Alpine Challenge 100km 2016

Alarm was set for 3.15am. This is early, even for me. Restless with a deep paranoia that I wouldn’t wake up in time for the start of the race, I slept very little. Two espressos later, adding last minute items to my running pack, I shake it with a caffeinated excitement and I hear an odd sound. I shake the pack again with curiosity only to realise a moment too late that that curious sound is the straps of my running pack tearing.

Hmmmm…..It’s now 4:00am. Race start is 4:30am and I still need to pick up a last minute item of mandatory gear from a friend at 4:15. Unusually, I don’t sweat it. I post on Facebook a last minute plea but it’s really just for amusement. It’s too late now for any real help to arrive.

I remember the gaffa tape in my car, still in the glove box from a month ago when my car got broken into and I taped it back together so I could go to Bright and run 4 Peaks. Hmmmm…..I remember the time my dad crashed his motor bike on a ride from Adelaide to Philip Island taking the scenic route along the Great Ocean Road. Unusually, he didn’t sweat it. He gaffa taped his bike back together and rode on. If it can’t be fixed with gaffa, it can’t be fixed.


I tape my bag together and am feeling confident it will last my predicted 24 hours out on the course. No one else seems convinced. Friends offer me last minute efforts of help – it seems there is an empty pack laying in almost every hotel room in Falls Creek, just waiting for me. Olivia even offers to hike a pack in for me on the course. For some reason, I can’t accept this help. I smile with sure confidence.

Time is moving quickly and before I know it, we are off. The first 5km follows Packhorse Trail. It feels like I’m just flowing down, gently, in the dark, guided by the light of my torch. I’m afraid of the cold. I run most Summer days in pants and a thermal. The weather predicted a pleasant day along the course, but the cold Falls Creek morning has me rugged up in a long sleeve, a thermal and a wind proof jacket. Over kill, even for me. At the trail junction – I take off all my layers. What the fuck was I thinking? As I stuff my layers in my pack the zip breaks. I keep this to myself. I fiddle with it enough so that I think most of my gear won’t fall out. As I’m fiddling with my pack on the side of the trail, 90 % of the field passes me. I’m not too worried but as I start to run, the padding of my additional layers removed, the pack starts to swing.

The holes in the straps mean it’s hanging too low and has no support. It’s grinding on my back and I feel chunks of skin being worn away…all in the first 10km of a 100km race. I’m getting frustrated and I know I can’t fix the pack now but I can fix my head. I have to let go what I can not control. Yes my back is going to be red raw at the end of this race but I’ll be in so much pain by the time I get to the finish line that will be the least of my worries. I think of what I’ve gone through to get to the start line. I am not going to let this pack bring me down. I develop a new strategy. The pack won’t break if I stay happy. If I get frustrated or sad, the pack will break and my race will be over. It’s time to get happy!

I take the first climb incredibly conservatively and at this point the remaining 10% of the field overtake me. I suspect I’m at the back end of the pack but I get a little shock when the sweeper catches me and tells me I’m dead last. I think about giving it in at that point. I’m a couple kms away from Warby Corner and I know I can be back at my hotel room in just over an hour. If I run back that’ll be enough of a jog to justify a pizza and a long soak in the hot tub. Then I think of what I’d say to Matty my coach. I quit the race cause I wanted pizza? Because I was coming last? Because I was slow? I don’t even like Pizza! Such BULL SHIT! They were all bullshit excuses and there was no way I could use any of them. So I strolled on into Warby Corner, the first check in point of the race. A few other runners were there with their crew. I had no crew so I sorted my nutrition out, said good bye to Barry who was sweeper for the first 25km of the course and got shuffling with the goal of not meeting the next sweeper.

Shuffling out of Warby Corner I got happy and I pretty much stayed happy until 85km into the race. I met some new friends, I drank water from the river, I climbed some mountains and ate some snacks. Oh and I didn’t meet any more sweepers! It was all pretty joyful.

Going into this race, the part I was nervous about was Quartz Ridge. It’s a rocky trail descending off Mount Bogong and is quite exposed. I get vertigo in high open spaces. I feel like the world is slipping out from under me and need to climb with my hands touching the earth. I suspected this might occur at some point during this race. I chose this race for that very reason. I wanted to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. There were a few shady moments where my heart beat loud in my chest, but I was generally okay. I didn’t freak out. I moved slowly and carefully, but I was okay.


As I made my way down this trail I thought of my friend Vanessa who ran the 100 miler a few years ago. I was thinking of her standing at Langfords Gap – around the 85km mark of the race I think it was that year. She was standing beside her husband, after she had just patched up her blistered feet and was ready to tackle the night knowing she had a whole night and possibly a whole day of running ahead of her. I said to her, “you look so happy,” and she said “I am!” She looked radiant and it’s an image I never forgot. I was thinking how much her feet must have hurt at that point in the race yet she was so happy to continue. I tried to channel some of her mountain spirit and then I felt my phone vibrate. Who could that be? It was Vanessa! We spoke as I hurdled down Quartz Ridge, up and over up and over up and over the tree cemetery. My courageous friend. I knew if I could channel just 1% of her strength of character and her spirit I would finish this race happy and how could I not after her thoughtful phone call? I’ve never spoken on my phone during a race. This was a joyful first.

I was already running happy, but after Vanessa’s phone call I was running with love. I was familiar with the course and each time I thought a particular climb or particular section of lonely trail might bring me down, it didn’t.

I had another incentive to run happy. I knew my best friend had driven up to Falls Creek during the day and would be waiting for my at Langford’s Gap, the 70km point of the race this year. She’s not an ultra runner and we all know as ultra runners, ultra running isn’t much of a spectator sport. I was feeling blessed and grateful as I cruised into Langford’s. To add bliss to my bliss out, the sun was setting over the mountains, the sky was pink and there was my friend. I knew I smelt bad. The day had turned out to be quite warm and I had run through rivers and sweat out the day in a clammy damp shirt, and yet my wonderful friend hugged me. That is a true friend.

