The “veteran” and her 100km challenge
I can’t quite remember when or where I first heard of TNF 100, but one thing I know is that it made an impression on me. So much so that four years ago when I read in our work newsletter that a guy in one of our interstate offices was going to run TNF 100 I contacted him to wish him luck. He sent me his race report and I kept it – to this day. I told him that I’d love to run TNF one day and he said short and sharply, “you should!” Well I did!
As most of you who have followed my journey know, my training and lead up to this race was quite intense. I did five marathons/ultras as “training runs.” I spent at least two sessions per week on stairs and I managed a minimum of 80km of trail running each week every week in addition to two Bikram sessions, 3 CrossFit sessions and as much bike riding as time would allow.
Three weeks out from the race, whilst out on a group training run with the Dandenong Trail Runners I loudly proclaimed to anyone who would listen “my training has gone perfect for this event, just perfect!”
Well that was my last pain free run. My next run, I felt a “ping” in my foot and that was that. I pushed through on my birthday so that I could get a birthday run in – 20km of absolute pain, but other than that, I didn’t run at all during my taper.
Instead, I got gastro, assaulted by a giant rabbit trap, misplaced my Garmin and lost 10 years of my life to stress looking for it (and still haven’t found it!). Then I had dental surgery two days prior to the race because that seemed like a very good idea at the time. I hadn’t thought through the fact that this would mean I couldn’t eat properly for two days before the race!
So when I lined up at the start line of TNF in Katoomba at 6:48am (wave 5) on Saturday morning, I wasn’t sure my I was going to make it 100m never mind 100km but I thought I’d give it a go.
I was so excited to see so many of my running buddies at the start line that I was quickly swept up in the atmosphere that makes this run such a unique ultra. There were hugs, photos and last minute status updates and then before we knew it, we were off.
My first tentative steps were pain free, okay let’s go! The first 4km is up and back on road and my Big Red Run buddies Tanya and Carmen and I were playing tag team. Tanya was so energetic and happy that I wanted to keep up with her just to feed off that energy. A few shoots of nerve pain up my foot warned me early however that this was my race and I had to run it at my pace if I was going to finish. So I slowed down and just got down to the job of plodding along.
Going into this race, I knew there was a good chance I wasn’t going to finish so I was treating each Checkpoint as an achievement. The first goal was Checkpoint 1 – 10.5km.
Shortly before reaching that Checkpoint is a horrendous lot of stairs. Instantly I was dizzy as I tried to climb them and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest. My quads were burning and I was just so tired. Tired! Already! This was not a good sign.
My usual motto in a race is never to stop, move slowly if need be, but never ever stop – always continue to move forward.
Already, I was falling short on my own expectations of myself. I had to stop twice on that first lot of stairs to catch my breath. I realised then that I was in no state to race. The illness, the lack of training, the lack of eating had all taken its toll and I was tired, too tired today for this. I would withdraw at 10.5km.
Eventually those stairs ended and the trail became runnable. I was okay. I quickly refilled my water at Checkpoint 1 and then pushed on.
Next goal, Checkpoint 2 – 31km.
Most of the next leg was runnable (with the exception of the ladders at the 21km mark) and it was during this stage that I caught up with Carmen and Tanya. Chatting to them I realised that EVERYONE hurt on that first lot of stairs. It had nothing to do with being sick or injured. It was meant to hurt. Get over it!
Whilst I’m not a fast runner, I am constant and consistent and it was during this leg that I was able to plod along and catch a few of the runners that had overtaken me during my melt down on the first lot of stairs. I was feeling really good.
I was in and out of Checkpoint 2 quickly, and the next goal became Checkpoint 3 – 46km. This leg I encountered quite a few runners in a bad way. The most common problem seemed to be cramps. I always carry extra supplies on my runs and I was handing out my Endurolyte tabs by the handful (electrolyte tablets). By the third or fourth runner I knew I’d be getting short on my own supplies so I had to keep my stash. Runners, please – take your hydration and nutrition seriously!
