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Why you should dare to fail

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It’s been just over a month since I failed at my lofty goal of running 330km across the mountainous region of the Aosta Valley in Italy. I have had a lot to process.

My body doesn’t feel too bad. I still have bursitis in my feet, but other than that I have recovered well.

My brain on the other hand, is a bit broken. I thought maybe it was lack of sleep, jet lag, pushing myself to my limits. I just needed time to recover. But it isn’t that. It’s processing the fact that I failed that has broken me a little.

When I tell someone I failed, I can predict the response. It makes people very uncomfortable to call a 200km run in the mountains a failure, but the fact is, I didn’t go to Italy to run 200km. I went there to run and finish a 330km race. I did not run or finish that distance. I failed.

I’ve done a lot of things badly in my life, but no one has ever called me a failure. To be able to say with honesty that I absolutely failed is a novel way of speaking.

I set myself a lofty goal of running this race and I knew, statistically, that I had a 50% chance of success. That also means I had a 50% chance of failure.

When I say I failed, I don’t mean to diminish my accomplishment, or to diminish anyone else’s accomplishments.  I still ran further than I’ve ever run and I am not insinuating that if you can’t run that far, that you are a failure. This comes down to one simple fact –  I did not finish the race. I did not achieve my goal therefore I failed.

Being so physically beaten up, I have had no choice but to sit and be still and think. Why did I fail? What could I have done differently? Failure does not have to be a negative word or experience. There are many great lessons to learn through failing.

Preparation and committment are key

I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. I tried to fit all my training into 6 weeks. I have years of endurance in the legs, so I thought I could take a short cut, but short cuts never work. You set a goal that is so huge you have a 50% chance of failing, you have to give it your all, and not just your all the day before, a week before. The day you commit to the goal is the day you must commit to give it 100%.

Sometimes it’s okay to ask for help

I wasn’t prepared to accept help. I wasted so much time at checkpoints because I didn’t have a crew. All that time added up and in the end, I timed out. I didn’t do it out of pride, but I didn’t think anyone wanted to help me. It was such an absurd goal that only meant something to me, so why would I ask someone to take time out of their life to help me? Since failing, I’ve realised I had so many people in my corner willing me to succeed. I could have asked any one of these people for help and they would have done anything I asked. If you don’t ask for help you won’t get it. So be brave and accept that you don’t know everything and you can’t do everything and sometimes, you need to ask others for help.

Trust in your own experience

I didn’t trust my gut. Years of endurance have taught me a thing or two and whilst I might not have been as conditioned as I would have liked, I knew what I needed to do to have a good chance of success. At the last minute however,  I doubted myself. I got scared and I made some silly decisions. I did what others were doing – others who looked more experienced or knowledgeable than me. That wasn’t the right thing for me. My self doubt was irrational, unjustified and cost me.

I’m not a professional athlete. I do these things because I want to learn something about myself, something about life that I can put into practice daily. By failing, I learned more than I anticipated. So maybe my failure was my biggest achievement.

Dare to dream big enough that failure is a real risk.

Dare to fail.

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Tor Des Geants 2018

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Where do I even start with a race report on a race that runs for 330km (340 or even 350 depending on whose data you’re looking at and which race profile you check) with 24,000m of elevation.

I had it in my head that 2019 was the year I wanted to do TOR. I had a plan to get there, the races I would do to feel mentally and physically prepared before contemplating the feat of TOR. But TOR is a lottery entry system and I was told to get my entry in this year if I wanted to run it next year (as each year you’re not selected doubles your chances for the following year). Well that plan backfired and so I found myself entered into a race that having never run in Europe before, I just couldn’t quite comprehend.

The husband and I already had a trip planned to Europe (the flat parts) only a few short months before TOR and so, instead of dutifully executing a perfect race plan for TOR, I just managed to maintain some running fitness in between pierogi feasts and raikia parties before getting bitten by a black widow spider. I came home to Australia with six weeks to focus on TOR, but spent the first two weeks of that dealing with jet lag and spider bite induced nausea. Not to mention the fact that the little mountains we do have to train on were covered in snow.

Fast forward to my arrival in Courmayeur Italy, the start of the race. Thanks to that spider I was my racing weight and I quickly felt myself swept up in the magic that is TOR.