Langford’s was the first and only opportunity to change out of my wet shoes and socks that I had run in all day. The feeling of brand new dry Injinji’s brought me to pure ecstasy. I lingered a little too long at Langford’s chatting to old and new friends, having a snack, putting on warm dry clothes. Eventually it was time to leave and I knew I had 15km to Pole 333. No more mountains to climb – this should be easy. But it wasn’t. Daylight had left and the fog set in, I couldn’t see more than half a metre in front of me. The trail was easy enough to follow from here to Pole 333 but my head was playing tricks in the poor visibility. About 5km out from Pole 333 I started to get down. The trail was really wet and I was spending a lot of time rock hoping to keep my feet dry from the big pools of melted snow. It was a time consuming task and I was over it.

I got to Pole 333 and couldn’t make out the direction I needed to follow. I asked Clare from Alpine Search and Rescue the way and I was terrified she was trying to send me down the 100 miler course. I’m sorry Clare!

From Pole 333 I knew I had 15km to the finish, but my head. After Pole 333 the 100 milers go in one direction and the 100km runners in another. Most of the lights in the dark were following the 100 miler course and I felt so alone. I should have felt happy I only had 15km to go instead of 80 or whatever absurd distance they had, but I couldn’t get myself out of my slump. I had no niggles or injuries, but my feet hurt more than they’ve ever hurt before. I struggled to run and my shuffle was probably no faster than a walk. As I jogged into Pretty Valley Pondage my head torch went black – no warning. I channeled Satan and screamed “FUCKKKKKK!” to the black sky like it was 2010 and I was back singing in a metal band. Then I realised there was a volunteer standing a few hundred metres in front of me. I apologised profusely and he was such a gentleman. My hands were so cold by this stage I couldn’t manage to undo my pack and get my spare torch battery out. I had to ask for his help, something I don’t do well. He was so kind. Thank you kind volunteer man.

Then there was Mount McKay. It’s an out and back to the summit and as I “jogged” up a woman and a guy who was crewing for her were jogging back down. He said to me “Are you sure there isn’t ANYTHING I can do for you? Is there ANYTHING you need?” I realised then that I must have looked like complete shit. I said “just the finish line thanks, that’s all I need” and continued on with my shuffle.

THEN, I saw a man walking in front of me. I thought why hasn’t he got a torch and where is his running pack? He’s not a runner, he’s a creep! What’s he doing out here with no torch at midnight? Creepy creepy! Feminista of The Night, I tried to catch him and then suddenly he disappeared. He wasn’t real. Uh oh.

As I pranced about in the bush following the “green sopped poles” after Mount McKay I felt so disorientated. I had to keep checking PDF maps as I was convinced I was going backward, but then I hit the dirt road. Then the sign saying I had 2km to go to the finish. I tried to run with everything I had, which wasn’t much given I coudn’t keep any calories down from Pole 333 which seemed like an eternity ago at this point. 900m down down down. My poor feet! Finally, the finish. 22:03.


Through most of this race I thought to myself I’ll never ever run the 100 miler. That was easily the hardest 100km race I’ve ever run. It had everything that terrified me – mountains, heights, navigation, extreme weather, isolation. It also had everything that made my heart sing – mountains, heights, navigation, extreme weather, isolation. It’s the fear and the challenge that make it all worthwhile – that make running for 22 hours out in the mountains the most exciting thing I can possibly think of doing.

And so, a week has passed. My feet now fit back into shoes. The hole of gapping skin on my back from my broken running pack has mostly healed. And I feel myself wondering – what else is out there that scares the absolute shit out of me? That is worth all the sacrifice just to conquer? There’s always the 100 miler 🙂

The race was one thing but there is so much preparation that goes into a race. I was born in one of the flattest, driest, hottest suburb in Australia and mountains and the cold are not something I take for granted. I ran in the mountains for the very first time only two years ago and nearly died. A few weeks later I crewed for my friends who were running Alpine Challenge that year – so I could learn. I spent the following two years taking every opportunity to train in the mountains with my wonderful friends Kerry, Celesta and Jacqui who taught me so much.

I am no champion. I don’t win races or come close to the front of the pack, but what I do means something to me. I pick challenging races and I work through my fears. These experiences teach me to value and respect myself and teach to me to fight and survive in real life when times get tough. Most of all, they bring me love – for the planet, for its people and for myself.

I want to dedicate some of the love I earned in this race to all my friends, but some special love, respect and hope for my dear friends Vanessa and Kerry.

GOW 2016: redemption

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Some of you might remember last year’s attempt at the Great Ocean Walk 100km ultra marathon. It coincided exactly one week after the Allstar Affiliates CrossFit Comp – a 2 day, 7 event CrossFit competition.

I had become bored with ultra running and had fallen in love with CrossFit. I spent the months before the competition working on my pull-ups and improving my max snatch. Running 100km was pretty much the furthest thing from my mind. I knew I could run 100km so I put a bit of trust in my body to just do it. It was the CrossFit comp that preoccupied me.

Come race day, the very second I started running, my legs were heavy. I remembered all the thrusters I had done the weekend before and that became my reason to quit. I chugged along for 32km but the entire time I told myself “you’re tired and you have every right to be.”

Now the truth, that can only be gained with the hindsight of a near perfect 2016 GOW, is that yes I was tired, but it had nothing to do with a tired body. The very nature of ultra running depends on being able to push through, to keep going when your body is falling apart and screaming at you to stop. What was my motivation to enter a two day CrossFit Comp a week before a key race anyway? It was my behaviour prior to lining up at GOW I should have been analysing when trying to determine why I DNF, not the race itself. I was bored with ultra running. I was bored when I got to the start line and I was bored when my legs started turning over. If you’re bored, you’ll never ever be able to run 100km, no matter how strong the body is.

So I took some time off. I stopped entering races because of fear of missing out. I waited for a race to excite me, a race I wanted to train for and slowly but surely, 2016 got back on track. When GOW entries opened for 2016, I knew it didn’t really fit in well with my 2016 race plan. I had told myself the DNF wasn’t a failure so I had nothing to prove. I didn’t need to enter. Yet when entries went live, I found myself tapping my details into the entry form. It was almost an outer body experience. It was the mind that had given up on me in GOW 2015, but already the body was out to prove it was stronger than the mind by overriding the decision not to enter. It was done, I was signed up and ready to go…almost. I had to contact Matty Abel, from DBA runners. Matty had coached me for my first 100 miler in 2015 (okay my only 100 miler). I knew I’d be a much better runner and avoid the dreaded ‘boredom’ with training and running in general if I had his help. He agreed and so it was set.

