was essentially to the tendon that is responsible for getting your foot over a step. Start climbing them all after this amount of time, and you can imagine the result. Top of the stairs and we knew we were in trouble. 4km to check point 4, more food and fresh clothes waiting...
As we came down the hill to the 4th check, Mel really started to hurt in the foot. This was KM 67, 33 to go. It was dark, and starting to get very cold and windy.
Check point 4, we made the deal that we would be out of there with 12 hours on the clock... Done. Change of clothes and fresh socks... Fresh socks... May have found something better than sex. You have to run 67km in order to make it work I think, but fresh new socks on your feet at this point is just a feeling that I dont know you can really describe.
So, where are we? Cold, in the dark, and coming to the longest set of steps you have ever seen, and these things are STEEP... Three sisters in Blue Mountains... The steps are called the giant staircase. Great name. These things are a killer. Walking up steps is one thing, coming down them with 70km in the legs already is just nasty. My quads were buckling under the pain. They went forever.
After the steps, we were on flat fire trail for a long time, and then a decent. Fast steep downhills. I was flying past people and then recovering a little and waiting for Mel. This started to pay its toll a little though. I was starting to struggle with the hills. And Mel was getting worse, though at this point was doing a very good job of keeping it to herself.
The check point 4 to 5 was the longest section of the race, and we planned for it to take 5 hours. This included a 9km climb to the check point. The climb was a killer. This alone took us 2 and a half hours. We were moving at 4km an hour at this point. This is slow... We had to have a few breaks on the way as well.
Check point 5, everything is looking good, and we are well on track for the sub 20 hours finish. This is where things really started to take a turn for the worse. We were fine when on stable ground, and on roads, but as soon as we hit the single track again we were in trouble. Mel could hardly walk. And then came the stairs... So many stupid bloody stairs. Going both up and down was killing Mel's ankle, to the point where she had to start on the Pannedine. Not something she usually takes...
The last 11km took us close to 3 hours. We left check point 5 with 16 hours and 45min on the clock. At this point I was saying that a sub 19 hour time was on the cards... And was thinking that this would be easy. How wrong I was. Slow, frustrating, pain... Just hard work... But we did it. We had enough of a buffer built on the 20 hour time to allow us some small time rests and slow sections.
We finished in 19:32:54. And this is the prize...
Its funny, I thought it would hurt more than it did. But.... I have a feeling that I had a dream race. Other than a little mental breakdown as mentioned above, I was OK. It hurt a bit, a lot even. Much more than an Ironman thats for sure, but I was expecting worse. Maybe it was the perspective I had with watching Mel continue with all of the issues that she was having that made anything that I was going through seem insignificant, I dont know. I just thought it would hurt more than it did.
So, Im happy with what I achieved. Over the moon even I guess. What was the toll you might ask?
I am confident that I will not be the possessor of big toenails in the not too distant future...
If I sit down, I cant stand up without using my hands...
I have a lot of blisters on my feet, some bigger than others...
I still feel like my lungs are coated in dirt...
I think thats about it, so pretty good all things considered... I just ran 100k in sub 20 hours...
Whats next people keep asking me. And this is where things are different between Mel and I these days. Mel is on the computer at the moment looking at 100 mile races that she has points for. I am thinking about photography projects to regain that balance that I have been lacking... Was it worth it?
I think so... But I am a little unsure still. Wait till recovered to answer that.
For anyone thinking of running this distance... I have two parting words...
1. If you want to race this distance then make sure you find your weak point in training. Run until you think you can run no more, and then keep going so you know that everything is going to be alright.
2. I thought of a great way to explain this distance towards the end of the race... Its like dying a slow painful death, without the dying bit.
Till next time, Tristan... 100k Ultra Runner.