Hubert 100 miler

2016 was a big year. I did 4 100km races and a lot in between. By the time it got to my A race for the year – Alpine Challenge 100km, I was so tired. So after that race, I took some time off running. I waited for the passion to come back, waited for a race I wanted to train for. I had originally planned to take a month, maybe two, off running. Alpine Challenge was the end of November.  Toward the end of February, I contacted my coach Matty Abel and said “I’ve found the race!” That pretty much meant training for a 100 miler on two months training factoring in taper after having nearly three months off running.

Matty said let’s start training and see how we go. If my body wasn’t up to it, we would enter the 100km instead.

It was also around this time that my nan, my best friend, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One day I returned to the hospital after running the Razorback as a training run. My nan was talking to a friend telling her I was a “champion.” I said I don’t win races Nanna. She said she knew that, but she also knew the types of races I chose and the guts and determination with which I took on such challenges and that made me a champion.

So with that in mind, I told Matty it’s the 100 miler. He said let’s shoot for the stars so we did.

I put my absolute trust in Matty. Matty coached me through my first 100 miler and to Alpine Challenge. It takes all the worry out of planning for a race. I just do as Matty says as I know Matty knows best.

About a month before the race, my nan died.

I got really sick.

But we got there. The training was done, and it was time to race.

I flew into Adelaide and my amazing friend Tanya picked me up and we drove out to the Flinders Ranges. She had brought along all the camping gear we needed. Once again, I was saved from using my brain. Tanya was originally going to pace me but a nasty mountain bike stack meant walking was pretty painful for her. This meant I was going into the 100 miler with no crew and no pacer. Solely dependent on my drop bags. I had drawn up a race plan with a best and worst case scenario and felt pretty confident that everything would be okay.

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(Tanya set up camp and even poured me a homemade kombucha)

Race morning – 10am. The late start meant I was feeling really relaxed. I had had time to eat a proper breakfast and had gotten a really good night sleep. There was a fuss about the GPS trackers at the start line. They had been handed out the night before but no one had realised they needed batteries so the race director had gone out to buy 72 AA batteries in the Flinders Ranges (I’m sure that cost him an arm and a leg). In a very vague and calm manner, order seemed to have been restored.

10:02 am and we were off. Very quickly I found myself mid pack – I couldn’t see the front runners ahead and I couldn’t hear or see the runners behind me. I came to a bridge with a Yumigo sign and an arrow pointing turn left. My gut told me that wasn’t right but we had been told the trail was marked. This was a marker. So I took it. It really didn’t feel right. There was an app we could download ahead of time with the map of the course that should tell us if we were on track or not. I got out my phone and the  map said I was on course. Still it didn’t feel right. I had stopped for so long that the back runners should have caught me by now.

Then I saw a group of hikers who told me “yes you’re going the right way” so I kept on shuffling. Then I saw another hiker who said “you’ve gone the wrong way – go back!” At this stage I was about 2km down the trail in the wrong direction. So I turned around and headed back up the hill. Then I heard her yell “runner come back!” So I went back down the hill. There was a bit of course marking that she pointed me too – a ribbon tied to a tree. So we figured that must be the way to go. I followed that trail and came out to the bridge with the arrow I had originally taken in the wrong direction. It was a loop I hadn’t needed to do. With all the fucking around I figured I was about 45 minutes behind the last runner.

I know the first part of a miler should feel easy but I was so stressed. My breathing was laboured and I could feel my heart racing but I had to push on. I pulled out the course notes I had printed from the website and realised that I really shouldn’t have done that loop but for fuck sake – a marked course is a marked course isn’t it? I had no faith I was on the right track anymore but I just kept running. I ran most of the way up Mary’s Peak and just as I was about to go the wrong way again a couple of hikers called out to me “you need to turn down here.” Another junction with no trail marking. In fact the junction itself was really difficult to spot.  I thanked them profusely and asked if they had seen any other runners recently. Then I heard from the foliage “yes, we’re runners!” It was Kym and Kate – my new friends. They explained that the rest of their group had gone the wrong way at that junction and had gone to the summit of Mary’s Peak and so were now behind us. As we climbed down the rocky drop off Mary’s Peak together I wondered how the fuck I was going to get back up here at the 145km mark. I had thought this was just a little hill but it was full on rock climbing.