As GOW 2016 approached, I was determined to make this a very different experience to 2015. It started with car snacks on the drive to Apollo Bay. I felt like everything I had eaten in 2015 was cursed so I took great care to eat different snacks. Carrots and protein balls. Yes, I think these may be safe.

Last year I forgot half my mandatory gear and Andy had to help me out. Not this year, I was a picture of perfection rolling out my gear for the mandatory gear check.

Already looking up…

Then I got to my hotel. Last year I stayed in the back packers and I had a realisation as I yelled at one of the 18 year old fresh faced girls in my room to turn the fucking light off at 9pm that I was way too old and grumpy for hostels. I also realised, 8 years after graduating from uni, that I am no longer a poor student and I don’t have to live like one always. So this year I booked myself a room with a spa at the Stay Inn. The owners probably thought it a little odd that I booked a lush bed and breakfast for one lone traveller and was out by 5am with no breakfast, but how I loved the towels and the pillows and the soft sheets. Ohhhh yes, 2016 GOW was already feeling very different.

My preparation for GOW 2016 hadn’t exactly a been ideal. I had done almost everything Matty had told me to do, which gave me some confidence. However, I had also gotten the flu and Thai Belly twice all in the month preceding GOW. When I felt too weak to run, I spent time on my mind. I worked on visualisations and mantras that would help push me through.  I had some tricks in the bag for my brain when it decided it wanted to quit….but it didn’t.

At 6.30 am the race started. I was very comfortable to let anyone who wanted to pass me go.  I knew there was some single track after the sealed bike track and I also know that if I’m feeling a bit grumpy, this is when the grumps will come out. I can’t stand hearing people breathe behind me and feeling like I’m holding everyone up. It makes me anxious and puts me off my game. Not this year, I was running in sync with everyone around me. We were all moving as one big happy flock (I don’t know what the collective word for happy crazy people who like to run a long way is so flock will have to do).

Goal number one was to get to checkpoint one in under four hours and not feel grumpy or trashed. Somewhere along this 22km section I met Cathy and Michelle. I had so much fun getting to know them both that the checkpoint came up before I knew it. I had gotten there in three hours and felt really fresh. I hadn’t pushed myself hard. I was enjoying the scenery and the company.  I was having a great day!

As I left Checkpoint 1 I focused in on my second goal which was the most important goal for me for the entire race – get to Ian Hoad who volunteers at the light house (32km) and do not beg him for a lift to the finish (as occurred in 2015). I plodded along this section reflecting on last year and running in general. I remembered having a conversation with a runner in 2015 along this same section where she said “this is simply the most scenic, beautiful course I have ever run.” I couldn’t see it. I remember thinking REALLY??? I just couldn’t see outside my own pain cave. This year, I looked around. Everything looked different. It was spectacular and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, a koala greeted us on the trail.

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I spent the last hour of this section working through some deep shit in my head about perspective, emotions, why I run – all that crap, so when I got to Ian I was so happy to get out of my own head for a little bit. We hugged and he told me he’d see me again 1.5km from the finish. Okay, next goal.

From this point onward, the course was undulating, but nothing mountainous. There were amazing ocean views – I mean AMAZING. The trail wound its way up into the headlands, then  onto the coast for some beach running. The sand was tough, but really who cared? I was having such a wonderful time. There is a 3km stretch of soft sand before the Johanna Beach checkpoint. I could have shuffled it but I couldn’t be arsed. I was having a lovely time and I wanted to savour it. Plus I knew all the hard part of the course was after Johanna. So I walked it. I enjoyed a Cliff Bar and I looked out to the ocean and thought to myself how fucking lucky am I?

At the Johanna Beach checkpoint, I was thankful I had packed a dry pair of socks (a few water crossings on sand meant my socks were pretty gross). Fuck me,  Injinji toe socks are so bloody hard to put on when your feet are damp, you didn’t pack a towel and you’ve run 55km. I spent way too long at this checkpoint but it was full of friends and it took me so friggin long to change those socks. Eventually I was out and the fun continued.

The next section is where all the hills are – about 20km of them. I just focused on getting to 75km as the hard stuff would all be over. So I hiked up, ran where I could and ran down, repeat for 20km. Along this section I met Matt – who was awesome. We stuck together for 10km and as we ran as much as we could of this section our theme of conversation was how awesome the 100km distance is. Our positivity smashed the miles away. At 65km, Matt said he wanted to wait for his friend so I kept going. Soon the party squad caught up with me – the O’Briens and Cathy and Michelle. It was such a good party, I wanted to stay for a drink, so I tagged along. The 10km before the last checkpoint were a bit tough. It was tiring after an entire day out in the beautiful sun and the undulations were taking their toll, but I really didn’t want to leave the party so I stayed on board till we got into the last checkpoint.

At the Gables checkpoint, I put on my thermal and my head torch. Had a nice snack of water and chips and off I went. I stuck with the party squad for a little bit but this was the point when we all just had to do what we could do. They seemed to have morphed into one creature, working on each other’s strengths, moving at the same pace. At times I couldn’t keep up and at times I got a second wind. So we played cat and mouse.

3km from the finish I stopped to tend to an injured runner.  George who was volunteering was already there and taking care of things but I stopped to give them my my emergency space blanket and offer up any of my additional mandatory gear. The woman who had stopped to help the injured man was getting very very cold. It was a learning experience as to how quickly things can go wrong when you’re injured or you stop to help and why we NEED to carry our mandatory gear. She had three emergency space blankets and a number of other borrowed cold weather items on that other runners had given her as they had passed by the time I got to her and she was still freezing.