The day before the race starts, all competitors must register and have their mandatory gear checked. I was keen to eat as much gelato as possible before the race having only just recently discovered how awesome that stuff is. However, race checkin was a solid four hours of standing in line. After a few hours of standing next to one another in silence, I was asked by the people next to me whether I was here on my own. I replied in a very round about way that yes I would be racing on my own and didn’t have support crew. They looked so concerned. At this point, I didn’t understand their concerns and I thought it was because I looked so vulnerable and out of place and mistook their concern for thought that I shouldn’t be there. They were very kind and the woman gave me her facebook messenger details. She explained she was supporting her friend who was racing (and didn’t speak English) but said if I needed anything to message her. I was pretty blown away by her kindness.

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Photo credit: new friend May met in line up. Who let this girl that looks like she belongs at the beach into a mountain race?

 

Eventually I was called forward in the line and registered and was given my drop back – this is the bag that follows you throughout the race and that you can access every 50km. Hmmm…the new design meant that the bag was a hell of a lot smaller than the previous years. I wondered how I was going to fit all my food and clothes in. The race requires you to be essentially self sufficient from life base to life base so your drop bag needs to contain the food you’ll be carrying, batteries for torches/devices etc, warm and dry clothing, a change of shoes.

After four hours of standing in line plus the time it took to actually register, the day had just disappeared. We had an hour or so to get home, pack our drop bags and then rush back for the race briefing/ pasta party.

Somehow, I managed to cram everything I thought I needed into that bag and with a bit of effort, managed to zip it up. It was too late to drop the bag off now though, so Tamyka and Derek (my two Australian TOR travellers, whom I was sharing accomodation and many laughs with) and I rushed back down to the building where the pasta party was about to start.  Here we met our Hong Kong friend who told us he had never run on trails, had trained for this race by smoking cigarettes and didn’t know what the toilet etiquette was during remote trail races. We had a good chuckle about his naivity on the way back to our accomodation. I think he had a good chuckle about our naivity when we met at the start line the next day and he had his UTMB calf sleeves and Hard Rock 100 patch on his pack. He totally punked us.

Anyway, back to the accomodation for a restless night’s sleep.

Whilst the race didn’t start till 12pm on the Sunday, we still had to drop our drop bags off and given the delays we experienced with race checkin the day before, we didn’t want to leave anything to the last minute so off we went quite early. So early that we got to the start line with hours to spare. The sun was out in full force so we took a seat in the gutter in the shade and this was when my Salomon soft flasks decided to start leaking. Given I was expecting some very cold nights, this was quite a shit situation. However Tamyka reminded me that every single shop in Courmayeur sold Salomon gear and I’d only need to walk a hundred meters to find and purchase replacements. This was one of the real novelties of Courmayeur – the fact that every store was either a gelato shop, a pizza place or an outdoor gear store.

New gear purchased, another hour or so in the sun and then it was go time.

The race starts in the centre of Courmayeur and we ran a few kilometres through the town and the main street before hitting the trails. The streets were lined with people all cheering and ringing bells. I felt really emotional at this point and let myself have a little cry. I couldn’t think ahead to the finish at this point, which also runs down the same street. I was just totally in the moment, appreciating the hundreds of people who had come out to show their support. It was an atmosphere I’ve never experienced and was an absolute joy.

As we exited the streets and onto the trail and the first climb, the trail became very congested and we all just had to be patient. We arranged ourselves in a very long and slow conga line and just started moving up to Col Arp (2,571m). I took this climb very conservatively as just wanted to give myself time to adjust to the altitude changes and to warm the body up after waiting at the race start for so long. This was easy to do as the crowd had to move like one giant body – for that first climb, we were a collective being joined by an ideal or goal  that seemed ludicrous to the rest of the world, but perfectly normal and exciting for us.

Once we got to the top, the long descent into the first checkpoint, La Thuile, was easy and really enjoyable. I was so relieved to get into the first checkpoint with about an hour up my sleeve on the cut offs. I had a fear that I wouldn’t make the first checkpoint and that would have been an absolute embarrassment. So the first goal was ticked off.

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Photo: Once mountain down, 25 to go.

This was my first experience of the food on offer at the aid stations and I smashed into some cake that seemed to be filled with Nutella. I thought it was awesome (oh how I would come to loath that cake later in the race). Tamyka and Derek were a bit ahead of me at this point and I’d seen them leave the aid station so that kept me motivated to keep my time there short and get back out onto the trail.