I really loved this section. The loop along Ironpot Ridge where we were treated to didgeridoo was a highlight. It was also at this point that I smacked my knee on a log absent mindedly. It didn’t hurt but it started to spurt a lot of blood. My hot pink socks were becoming red, not cool. I always like to be colour coordinated whilst running and red socks would not match my pink arm guards.
Lots of runnable sections meant I was all smiles when I entered Checkpoint 3 – 46km. I ran into a couple I had met on the Big Forest Marathon a few weeks back at this checkpoint. I knew they were good runners so I was happy that I was keeping pace with them.
I wanted to beat them, so I filled up my water and ran out of the checkpoint before I had even zipped my pack up.
I started running with an American guy for a few kilometres who told me that his wife was in starting group 2 and that she will have showered, eaten and gotten a few zzzs before he crossed the finish line. He said it with such pride that I wanted to hug him. One of the things I adore about this sport is the fact that women often are better runners than their husbands, but the husbands who also run are as proud of their wives as if it were their own achievement.
Checkpoint 4 was only 11km from Checkpoint 3 – 57km, but this was where the stairs started. I remember some beautiful views and some horrible stairs. I also saw a man fall down with the most intense, convulsive cramps I have witnessed. A woman who had stopped to hurl was helping him. They both said they were fine. I wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t too far to the next Checkpoint.
Somewhere during this leg I started running with Scott, we came into Checkpoint 4 together. I was so happy to get to this checkpoint – this was where I had left my first drop bag. I was going to get a bite of a stale old bit of gluten free bread and a caffeinated gel. Life was good!
Just out of Checkpoint 4 I caught up with my buddy George. George and I met at Tarawera Ultra. We ran about 2km together during that run before I took off and left George. We met again at the Buffalo Stampede. We ran about 1km together before George took off dancing and showing off down those sharp descents and left me behind crying and screaming. At TNF, as we hit the stairs George yelled out “I love the stairs.” Then he informed me he was listening to Brittney Spears (his secret weapon) and next up was Backstreet Boys. He was on fire. I couldn’t keep up. That was about 500m – our shortest run yet.
Then the sunset. The darkest hours are the loneliest hours on the trail. There might be runners just up ahead of you, but in the dark you don’t know – you feel alone.
The next few sections were stairs followed by runnable trail, repeat – over and over and over again! Every time I hit the trail I’d over take one girl, then she’d get me on the stairs. I was getting tired of this game. Then I heard “Tash” from behind.
It was Scott. I had thought he had left Checkpoint 4 before me, but it was I who had dashed off in a rush. He’d caught me up.
The next four hours were stairs, bits of runnable trail and good humour. I’d be in a great mood and be yapping away, then my mood would turn. Then Scott would take over. Between the two of us, there weren’t many moments of silence between Checkpoint 4 and 5.
As we entered Checkpoint 5 – the last Checkpoint at 78km, I started screaming. There was Raelene and Greg – the Big Red Run race directors waiting in the dark and the cold. I remember Ray screaming her head off when I came through the finish of my first 100km run almost a year ago now. This time it was my turn to scream. What a pick me up!
I spent more time in Checkpoint 5 than I’ve ever spent in a Checkpoint. I was taking photos – I even stopped to use a toilet – an actual toilet (and not a tree as per usual trail running etiquette). I then explained to Scott that I had only peed twice during the race and that it wasn’t a pleasant experience. That’s what ultra running will do for a friendship – four hours we’d been friends and I was already talking about wee.
We left Checkpoint 5 knowing we were going to make it.
As I explained earlier, I have no idea where my Garmin is at the moment so I ran this race without it. I had no idea what type of time I was aiming for. I wanted that belt buckle – I knew that much (you need to finish under 20 hours to get a belt buckle).
A dying head lamp, a brief conversation with Matt, another Victorian runner about the best and worst bands of Soundwave and more stairs and we were almost there.
The last km of 100km is stairs! My first race in the 30-39 “veteran” category and I was making so many old lady noises “errr, ahhhh, oooohhh, ouch.”
When we got to the top of the stairs I yelled back to Scott “I can see it! I can see the finish!” We held hands and came through the finish line together.
18:25 – that belt buckle was ours!