As I left knowing George had things under control I thought I had to make up the time I’d stopped so I gave it everything I had. I could see the road where I knew Ian must be in the darkness, so I pushed hard to get to him. I could only see his light in the black and hoped that it was him. I called out to him. He greeted me. We turned our lights off so as not to blind one another and hugged. It was one of the greatest hugs I’ve ever had.

I ran as hard as I could to the finish line (which was probably 10min kms by that stage but it felt fast). The finish line was full of beautiful people. My people. I had made it. I was, I am, a happy crazy person who likes to run a long way again.

One final comment I will make about this run – Andy Hewat, the race director is one of the most beautiful human beings I have met. He has an energy that is inspiring and he brings that energy to his race. It must be something about Andy that attracts only wonderful human beings to his races as every single person I met out on the trail that day was incredible. Every participant and every volunteer exuded kindness and compassion.  I had such a wonderful day and it was because I was not only lucky enough to spend 16 hours and 36 minutes in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I spent it with incredible and beautiful people. If you haven’t run GOW before and you like nice people and beautiful scenery – do it!

Ultra Trail Australia 2016

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I set my alarm for 5:00am. I was in start wave 5 – starting at 6:49. I was staying at the KCC directly across the road from the start line. That should be plenty of time to get dressed, eat a banana and make my way to the start line.

At 6:30am I was still in my room, wrestling with my hydration bladder – the bloody hose was stuck and I was having a nervous break down. Finally, it snapped into place – I grabbed my finish line drop bag (which I still needed to drop off) and sprinted to the start line.

Shit! I forgot to set up my Garmin properly. Someone asked me to take a photo for them. “I’m sorry, I just can’t right now!” I snapped as wave 4 starters were off and I still had so much to do. What a biatch!

Finish bag dropped off, Garmin ready to go, spotted Crazy Pants Kirsten for a quick hug and a quick start line photo with Kerry and then it was go time.

I started training for UTA in January. How the fcck was it go time already???

I’ll be the first to confess my training had not gone quite to plan. I first ran UTA (then TNF) in 2014. At the time, I thought never ever again. But after losing my running mojo and then finding it again on the 1000 steps in Ferntree Gully one grey cold Melbourne morning, I decided this would be my race. I was going to train harder than I’d ever trained before and smash my 2014 race time.

Then I had a bit of a nervous break down – for real this time, not the melodramatic kind that had me throwing my hydration bladder across the room on race morning. Everything was going well in my life. I had just got married, just got a promotion, just had an amazing relaxing holiday/honeymoon, but it just takes one thing to tip the ship. A bully in my life and I lost my confidence, lost my focus, lost my drive, lost my ability to get through the day without heart palpitations, night sweats and random bouts of tears.

I considered withdrawing from the race, but I didn’t want to. Ultra-running was the one thing I had over this bully. Every time she put me down, made me feel like the fool – I knew I had her, knew she couldn’t run 100 miles, couldn’t run 250km across the desert, couldn’t hike all day in the mountains. Nope, she wasn’t better than me at all and she wasn’t taking this from me.

So I decided I would do this run on my own terms – slow and steady and that’s exactly what I did.

UTA starts with a 5km road section which is pretty runnable though it is hilly. From the start, I walked the hills. My approach was to take it very conservatively until Nellies Glen (which is around the 52km mark and is when the climbing and the stairs start) then I would give the race everything I had.

This was working quite a treat. I was feeling really fresh and really enjoying myself until lunch time. At that point in the race, I realised I was really friggin hot and wasn’t wearing a hat. My face felt like it was cooking. I could have fried an egg on my face it was so hot – why wasn’t I wearing a hat???

This feeling that my face was frying continued most of the afternoon until check point 3 when I decided I would wet my buff to try and cool down. Brilliant decision, except the sun was going down and I only packed one buff and I would need it going into the night to keep warm. Great thinking hot stuff!

Checkpoint 3 to 4 felt good. I enjoyed the runnable stuff before Nellies Glen and then I enjoyed the climb. My knees were making a strange sound when I got to the stairs but there was no pain so I just turned up the tunes. If you can’t hear it, then there’s no problem (a little something I learned from years of driving a 30 year old Datsun).

When I got to checkpoint 4 I felt confused and to be honest, a little angry. I needed to sit down so I could get what I needed out of my drop bag but there were support crew everywhere – sitting on all the seats. I hate to get a bit grumpy here, but if I were support crew and I saw a disorientated tired looking runner stumble in the checkpoint and I had NOT been running for 57km, well I’m pretty sure I’d offer my seat to the person who had been running for 57km. That didn’t happen. So I sat on the floor, but my hips were spasming so I had to put my legs out and lay down as I rummaged through my drop bag for supplies.

Then a nice lady came over and said she had seen me running all day and thought I was doing really well and could she help me at all. She was someone else’s support crew but I’d been just in front of her runner all day. I said no thank you but I was really chuffed she asked. A word of kindness goes a long way at that point in the race.

I didn’t want to stay at checkpoint 4 long. Too many people – too many crew and not enough chairs. I felt weird. So I filled up my water, grabbed a few snacks and left.

The temperature had dropped so I had to start shuffling straight away to keep warm. In 2014 I had not run with a watch so I had no data to go on for beating my 2014 time. Even though I knew I hadn’t done the training, I was secretly hoping I might still be able to do it. I remembered leaving checkpoint 4 in 2014 to a sun high in the sky. The sun was starting to set today, and so I knew I was well off my goal time.

There was nothing to cry about though as this part of the course passes through numerous look out points into the Blue Mountains. Running through this point of the course under a red sky was absolutely magnificent. I thought about taking a photo, but then I remembered that they still haven’t invented a camera as powerful than the human eye and so I absorbed it. I let it fill my soul.

I started out this leg a bit messy cause I was still a bit freaked out by the chaos at checkpoint 4. Then I dropped a glove and had to retrace my steps to find it, but finally I got into a groove. There are a lot of stairs between checkpoint 4 and 5 and I told myself it was time to shine – it’s your fccking time Tash!

I knew I was carrying way too much muscle as a result of my CrossFit addiction to be a fast runner but I was a strong runner and the stairs were where I could let loose. I went as hard as I could and was so happy that I was only overtaken by one guy during this leg (and I caught him again coming into checkpoint 5). I did overtake at least 30 runners – most of them were having a hurl party. There was a lot of carnage and I was pretty happy with my decision to conserve during the hotter parts of the day.