Leaving La Thuile, there were two more peaks at approximately 2,800m to climb before reaching the first life base. I can’t really recall much of the terrain here. I just know that I was so relieved to come into the life base Valgrisenche which was officially at the 50km mark of the race. It must have been around 4am. I gave myself three hours here. If I left at 7am, I’d be two hours ahead of the cut off.

The food at the lifebases is a lot more substantial than the checkpoints and so I had a potato here and some tomato and a lot of cheese. Whilst cheese isn’t part of my normal day to day diet, I have no idea how anyone can survive in Italy (or Europe in general) without eating cheese. I then gave myself two hours to sleep.

The beds here were like army cots, no pillows. Just a scratchy blanket that being at the back of the pack, I knew would be covered in the sweat of all those who had slept before me. The lighting in the sleeping tent was intense. It was so bright. I put on my sleeping mask and earplugs but the light was so bright and I could feel the generator in my body. I didn’t sleep but it was nice to be off my feet. After 80 minutes though I was too anxious. I got up, changed into some clean clothes. Sorted out what I needed from my drop bag – clean socks, food, batteries.

Then I went back into the food tent to grab a coffee. “Finito! Run Out!” I was told. I looked around the tent and I felt pretty low. What I saw was so different to the recounts I had been told by others who had finished TOR. I realised then that the experience of those who are at the front, or even mid of the pack is very different to those at the back of the pack. No coffee. I was going into my second day of running with 80 minutes of rest, no sleep, with no coffee. I was low.

I dropped off my bag to the volunteers and headed out onto the trail. I couldn’t decide what clothing was appropriate for the early morning. I kept putting my thermal on, taking it off, putting it on, taking it off.  A couple were moving just ahead of me, not speaking English but yelling at one another in their native tongue. I couldn’t figure out if they were fighting or just very expressive. They were very loud regardless and not having coffee and wanting to just experience the sanctity of a morning in the mountains, I overtook them.  Not too long after that Tamyka and Derek caught me. They had managed a bit more sleep but were much stronger on the climbs than me. Plus the lack of coffee didn’t seem to cause the same tantrum in them as it did with me. I really couldn’t get past it mentally. I was brewing on it (excuse the pun).

It wasn’t very long before we got to Riffugio Chalet De L’Epee. I’d been so pissed about the coffee that I’d been thinking about it the entire climb and so was very surprised to see the riffugio come up so quickly. I went inside and low and behold…they had coffee. Oh my heart was singing. Praise be! I had two cups and some of that Nutella cake which I was still happy about and then left feeling like a brand new person.

My memories of the second day are a bit of a blur except for the first 3000m climb – Col Entrelor (3,002m). The day had been really hot. I was expecting cold and wet conditions. I had trained in the wet and snow in Melbourne and so had been used to wearing a lot of my mandatory gear. It was hot so all my gear was in my pack. My shoulders were hurting from the heavy load. I was tired and my face felt like it was on fire. I looked up to where the trail was heading and I just felt knackered. I was sure I was in last place as I knew there were a group of guys ahead of me but couldn’t see anyone behind me and I had a good view from part way up the Col. I started to crack the shits. It all seemed too hard. I was too tired. Where was the shade? My face was too hot. I sat down on a rock wondering what to do. There was no way out of here – no option to quit as how the fuck would I get out? I had to keep going. If I was going to quit, I had to make that decision at an aid station, not half way up a friggin mountain.

Just as I sat down my phone buzzed, I checked it and I had two messages, one from my mummy-bear telling me she was so proud of me and to keep going. The other message was from my running coach, Matty Abel. I was pretty tired and couldn’t make a whole lot of sense about what his message said. It had a lot of numbers in it. But what I did managed to understand was that I wasn’t in last place, I wasn’t out of the cut offs, that I could have a sleep at the next life base and things would be okay – I was still in the race. So I smashed into some chocolate I found in my pack and then got up, feeling brand new. I pushed on and before I knew it, I was up and over the pass.

The next pass was even higher, Col Losson at 3,299m. I’d had my tantrum and I’d moved passed it though so I didn’t worry about the numbers, I just kept moving. One foot in front of the other. On this climb, I saw a lot of people napping on the side of the trail. I also saw a LOT of spiders on the side of the trail and I knew that no matter how tired I was, after surviving that black widow bite, I would not be napping on the side of the trail.

Eventually I arrived at the second life base Cogne (106km). Whilst I did have a few hallucinations during this run, it was the things I saw in real life that were even weirder. This was the life base where I saw a woman in the complete nude, go to the toilet with the door open. She then proceeded to shower with the door open. I was too tired to care, but couldn’t quite figure that one out.