Kym and Kate were great and we were soon in good spirits again – taking a few snaps as we descended from the rocky drop off of Mary’s Peak.

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As the rest of Kym and Kate’s group caught up, I made new friends. I got familiar with the sound of Michelle’s voice which turned out to be a life saver later in the race.

We got to the first checkpoint and I realised I was about 1.5 hours of my slowest predicted time. Oh well, shit happens. We pushed on. I stayed with the group for a little bit.  I really enjoyed chatting to Katie here – we spoke about strength training and CrossFit and realised that our parents lived only a few streets away,  but I realised I had a lot of time to make up if I wanted to get close to my goal time and the course was fairly runnable so I pushed on ahead. Checkpoint 1 – 2 was the most enjoyable part of the course. I didn’t get lost and I was able to run most of the way.

As I left Checkpoint 2 I said to the volunteer “is there anything I need to be extra cautious of on this next stretch?” He said follow the creek bed and watch out for course markings. It’s a lot of goat track but don’t stress as it’s pretty well marked. This is when things went downhill pretty fast. There was no trail. It was completely overgrown and spider infested. My legs were gashed up from spotting markers in random spots and trying to get back on trail.

I was getting a bit down and thought it might be time for some Pantera so I pulled out my IPod shuffle, only to discover the lock had come unlocked in my pack and it was flat – I got through half a Chimaira song before she went dead. FUCK! I couldn’t afford to use my phone for music as I hadn’t expected to be so dependent on the phone map to tell me when I was off course. I didn’t expect my phone battery to last as it was so I couldn’t afford any unnecessary usage. It was going to be a long 100 miles.

Things were becoming more and more overgrown and I realised I hadn’t seen a marker in a long time – which wasn’t unusual except for the fact that the giant spider webs I was passing hadn’t been broken, meaning no one had come down this far.

I sat down on a log thinking I was going to cry but I was too angry to cry. I looked at my phone map and I was clearly off course but couldn’t figure out where I was meant to go. I started back tracking to the last marker I saw – maybe a km or so back. Then in the setting sun, I heard Michelle. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, I couldn’t see her,  but it was definitely her pitch of happiness and laughter carrying through creek bed. So I tried to move as fast as I could to find her. There she was with her party squad. I was broken. We had travelled about 35 official kilometres. I had already done around 5 extra and spent hours lost. I was ready to pull the pin. I just had to get to the next aid station. When Michelle showed me where the turn off was from the creek bed, there was no course marker. Just as we headed up we heard another two runners – Anna and Glen behind us.  They had also gotten lost. They were quite a bit in front of me so they must have lost some good time being lost in that creek bed.

I asked Michelle if I could stay with her party squad. I coudn’t think of any other way that I could finish this stupid race. She was so kind. Her whole squad were so kind.  So we all stuck together, trying to navigate through the bullshit. 9 pairs of eyes working together.

We put on our torches early – mostly because it was the only way to spot the trail markings. Whilst we couldn’t see them in daylight, in the night our lights reflected off the markings and gave us a better sense of where we should be heading.  As the sun set we exited the bush and onto a proper trail. I knew if we kept going at this pace I wouldn’t make cut off as I expected to slow down in the back end of the course, but I also couldn’t afford to separate from the group and get lost again. Anna and I started jogging together at this point and realised we were quite similar speed and our original finishing goals were the same – 30 hours. Her and Glen were running the race together and I asked if I could run with them. Anna said she thought her and Glen’s trail marriage would benefit from having a baby – and so trail baby Tash joined the gang.