When I got into checkpoint 5 I saw Kerry. I was so happy to see her briefly. We had done a lot of our training together leading up to UTA and become very good friends. I knew how much this race meant to her and I felt so happy to see her at this point of the race, knowing she would finish strong.

I also saw George and Jon who offered me cold vegetarian pizza which I politely declined. I hadn’t quite joined the hurl party but there was a bit of heaving going on and I didn’t think cold pizza would cure what ailed me with 22km to go to the finish.

As I left the last checkpoint, things quickly deteriorated. My knees felt like they were getting hacked by a chain saw. I regretted every piece of cake I had eaten in the lead up to UTA. Too much booty with 9km of downhill to go, the knees were SCREAMING. I put on some grind-core to silence out the grinding of my knees. I played air guitar with my trekking poles to lift my spirits. I felt okay, but I could still hear my knees grind-coring (yes my knees are so metal, they grind-core) over the blast beats. Not good.

I moved at snail’s pace and was overtaken by so many runners. I didn’t care – I wasn’t racing them. I was racing my inner demons who were telling me to pull out. I had given up on beating my 2014 time, but I knew I could still finish within 20 hours to get the buckle (only sub 20 hour finishers take home a finishing buckle).

So I made a deal with myself – go as slow as you need to go without chundering, but do NOT stop moving. I was relieved when the 9km of downhill was over and I could start climbing, but it was momentary. I was slooooowwwww! Finally, I saw the 95km sign. I had made a deal with myself when I first entered that I would run this section. I had hiked most of the way into the finish in 2014 and I knew this section was runnable until the last km of stairs so I wanted to leave everything I had out on the course and push it. I pushed as hard as I could up the stairs, almost vomming twice – almost.

When I got to the top of the stairs there were two runners slowly moving toward the finish line. I thought it was a bit dirty to overtake at this point in time, but I just wanted to be done so I ran past them both to cross the line in 19:11. I was handed my buckle and I burst into tears just as George was there to make me laugh and sort me out.

I’ve never been so emotional crossing a finish line before. Yes, this wasn’t my fastest race or my most impressive, but it was my most meaningful for a number of reasons.

I had lost my love of running and training for UTA brought it back. Racing UTA made that love all the more stronger. I really suffered out there. I acknowledged it. I embraced it. I kept moving. I did not give up.

I set myself some goals and targets that had nothing to do with my finish time – run (not hike) from 95km – 99km, climb the Golden Stairs with joy in my heart, acknowledge the sections of the course that caused me fear (not deny the fear) and continue to move steady. I did all these things.

I raced most of this race on my own – never stopping to chat to someone for more than a few minutes. I didn’t have a coach in the lead up. I didn’t have a crew during the race. I needed to relearn how to do things on my own and to embrace solitude. I did this – I craved company and support and then I found the words of strength I needed within myself.

And finally – I was reminded of just how amazing this community is. The incredible people that are ultra-runners, the unconditional love and support we offer one another. I feel so blessed to have found this community.

What does it mean to DNF?

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A couple weekends ago, I got my first DNF. I have dreaded the DNF since I started running ultramarathons nearly four years ago. Up until now, it hasn’t happened, but that dreaded Saturday morning down at Apollo Bay….it hit me….rational thought.

There is nothing rational about running ultramarathons. The reason I have never DNF’d before is because a little black out, dehydration, a kidney infection, these things were just par for the course. I have always been prepared to go there for a finish. Don’t get me wrong, not every race is about reaching the lowest of lows but for the mid pack runners who spend a bloody long time out on course, chances are something might go wrong. I have always been prepared to run through the wrong and deal with the consequences later.

Saturday, I just wasn’t prepared to go there. I could not be bothered, so I did not bother. I pulled out after a lazy 32km.

I thought I was exhausted and had nothing in the tank, but once I got to the finish line to hand in my GPS tracker and officially pull out of the race, I started to feel guilty for not doing stuff. So I volunteered to help set up the finish line. I raked the finish line oval with a broken rake. I woke up the next morning with a bloody sore back, but I certainly had enough energy to do that. So I probably had enough energy to finish the race…. BUT….I couldn’t be bothered.

I have always believed ultra marathons are a mental sport. It’s why so many of us who are not naturally gifted athletes can have a real go. Never have I believed this more than following my DNF. My mind was not prepared to race that fateful Saturday and so my body did not have a choice in the matter.

Now, to get philosophical, why couldn’t I be bothered?

I was stressed. Life was being a bit of a bitch. The race had been the furthest thing from my mind. I hadn’t mentally prepared and got in the game.

Now post DNF, what has this reflective time taught me?

Well I’m still stressed. Life is still being a bitch.

I was out running on Sunday and I thought to myself, funny how I haven’t even thought about the DNF too much since the race. Running just isn’t that big a deal in the whole scheme of things.

Then as I continued to plod along in my run my stress caught up with me. I was thinking about work. Having arguments with people in my head. Reflecting on hurtful things people have said. I was getting anxious and I started to run harder. Then I started to think about all the times that running had gotten me through. I started to think of running as an unconditional BFF. Through all my terrible times, running has always gotten me through, always brought me some happiness.

In fact all the other things in life suddenly didn’t seem so important. Work – fuck it! A holes – fuck them! Money – who needs it? All those things on my to do list – fuck em!

Running is so important for no other reason than it lets me forget all those stressful things. It lets me connect with nature, with my running community, with myself. It makes me happy.

And so to running, my unconditional BFF, I say to you I’m sorry. I’m sorry I put all those grown up things that adults are supposed to prioritise above you. They are not more important than you. In fact, I only survive in this adult world with you by my side. Thanks for being a great friend through all these years and I promise to give you more attention, to treat you with the love and respect you deserve.

Team work

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In April this year, I ran my first 100 miler. It was also the first time I trained with a coach and so I left nothing in the tank. I gave everything I had in those months of training and I was really happy with my finish time, but when I returned to Australia I was flat and I was bored.