I had another potato here and some tomato (the only fresh thing that seemed to be on offer beside the odd banana). I wondered where this polenta was that all my faster friends had talked of.

The best thing about Cogne was the sleeping room. I didn’t need to worry about my alarm here as volunteers would wake you up after a set period of time. The room was dark, and there were pillows! I had two glorious hours of sleep here and I awoke to a volunteer gently touching my face. Oh I felt so happy when I got up….and there was coffee! I left Cogne feeling like I’d been given new legs.

 

Photo credit: Valeriano. Coming into the checkpoint in Chardonney at 133km and having a ten minute nap with a mouth full of cheese and bread (multi-tasking)

That new leg, happy soul feeling lasted most of day three. This section wasn’t too difficult and I’d started to think of the race much like a multi day race except the nights of sleep were more like a 90 minute nap, but I could fool my brain into thinking I was rested.  If the race really were just a multi-day race, then today was the easy day. 45km. One long climb and one long descent.

It was another hot day and I have to admit I struggled here. I should have been okay. I’m used to running in the heat. In fact, I normally love running in the heat but because I wasn’t expecting it, it got to me. I also made a crucial error here and didn’t sunscreen a tiny little patch of skin that was poking out between my leggings and my socks. When the sun eventually went down, I realised it was so burned it had blistered.

On the long descent into the Donnas (Life Base 3), I stopped in at the last riffugio to have my number checked off and it was here that I ran into my friend Jane – who I expected to be much further ahead than me. Jane had run TOR (and finished) before but her experience shows that you are never in control in the mountains and anything can happen. She was hallucinating so badly that she had to stop and rest here. She explained to me that she couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t anymore. I hugged her and told her to be safe before I left and continued on to the Donnas.

I started running through a town and thought it must be the Donnas as my watch was already many kilometers ahead of the official distance. Here, another new friend, Valeriano, met me at some ungodly hour of the early morning to take some photos and tell me that it was another half hour – maybe an hour to the Donna’s. My heart sunk.

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Photo credit: Valeriano. A few kilometers from the Donnas. What’s not to smile about really?

 

Out of the dark, Valeriano once again appeared and told me “10 more minutes!” I was alive again and pushed on. I ran past a pizza place and thought man that would be great right now. This was the first time I really wished I had crew or support – someone who could have brought me pizza.

I got to the Donnas with much more time up my sleeve, but I knew that the next section was the hardest section. I had been warned by my new friends that I met in the line up to registration that I needed to rest and eat hard at the Donna’s before attempting the next section. I tried to eat some food before my sleep but I was so exhausted here that the chewing seemed like  it required energy I didn’t have. Once again, I didn’t see or wasn’t offered any bloody polenta. The potato wasn’t working for me, it required cutting, coordination to get it on my fork and then all that chewing. I got down what I could. I’d promised myself a shower at the Donna’s if I had enough time up my sleeve but this Life Base was all a bit confusing. Thankfully Valeriano met me here and explained where everything was. The energy was quite somber here and unhelpful so I was grateful to Valeriano.

The shower….hmmm. Given I’d been dreaming about this for three days it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. It was a squat toilet, with a crate put over it to stop you falling in, and a hose with a shower head. No where to put your dry clothes, no where to hang a towel. I’d given myself exactly 10 minutes to get clean and I think given the circumstance, making this time goal was probably my biggest achievement of the race.

I then went up stairs – yes, up stairs, to the sleeping room. Fuck ME! I was blown away by the heat in the room. I’d just had a shower but instantly started sweating. My face felt like it was on fire. I was convinced I’d been severely sun burned but then looked around at those sleeping and despite it being 8 degrees outside, no one had a blanket and most people were in their underwear. The room was dark but this had come at a price. They had bordered up the windows with black plastic which had created a sauna like environment. I was so exhausted that it didn’t seem to matter. I had three hours of sleep here and it was bliss. When the alarm went off I wondered what was the point. Many people were still asleep around me and I wondered momentarily whether to go on or not. This was one of the hardest battles to deal with – making yourself get out there after a nap. Luckily I was still so tired that my brain wasn’t really capable of much thought or action. I was in auto pilot. Put your shoes back on, take out what you need from the drop bag, zip up drop bag, get out.