We came into Checkpoint 3 together and Glen and I were both pretty angry. I tried not to yell at the volunteers as they were doing their best but I was so frustrated. One of the volunteers said “If it makes you feel any better, every runner except one has gotten lost.” I was livid. No it did not make me feel better, it made me feel unsafe. This course was advertised as a marked course event. I was not prepared to navigate. I didn’t have a topographical map. I had printed the maps from the website but they were bullshit. I had also printed off the course notes from the website but they were not Paul Ashton quality course notes. In fact they omitted crucial details like “left” or “right.” Thank Christ I had the course map loaded to my phone but I hadn’t expected to be so reliant on it and didn’t expect my phone battery would last.

We left Checkpoint 3 and only 1km out of the checkpoint realised we were lost again. With frustration and a bit of debate as to whether we went left or right, we retraced our steps and eventually got back on track.

Through the night, the three of us pushed on – all eyes were needed to spot the Heysen Trail markers which were our only way of knowing we were on course. We had to walk most of this section as the terrain was uneven and we needed to focus on finding the course markings. However we stayed positive as we knew from Checkpoint 4 to 6 the trail was an actual trail and we would be able to run most of it (or so we thought).

As we came into Checkpoint 4 one of the volunteers came out to meet us. He was a legend, just like all the guys at Checkpoint 4. He said that someone’s crew were waiting for them at the checkpoint. None of us had crew and I knew Tanya was pretty unwell so I didn’t expect it to be her – plus I was 4 hours off my time target and there was no way for her to know that given the GPS trackers weren’t working, but holy shit! I saw the bushbashing Festiva parked next to the checkpoint and new it was her. What a deadset legend. I was really worried that as I was so far off my predicted finish time I didn’t have enough battery for my torch. Instead of spending one night out on course I was looking at two. She pulled out a set of batteries and sent me off into the night. What a bloody deadset legend – can’t say that enough.

Checkpoint 4 is an out and back – it heads out to Checkpoint 6, passing Checkpoint 5 and then returns as Checkpoint 4 becomes the new Checkpoint 8. As we left the  checkpoint we were so disheartened to realise that the course wasn’t a dirt road like we thought and instead were sent off navigating through the forest. We got lost again. We kept meeting the faster runners who were on their way back in who all looked a little freaked out – all of them having gotten lost in the forest on this section. Most of them had teamed up with other runners – safety in numbers I guess.

Whilst I hadn’t given cut off times any thought until now I suddenly realised we were so far behind schedule that we should actually consider them. Glen checked his course notes and we discovered we had til 4.15am to get to Checkpoint 6. We never found Checkpoint 5 so we weren’t sure how far we had to go. We pushed on but we were upset. At 4.07am we pulled into Checkpoint 6. Anna burst into tears. I was lost for words. I thought we were out, but the checkpoint staff said we were the last ones to make cut off and to get in and out as quickly as possible.

My nutrition strategy for the race was Tailwind with the occasional snack. Here is where I started to fuck up. I tipped a very small amount of Tailwind into my bottle and in a frenzy to get in and out of the checkpoint as fast as possible, just focused on water.

We pushed on out of Checkpoint 6 with 20km to go to Checkpoint 8 (once again we never found Checkpoint 7) and a cut off time of 8.30am. We had to go back through the bullshit forest. This time we didn’t get lost but we had already come to terms with the fact that we were probably out of the race. We passed Michelle’s party gang and a few other runners on their way into Checkpoint 6 knowing that they hadn’t made cut off. Given they’d already travelled 86km plus all the additional kms getting lost to get there it was a sad passing.

When the sun came up I figured I’d have a Cliff bar for breakfast. I think this was the first thing I’d eaten in 7 hours other than the half scoop of Tailwind. My stomach had forgotten what to do with food and I wanted to hurl. I told Anna and Glen to push on ahead and try and make cut off. I dawdled behind heaving in the bushes and stumbling at snails pace. I started to think about my Nanna – what a fucking shit way to honour her memory. All I wanted to do was something beautiful with my grief and instead I was going to DNF at 106km after 22 bullshit hours of getting lost and angry.