I had run every trail I knew of in the lead up to my miler and now they all bored me. I was too poor to enter any big thrilling overseas races. Poor and bored – a terrible combination.

So I thought, why push it? I’m not getting paid to do this, so why do it if it’s not making me happy. I took the pressure off and decided I would just run when I felt like it.

After years of having giant and exciting adventures to look forward to, I must admit it was hard when people said “what’s next?” to me with a look of expectation and excitement. The look of disappointment on their faces when I responded “I’m not sure” was difficult to digest.

Slowly however, I started to realise that I don’t do these races for other people, I do them for me. If they are disappointed in the fact that I’m a little tired, then perhaps it’s time they signed up for their own adventure.

And so I life went on. I found myself looking forward to my CrossFit sessions more than my runs and that was okay. I was going with the flow. When I got the Rapid Ascent email about the Surf Coast Century, I put a post on the CrossFit facebook page casually asking if anyone would like to put a relay team together.

The response was quite overwhelming. Within a few weeks we had three teams registered. Most of these guys had never run a race, never run a trail race and never gone near the half marathon distance. And I left out a lot of details. I didn’t tell them about the hills. I didn’t tell them about carrying a pack with all their mandatory gear while they ran. I also didn’t tell them that only three of them would be running a half marathon. The rest would be running 23-28km. These were all just minor details, best kept secret.

I was quite shocked by the enthusiasm of these new runners. They had gone from walk one minute, run one minute to running 12-18km loops in the Dandenongs including Glasgow Track! I didn’t push the training. I didn’t want to force them to do more than they wanted to do, yet every weekend, at least one of them was asking to come along to a trail run.

Whilst they were running hilly loops in the Dandenongs on a regular basis, the common phrase thrown around was “but I’m not a runner.” This all changed one night when we joined in with the Surf Coast Trail Runners Night Run in the You Yangs. Everyone had a ball and finally, it hit home that everyone in the team was now a runner.

At the last minute, we had to recruit two new team members. This didn’t give anyone time at the box to train up for the event so I relied on my trail running community and they didn’t let me down. Olivia and Chantelle joined the team. It was such a joy to have both women on board – not only did they allow the teams to compete by filling in, but they fully embraced the team mentality we had gone into with this event. I think everyone soon felt like they had always been part of this team, it all just felt so familiar.

Soon the big day was here. As I expected, everyone surpassed their own expecatations of themselves. I won’t recap the entire day as I can’t really put into words the hurt and the joy everyone felt – individually and as a team. Here are my highlights in no particular order.

1. Paul losing his car key at the beach minutes before the race start.

Despite a frazzled start, Paul certainly got his shit together and annihilated most of the course in the final 15km.

This also is a reminder of how good the trail running community is because someone found Paul’s key!

2. Luke pushing through the pain to finish his first half marathon.

It would have been really easy for Luke to pull out when he started to feel an injury coming on and his race wasn’t going to plan. But he knew his leg 2 runner was waiting for him so he pushed on. Time is irrelevant, he just completed his first half marathon and a pretty brutal one at that!

3. Kirsten going from a non runner to a friggin amazing runner in 3 months!

When I first met Kirst, she could only run one minute walk one minute. Three months later, she ran her first half marathon on sand!

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(leg 1 runners Paul, Luke and Kirst)

4. Carolyn finishing 28km

When I was organising the teams, Carolyn said she couldn’t run 28km. I pretended I didn’t hear (sorry Caz), but I did that cause I knew she could AND she did!

Yep, she hurt and yep she broke down but that’s just what happens. What differentiates winners from quitters is what you choose to do when you hit hell. Caz pushed on – she’s a winner!

5. Brian getting the doctor’s approval the day before race day to run and seeing him cross that finish line all smiles.

6. Seeing Roisin’s beautiful smile all over the course – what a motivator.

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(Leg 2 runners Brian, Caz and Morv)

7. Morv crossing the finish line – her smile and her spirit, the essence of trail running.

8. Andy fanging it to the finish line so we didn’t miss David cross the finish line.

9. David crossing the finish line and me saying “I’ve signed you up for your next race” and David nodding and saying “Yes, Ok.”

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10. Luke catching me on leg 3 despite me having a huge head start. I knew he would and I was so happy he did – a great runner and a great guy.

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11. George taking Olivia pizza and beer out on the trail – about time he repaid the crystal glasses and moet on the top of kozciosko favor!

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12. Chantele running through the finish chute with a beer in her hand and an enormous smile on her face.

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13. Liam offering to carry one of the 100km runners to the finish, not because the guy was injured but because he looked like he was suffering and Liam didn’t like seeing him suffer and wanted to help.

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All these highlights capture what trail running is about. If there was any doubt in their minds before, I hope it has now been cemented that you are all runners!

Concluding with my own story. I was motivated to organise this relay because I had grown bored with my own running. Seeing the joy as these guys embraced everything new about trail running – the beauty, the cammraderie, nature and pushing your own limits, well it all reminded me just how much I love running.

So thank you all team!

The Angry Bride

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This blog isn’t on my usual topics of running or mental illness, so forgive me, but I just had to blog it out. This one is about being an angry bride to be and I guess all the things that make me me – the running, the adventure seeking, bipolar feminist, well these are all the reasons as to why this wedding is making me angry. So I guess in a way, I’m not too far off topic.

Here are a few things that are making me angry.

1. The reference to my “big special day”

A wedding is a nice thing. Yes sure, it will be special. I love my fiance and I’m excited to be married to him, but in terms of a big special day? Is this day intended to be any bigger or more special than any other day in my life?

The day I graduated from my law degree, well that was a pretty special day. The day I graduated from my masters degree after two years of personal hell and against all odds – well that felt like a very special day.

When I ran into San Pedro De Atacama after seven days of running across the Atacama Desert in the same outfit, surviving on freeze dried rice in both scorching and freezing temperatures – well that was a magnificent day.

The point is, I have had many special days in my life. These days have been special because I have worked so hard to get to the point of achievement and that victory has been so sweet. These days were big and momentous. I’m not quite sure how a wedding fits into my scale of big and special. I did nothing to achieve this big special day and would it mean I was a failure if I didn’t meet Mr or Mrs Right and have a big special day? Would all my special days just be small special days in comparison to the big special day I may never have had had LDog not come along?