The drop bag was becoming a real burden to me. It was only at the Donna’s that I realised, I’d been carrying around a heavy winter jacket and additional warm clothing in my day pack that I didn’t need given it was so bloody hot. I took this stuff out and tried to jam it into my drop bag, which was a nightmare. All the worry before the race that I wouldn’t be able to take all the things I needed in that drop bag were so unfounded. I had barely touched a thing in that drop bag. Other than clean T-shirts and socks and batteries, everything else in that bag was just causing me stress. I couldn’t make any sense of it the more tired I grew.

I put my pack on and realised that my shoulders were in a very bad way from the pack. I had just ignored them up until now but three hours of napping without the pack made it unbearable to put back on. I found a few buffs in my drop bag and put them under my bra straps to pad my shoulders out. OH BLISS! Why it took me so long to figure that one out I do not know.

Eventually, out of the Donnas and onto what I’d been warned was the hardest section of the course. It was very early morning – still very dark and I started to climb. Up, up up. I’d stopped checking the course profile as the distance to aid stations was disheartening. They were never what they said they were going to be. If it said 20km to an aid station, you could bet it was at least 25km. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came into an aid station at Perloz which was where it said it was going to be. The best thing about this aid station was that it was the only one that had any variety. I was so sick of that Nutella cake by now and here I was greeted with some sugary crispy donut thing – it was so good….AND Coffee!

I had to stop here a bit longer than I’d planned as I realised my heels were coming off my feet. Not quite but that’s what it felt like. I’ve never had blisters on my heels before but I never really experience blisters at all these days yet my feet looked pretty bad here. Because it’s not a problem I have, it’s not something I was used to dealing with so I just kept changing my socks and putting paper tape and bandaids on the hot spots. I could have gone to the medic staff, but I didn’t have any free time up my belt. The line ups were long to get assistance and I didn’t have the time to wait or the time to be dealt with – that was time I could be sleeping or eating or moving. So I ignored every pain I had and just kept at it.

The sun came up eventually and it was very cloudy and foggy. As we got higher and higher, visibility decreased. Eventually we were onto the section that I expect is a nightmare in the dark. Boulders, rocky, no real trail – just searching for the marker in the fog, trying to keep balance on sharp rocks and sore feet.

It was so foggy that there was no way to see the riffugio we were heading to (Riffugio Coda at 2,224m). Once again, my watch told me we should have hit the riffugio kilometers ago, so I just looked at the altitude on my watch and knew when we got high enough, we’d be there. Suddenly, after what felt like hours of pining,  it came out of the fog. I had no idea what was going on at this riffugio. It was cold – so I went inside but there wasn’t much in there. Actually there was nothing in there except a guy making soup. I went back outside – there was coffee. It was good coffee. But the food was revolting. There was one plate that had cheese, some spam looking stuff and the Nutella cake all mixed up. I’d relaxed my attitude to cheese but I didn’t want any spam with that.

I felt annoyed here – there was no communication whatsoever. I had to ask someone if they needed to record my race number. They didn’t reply. I didn’t know what was going on. I drank some more coffee and then left. The confusion for me was that some aid stations record your race number when you enter and when you leave, others just when you enter. Some didn’t seem to know what they were doing and with no common language (I don’t speak Italian), no one seemed to know what was going on.

I moved on and started the long undulating section to Riffugio della Barma. I hated this section. It was rocky at times, very uneven. Sometimes very cold, other times very humid. I couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t get a rhythm with my movements. We started descending – a descent that isn’t quite visible on the course profile and I hated it because I knew we’d have to climb back up to get to the riffugio. Once again, the aid station was so much further than was marked on the profile. I was losing a lot of time this day because I’d budget my time for 15km, but the distance would in fact be 20km. Just before the final climb to the riffugio, some locals had set up a make shift aid station and were dancing around in cut off jeans with champagne. Many of the runners – actually all of them that were within distance stopped to have a guzzle and a party. I wasn’t feeling it. I knew I was cutting into time I didn’t have. I asked for some water and they looked surprised. “No champagne??”

I started climbing and I knew I had to claw back some time. I’d left the Donna’s with time up my sleeve, but now I was only an hour ahead of cut offs. I can climb better than I can descend, so I started pushing it. It was hot and I pushed hard and I made the biggest mistake of my race – I pushed to a point that I couldn’t recover. I got to the riffugio and looked around me. I was teary eyed. I felt like I had gone deep into a place of suffering on that last climb that I didn’t know existed. I wanted this so bad and I had pushed so hard to try and keep it within reach.  As I looked into the eyes of those around me, I knew they’d all been there too. We were all silent. Not a word was spoken. Bowls of pasta were handed out while we all contemplated how the fuck we were going to get to the next aid station?