No no no! I started running. I could see the checkpoint.

“Have I made it?”

“You’ve made it!”

Glen and Anna were still there and Anna said “Please tell me you’re going to continue on with us.” So I did.

image(The relief of having made it to Checkpoint 8 was overwhelming)

 

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(The view coming out of Checkpoint 8 and heading into a new day – day 2 of running)

Day 2 was pretty good. We were so tired but the trail was easy. Dirt roads and no navigation required. We were so happy that we had made that cut off point that we had a spring in our step. It also helped that the volunteers at Checkpoint 8 were deadset legends.

At Checkpoint 9 my friend Tanya turned up. She was so happy and we were so happy. I had meant to pick up my second watch here but as I was so far off time schedule my first watch had long been flat and I couldn’t be fucked. Something I regret now as I always like to have the strava file. Oh well. I had also put shorts into this drop bag which in my daze I forgot to change into so it was a long day in the sun in long thick pants.

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(Just out of Checkpoint 9 I asked Tanya to post this to my FB page to assure everyone I was still alive – just)

Just before Checkpoint 10 Tanya turned up again. She was having a ball bush bashing in her Festiva. Unfortunately my good spirits were heading down down down at this stage. They didn’t pick up when I got to Checkpoint 10 and the volunteers said “Are you on track to meet cut off? Are there any other runners out there?” They explained that they had no satellite phone and no way of communicating with the race staff. They had taken a GPS tracker off of one of the runners so they could use the SOS feature if things went real pear shapped

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(Tanya bushbashing in the Festiva – who needs a four wheel drive?)

It was all pretty uneventful from here until about 5km from the final checkpoint. Late in the afternoon. We were so tired. I felt like I was losing my mind. I was falling asleep as I plodded along the trail. Tanya had caught up with us again and rode behind us on her bike chatting. I was too tired to talk. I told her I was quitting – that I couldn’t possibly get myself back up Mary’s Peak in my current state. All I remember her saying is “your legs know what to do, trust in your training.” I was a brat and I think I argued with her but then when I got to checkpoint 11 I knew she was right and I was bloody happy again. I was actually looking forward to that climb.

So up we went – up up up, and there it was – a magnificent sunset. I was too afraid to take a photo as I could have fallen off the rock ledge, but I took a moment to take it in and we kept on climbing.

We were at the top and then it was down down down Mary’s peak. It was fine. I was in a good mood and it wasn’t Mt Feathertop so down down down we went.

Then we got to a dirt road and knew we had about 7km to get to the finish. We knew cut offs had been extended by half hour but we wanted to make the original cut off – we could do it. We had an hour. Anna and I started shuffling. We stopped and waited for Glen to catch up but his hip and knee were hurting. We were getting cold and Anna didn’t have gloves. I’m not proud of what happened next, but we started shuffling ahead – to keep warm and cause we wanted to make that cut off. Glen got further behind. We agreed we would run back out to meet him if we got to the finish first.

About a kilometre on and Anna’s friend came out to meet her. They started running together and I couldn’t keep up. Before I knew it they were gone. Then my head torch went out. Fuck! Well that was my karma right there to bite me on the arse. I shouldn’t have left Glen.

I managed to get a very low beam of light out of my torch but wasn’t sure how long it would last. I had about 5km to go and so I started running as hard as I could, hoping I could outlast the last rays of battery my torch had.

There it finally was – the finish.  Michelle was there to adorn me with my finishing medal – and Tanya, a bloody dead set legend – waiting with a warm jacket and a protein bar.

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About tashytuffnut

ultramarathon runner, desert runner, trail runner, musician, vegetarian, tattoos, lawyer.

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