Of course it will be special. I love my fiance and I am excited to make a committment to him in front of my family and friends but that is all it is. A nice special day. I didn’t achieve anything by getting married, so let’s not treat it like a life goal. That’s just stupid.

2. The pressure to look good on my wedding day

So far my fiance has clocked up quite a bill for his wedding day attire, but has anyone questioned him as to what he is wearing or whether he is going to lose weight for his “big special day”?

I on the other hand have spent nothing – not a cent. Apparently, I am an arse hole because of this. I’m not excited enough, I don’t care enough. Quite the contrary – I’m wearing my mother’s dress because it’s sentimental. I’m not wearing shoes because my feet will hurt after my 100 km race that is a few weeks prior and heels will just feel like a nightmare. Plus, my fiance is happy about this decision as it means he will be taller than me in our wedding photos. Win win….except I am an arsehole of a woman because I am refusing to go on a diet.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I thought the whole idea of getting married was making a committment to your life partner. I wasn’t aware that it wasn’t about that at all, that it’s all about what size dress I’ll be wearing. Silly me.

Now it’s not just crazy women asking me whether I’m going to try and lose weight. It’s women who I deeply admire and so this question from their mouths has shocked me to the core. The other day I pondered, is it me? Is there something wrong with me because I have zero motivation to lose even a kilogram for my “big special day?” I pondered this for quite some time before I realised that the reason I don’t want to change myself for my wedding or for any other day is because I don’t hate myself. I am pretty content with the way I am. Yes, I am no different to any other woman and when I look in the mirror I am critical of my thighs, my belly, the extra flab. But what running ultras and lifting heavy weights has taught me is that my body has a purpose. If I love it, nurture it and respect it, it can do great things.

And so, I have no intention of punishing my wonderful body for a dress.

3. Changing my name

Let me first start out by saying that it is a woman’s right to choose. If she wants to change her name, I have no problem with that, but me????

The very question prompts that thick vein on my neck to pulsate and I feel a rage coming on.

It’s my name! It’s who I am. It’s my culture, my heritage, my family, my identity, my success and my failure.

I wouldn’t expect my partner to change his name and he doesn’t expect me to change mine.

So it would appear I’m pretty angry and you may wonder why I’m even getting married. Well let me share a story with you.

The other week my partner and I decided we would go shopping for our wedding rings. We purchased his first then we strolled around the jewellery stores looking for my ring. I became anxious and angry.

“I don’t want to do this today.”

I couldn’t understand the difference between a $500 ring and a $5000 ring. I know nothing about jewellery, I know nothing about diamonds. I felt overwhelmed and stupid.

My partner told me to “woman up.” We went into a store together. The sales assistant was lovely. He laughed at how filthy my engagement ring was. Cleaned it up for me for free and then picked out a ring that would match and it didn’t cost a fortune. He didn’t laugh at me for having no clue what diamonds were in my engagement ring or what I should be looking for in a wedding ring.

I left the store with a beautiful ring and an acceptable eftpos transaction receipt.

I could never have done that without my partner. It was an uncomfortable situation and I wanted to run. Instead, he encouraged me to “woman up,” be strong and get the job done.

That is why I want to be married. I want to live out my life with a man who encourages me to be strong, who supports me when I’m not behaving my best and who loves me unconditionally. It is the marriage that I am looking forward to and if the wedding is the beginning of things to come, then maybe it won’t be so bad afterall.

Zion 100 miler Utah

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I’m at the race start of the Zion 100 miler in Town Park, Virgin Utah. Both the 100km and 100 miler races start at the same time so there are quite a few of us standing around chatting nervously. Despite having travelled across the world for this race, I instantly feel part of this community.

I see my new friend Cindy. I met Cindy the night before through our mutual Facebook friend Karen. Karen is a running pal who saved my arse a few years earlier when I left my Garmin at the airport before the Kep Ultra. Cindy too would save my arse before this day was through. It’s a beautiful community!

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(Cindy and me at the race start)

6:00am comes too quickly and we are all off, my wonderful pacer, crew and friend Erin jogs the first few steps with us and then she is out of sight. It is still dark at this time. The sun is yet to rise. Though I know the sun will have set again and it will be dark once more before I see her again.

We head toward Flying Monkey trail. This is a steep trail that climbs around 600m in 1km and requires the use of a rope to scale parts of the Mesa, however once at the top, the views are stunning. The sun is beginning to rise. I am happy.

It’s a 10 km loop at the top of the mesa over undulating terrain. I try to run slow. It’s going to be a long day. I make conversation with some of the other runners. They have all run plenty of milers. Their advice quenches my novice thirst. I am warned about some of the more technical aspects of this particular course and told wisely “there is no shame in walking.”

It’s time to descend the Flying Monkey Trail and while I try to use the rope to get down the sharp descent, I realise I will be better off if I just use what my Mamma gave me and toboggan down the smooth rock on my backside. I check to make sure I haven’t ripped a giant hole in my pants and quietly encourage myself for my wise wardrobe choice. That could have been a very long day at the office with my backside out in the desert sun.

Soon I check in at Dalton Walsh Aid Station. We’ve already run 30km but I feel super fresh. I leave quickly heading out on a long dirt road that heads toward the second major climb of the race. There is a lone RV out in the desert and I say to another runner “look, it’s Heisenberg.” He tells me this is an awkward conversation so I am forced to run a little faster to make my exit. I channel my spirit animal for this race, the cassowary – bright, colourful, powerful (and slightly awkward).

At the top of the second climb, I encounter slick rock for the first time. I had been warned about this stuff but didn’t appreciate just how awful it was going to be until the first 10km stretch across the rock is under my belt. It is the equivalent of running on undulating, jagged pavement.

Eventually it’s over and I’m back at Dalton Wash. From here we head out onto another dirt road that slowly climbs up toward the third and meanest climb of the race, Goosebump Mesa. The heat starts to affect me. We are out in the open and the sun pummels its rays down upon us. It’s nauseating and it becomes difficult to keep down calories. My pace slows but I keep moving forward.