I didn’t linger long. I guzzled some coke and pushed on but was called back by one of the volunteers. I had no idea what they were saying in Italian but then figured out they thought I took the wrong poles (you need to leave your hiking poles outside each riffugio). Mine were clearly labelled with my name so I pointed. They still seeemed confused but let me leave.

Things didn’t get better for me here. It was such rocky terrain and whilst I ran wherever I could, the rocky stuff slowed me down. I wasn’t making up any time, in fact I was losing it. I tried to strike up a conversation with an Italian guy that I knew spoke English, but he was too exhausted. There were a good eight runners around me at this stage but I couldn’t communicate with any of them, and I started to sink low. I wanted it to be over, but I thought of all the sacrifices I had made to get here. I thought of my mum who needed me but had selflessly supported me to be here. I thought of the hours of training and the impact they had had on my marriage. I thought of Matty, my coach, who had been messaging me throughout the race from home giving me direction, guidance and support. I couldn’t quit. I still had an hour up my sleeve. I wouldn’t quit, I couldn’t quit.

As the sun set on day four of my race, the mountains took on a new presence – they were giant shadows in the dimming light. I understood the name of the race, this really was a tour of the giants.

I could hear the cow bells as runners were coming into the aid station at Neil (officially 192km but my watch was reading 217km). It felt like a lifetime before I eventually saw it and crawled into the room, literally. I was on the floor. I couldn’t get up. I knew I just needed half hour to eat and rest and I’d come good. Everyone was bustling about me but no one seemed to take any note of me on the floor. Another runner came in and was handed some polenta. I asked for some – they all looked confused and had to find someone who spoke English. Eventually I was handed some polenta and a cup of coke and I sat there trying to calm myself, to focus. A man then came over to tell me I had to go now. That it was going to take five hours to get to the next aid station (Life Base 4: Gressoney 205km). I looked at my watch. I only had four hours. A beautiful woman said to me “If you feel it in your heart, you can go on, but you must feel it in your heart.” That was when I started to cry. Suddenly, everyone was surrounding me hugging me. Then someone asked me how old I was. I sobbed “34.” They looked confused. Vulnerability will do that for the complexion.

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I said “it’s over.”

No! They wouldn’t let me quit. I lay down on the floor and the lovely lady in the photo above covered me in a blanket, but they wouldn’t let me quit. I had to wait until I timed out at that aid station before they cut my timing chip from my wrist. In the meantime, eight men came through and also said they were out as they also knew they wouldn’t make the cut off at the next aid station. No questions were asked. Timing chips removed and bowls of polenta handed out. The lovely lady in the photo above later said to me “you’re a woman, so I believed you could do it.” In a race with 900 or so entrants, only 100 or so that are women, you feel how much everyone wants you to succeed here.

Despite the love support and belief that I got from Niel, despite believing and knowing in my heart that if I just rested for half an hour I would recover and could finish, the reality was that I didn’t have half an hour.  Time was not on my side and so, with pain in my heart, I knew my race was over.

When I reflect on this race, I know that the only reason I felt such pain and disappointment was because in that moment, I discovered what was really possible. Only those who risk going too far, see how far we can really go.

Whilst I didn’t get the results I wanted, I learned so much about myself. I learned that the limits we put on ourselves need to be tested to identify their truth.

A huge thank you to all my friends and family and my husband, who supported me in this dream. A goal like this has a huge impact on your non-running life so I appreciate that it wasn’t just me who made the sacrifices.

Thank you to my Australian TDG travellers Tamyka, Derek and Konrad for all the laughs. Thank you especially to Konrad for teaching me how to use my watch the night before the race!

Thank you to every volunteer, and every person during the race, especially May, Salvatore, Maria Rosa and Valeriano who showed me such kindness.

Thank you to Matty Abel, founder and head coach of DBA coaching. Your knowledge and support I will be forever grateful for.

 

 

Razorback 40km version 2

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The last few weeks have been stressful for all the wrong reasons. Work pressures, long hours at the desk, trying to get my brain to absorb that one extra piece of information. The only way to balance this way of life is to head to the mountains.