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I become very interested in every runner I meet. I push the pace a little so I can catch up with a woman with wild curly hair. She’s from New York. She is struggling in the heat and can’t talk much so I day dream about the types of trails she might train on in New York. It keeps me occupied until we hit Goosebump mesa.

As we start to climb Goosebump the wind is knocked out of me. It’s a hands on knees grind to the top. Runners are perched on rocks around each switch back. I’m not the only one struggling but I don’t stop. Short strides and a scramble to the top and I reach Goosebump Aid Station.

From Goosebump we head out on a loop that should take me around two to three hours at the pace I’m going. I’m happy because I know the second time I pass through Goosebump I’ll see my lovely pacer Erin. However there is a slight problem – I’m three hours ahead of my most optimistic, speed demon schedule. I don’t have a phone that works in the USA so I don’t really have any way of contacting Erin. I try to send her a mental message by holding my temples, scrunching my face and hoping really really hard that she gets it, but I don’t like my chances.

About twenty minutes after leaving Goosebump, I start to wonder if I’ve taken the wrong trail. I haven’t seen another runner for some time. Then I hear foot-steps – it’s Cindy! We run together for a bit and then I tell her my predicament – that I’m three hours ahead of schedule and don’t know how to tell my pacer. She offers to text message her. Cindy is running faster than me now so I yell out the phone number as she runs off into the desert.

About an hour later, Cindy and I pass each other again and she lets me know that Erin got the message but won’t meet me at Goosebump as planned. Instead, she will meet me at the aid station 12km out of Goosebump.

I am relieved but as I jog on into Goosebump I feel so sad. The emotion is completely ridiculous but after running all day, I can’t help it – it’s all part of the course. I sit down for the first time all day and change my shoes. I am despondent. I don’t feel like talking to anyone. A camera man puts his great big camera in my face and asks me some questions. I want to tell him to fark off but instead I just ignore him. I’m not hungry. I’m not thirsty. The suddenly, I know exactly what I need…Rob Zombie!

Hellbilly Deluxe is loaded and off we go. I’m running stronger than I have run all day – hand clapping and screaming into the night. The album is over and I feel a little sad before I remember Hellbilly Deluxe 2! There’s a lot more hand clapping and singing and screaming and then I can see them! It’s not just Erin. It’s Julie! Dan! And Adam! (I didn’t know Adam – Julie’s husband, at the time but instantly he became a great friend).

The next few hours were amazing. Erin AND Julie paced me for around three hours. I don’t recall much of the trail through this section – I think it was single trail. I recall Erin had some pretty funky shoes that I just kept my eyes on and tried to keep pace. We had some laughs and giggles and then we passed a man who was having a good old fashioned ultra chunder. Julie is a doctor so she stopped to check he was okay. He was fine – ultra style. So she rejoined us and we jogged and laughed into the night.

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(The top of Goosebump Mesa)

I said good bye to Julie whilst Erin kept me company all the way back to Goosebump Aid Station. This would be the final time I would pass through Goosebump. It was 2am and it was a momentous occasion. Though this was also the point I was to say goodbye to Erin. We would meet again at Virgin Aid Station in around 3 hours time, or so I thought. I wasn’t really talking much at this stage and I was getting cold. I knew it was a terrible descent down the Mesa and I took off without saying a proper goodbye to Erin.

The early morning hours find me hallucinating on a dirt trail. I’m no longer sure what is real and I’m afraid I’m getting hyperthermia. I see cartoon animals – a fox, a few frogs and a Klu Klux Klan man.

At 5am I hit Virgin Desert Aid Station. I don’t see Erin. I’m so cold. I had left my emergency thermal gloves with her and now I think I need them but she’s not here. I ask one of the volunteers if he has seen her. She’s gorgeous, tall and blonde –  hard to miss. She’s not there. I can’t waste any more time so I head out on the first of three 10km loops that loop back to the same aid station.

I’m worried I’m getting frost bite. My hands hurt so bad I put them down my shirt under my arm pits. It helps but it’s very awkward to run with your hands in your arm pits.

I think my nose is going to fall off so I pull my buff over my face.

At 7am I am greeted by one of my wonderful pacers, Julie. I’m afraid it’s another hallucination. I’m so confused. When she talks, I realise she is real. She assures me that when the sun is full in the sky my aches and pains will disappear. She’s a doctor – I believe everything she says, I have to!

They don’t disappear but they do ease as my body warms up for another day of running. This loop feels like it’s taking a very long time, but suddenly I remember I packed my toothbrush. I tell Julie and she gets excited for me – at the end of this loop I will brush my teeth and it will be the best day ever!

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At 9am, I brush my teeth. I can no longer stand or sit – only run. So I lie belly down on a tarp and brush my teeth. Julie, Adam, Erin and Dan gather around me and cheer. Yay! I brushed my teeth!

Erin joins me for the final miles. I am so glad to have her with me for this rough stretch.  She is so good to me. The sun is so hot and I have forgotten my hat. Despite being sleep deprived and dehydrated she offers me her own hat and water. Instead of accepting graciously I start to complain.

“This is farked!”

“This is soooo farked” Erin joins in.

“This is sht!”

“This is soooo sht!”

Erin tells me I have less than 10 miles to go.

“That’s 10 miles too farking far!”

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(Erin and I on the final mile)

I am raging and then suddenly I am laughing.

What a privilege it is to be out in the desert!

Sunrise to sunset to sunrise.

To paraphrase from the film Wild, “There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. You can choose to put yourself in the face of beauty.”

I crossed the finish line at 12:30pm on Saturday – 4 hours ahead of my goal time in a time of 30 hours and 31 minutes.

I had put myself in the face of beauty. I had found my Zion.

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Many many thanks to everyone who supported me in this journey but particular thanks to Matty Abel, my running coach at DBA Runners; Erin and Dan for everything;  Julie and Adam – for being amazing, so amazing to me; thank you to my Dad who is always my inspiration; my mum who always believes in me; and most of all – my Liam who inspires me every day to be the best version of myself.