I left work at 3pm thinking I would get to Harrietville around 7.30pm. Melbourne traffic! Close to 9pm I arrived at Harrietville. Set up my tent, rechecked all my mandatory gear and fell into a deep sleep with the sound of the river and the light rain slowly washing away the dust storm of tax laws still trying to spin in my brain.

Alarm went off at 4:55 and I just wanted to stay where I was. It was the best sleep I’d had in around three weeks, but no time. Needed to get dressed, organised and pack the tent and car all before the 5:45am briefing – and still needed to pick up my race bib as Melbourne traffic meant I missed the check in and full briefing the night before.

Cold drip coffee in the system, gear check completed, race number attached. Ready to go.

Running Wild events are so unpretentious – almost everyone I adore in the running scene pops up at them from time to time and I was so happy to see Babi, Clare and Vanessa.

As I chatted to Babi at the start line I suspected something wasn’t right with my head torch. I had packed two extra sets of batteries so I very quickly changed them. Then the thing snapped off the headband. As the count down to the start was progressing, I fumbled and quickly managed to get it in place and we were off.

We started jogging up to the start of Bungalow Track. I have been running up this track to the summit monthly throughout Summer and my coach Matty Abel, has been challenging my own thoughts and perceptions of what is a runnable versus hikeable climb. I knew from my last run up here that I could run way more of this first ascent than I did the previous year and though the plan was to keep it easy for the first 20km, I suspected I would still make up a bit of time from the last year.

Within the first 100m up the track, I realised my head torch was completely fucked. The light was so dull that I could barely see where I was going and the bright lights from the competitors running behind me was actually making it worse. Every time I ran, I tripped as the shadows were jumping out at me and I couldn’t distinguish them from the tree roots. So I stood to the side of the trail, let everyone pass and then reminded myself that I knew this trail. I couldn’t run it with my shitty dim light but I could power hike it. My eyes adjusted once all the other competitor’s bright lights sped off in the distance and I vowed to keep the last woman within dim eyesight (the glow of her head torch helped here). And I just hiked and longed for daylight. When the sun rose, I realised I was only on the tail end of all the competitors I had let pass me. No one was more than a few hundred metres ahead of me. I was about half way up the mountain at this stage and whilst I tried to jog a few sections, I’d gotten a bit lazy and for the most part just kept the power hike up. When I got to the hut, I suspected that was my fastest time up there, but I didn’t have time to savour the moment. I had to keep going to the summit.

Now the sun was beaming in my face and I couldn’t see a bloody thing. Oh the irony.

Whilst some people may go out to pubs or nightclubs to socialise, it is on the summit that most of the socialising is done by ultra-runners. I totally forgot I was even racing as I stopped to chat to all my friends and bask in the glow of the sunrise over the mountains. There was no where else in the world I would have rather been.

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Off the summit and along the Razorback to Diamantina Hut. Here is where I left all the F bombs of the day. The altitude in this section triggered my asthma and I could barely breathe. I also kept tripping over my feet. Having a very sore right side after face planting on Friday, I wasn’t keen to smash myself up again. Yet I kept tripping over and over. And then I saw a snake. He just slithered onto the trail, looked right at me, stuck his tongue out a few times and then slowly slithered away. It was quite mesmerising to just stop and watch him for a moment. I was pretty happy after that.

Stopped at the hut to fill up on water and have a laugh with more friends. Thank you James for hugging me in my sweaty disguisting state. Some more puffs of the ventolin and then off for the long descent down Bon Accord. I remembered the fear I had the year earlier running down Bon Accord as it was so overgrown and I suspected every sound was a snake. Having just seen a snake, I was ready to suspect every twig and stick of something more sinister.

My asthma was pretty out of control at this point and I did wonder if I should turn back to the hut and pull out. I’ve only DNF’d once in my life and so I wasn’t taking this decision lightly. I thought it through and considered whether this was something I could manage or whether it had the potential to be life threatening. I suspected that as I moved to lower ground and away from the grasses on the high plains that the asthma would improve and thank goodness I was right. Within the first km of descending, it went away. Maybe it was just that my brain was preoccupied with snakes at this stage and breathing became less important.

I am very scared of descending on technical trail. Mostly because I am a clutz. The fear of falling is very real – I have all the scars and scabs on my knees to prove this. That said, the instruction from my coach was to push the last half and I had to stop making excuses. So I just did my best. Eventually we got to a less scary decline and I could run properly again – though I did spot another two snakes in this section which caused my run to look more like a high knee Bambi canter.

Shortly before Washington Creek, I passed a woman I had been running just behind most of the day. I asked her how she was. She said “terrible.” I was shocked. I was so surprised that anyone could be feeling less than 100% amazing. It was getting very hot at this stage which I suspect triggers a bit of my mania and I was having the time of my life.

I ran on, through Washington Creek and finally, after years of training up here, understood why people say this is a nice runnable section to the finish. I’ve always been too buggered to enjoy this section but today – oh it was just dreamy. I was having the time of my life and I kept thinking “there is no place I’d rather be.”

Last year, I ran the Razorback in the 8 hours and 22 minutes that I left my nanna’s bedside while she was dying of pancreatic cancer. I had spent almost every moment that I could with her from the day that we suspected something wasn’t quite right. I had taken the day to go gather some strength for myself so that I could be there for her when things turned really bad. And they did. She passed away within weeks from the race.

I remembered running this section of the race last year. I was very alone on this section, being one of the last finishers, and I had allowed myself to scream and cry the whole way to the finish line.

I also remembered that when I returned to my nanna’s bedside post race, she wanted to see my photos of the mountains. She had the same spirit as me – it was nourished by nature.

The day she was diagnosed with cancer, she said she didn’t mind that she was dying but she would like to go out to a lake and go fishing before that happened, to visit the valleys one more time that had filled her soul with joy. Unfortunately she was never strong enough for that to happen.

So my message is, remember how lucky we are to do the things we do. Yes it might get hot, yes it might be a bit tiring. You might be scared by things like snakes, heights, face planting, but doing these things is such a privilege.

Thank you Paul Ashton for giving us the privilege to run in these beautiful places.

P.S – I finished the race in 7:26. 56 minutes faster than last year.

The tortoise not the hare

I am genuinely supportive of other people achieving their goals. In fact I will be as happy for you achieving your goals as if I achieved them myself.

I am however, one of the most secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) competitive people you’ll ever meet. I won every academic award at High School and chose my profession, not because it was what I had always wanted to do, but because it simply had the highest university entry score – it was something to strive for.

Last year of law school and I was running on the treadmill at the gym with a fellow student who had already gotten a job – a student who I knew had better grades than me (which of course killed me). She didn’t know we were racing. I kept pushing up the speed on the treadmill with every turn in the conversation. She told me she had just gotten a job. When I found out where – I applied for a job too. Just to see whether I was a competitive candidate. I was.

When I started playing drums, I wanted to be the best. First I wanted to be the best female metal drummer, but there weren’t many women playing metal drums then. So I tried to take on the boys. I gaffa tapped rubber to the walls of my bedroom so I could practice my double kick all night while normal people were sleeping.

One day, I made all the drummers in the rehearsal studio run a race around the block. I have no idea why – and I can’t believe they agreed to do it.  I was so pissed when a long legged dope smoking dude beat me.

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So now that recovery and rehab is my game, being the best is my priority. I want to win at this. The problem with an injury as severe as this and as slow healing as this is that it’s hard to know if your progress is good or bad. Each week I make small progress, but is that enough to be the best at this game?

Last night I saw my physio for my weekly visit and I asked him frankly. Turns out, I am not the best at recovery. I am not winning this game. Initially he predicted 6-8 weeks recovery time. I’m now looking at 10-12.

Patagonia is no longer a certainty. If I can start the race, I won’t be starting as a runner. I have run out of time to be a runner. My best case scenario is that I walk and shuffle. I won’t know for sure until 4 weeks whether I will be well enough to do that.

I have been creatively visualising this race for over six months now. I envisaged myself running strong and coming into camp early. Maybe even taking an age category award. This has to change now – my best case scenario is that I will be walking which means I will be coming into camp late each day – I may be the last person to arrive.  Not such a competitive outcome for a competitive person and I think I’m okay with that.

If the choice is walking, struggling, coming last, but finishing a one off opportunity to cross 250km across Patagonia – well that sounds a whole lot better than sitting in a hotel room feeling sorry for myself.

Stay tuned.exhausted

Photo of me “competing” in the 4 deserts 250km race across the Atacama Desert

 

 

My body, my friend

 

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It has been 28 days since I’ve done squats. I remember those paused front squats with joy in my heart. 28 days ago, at the end of the Olympic lifting class, 5 x 3 front squats with a 3 second pause at the bottom. Ah good times.

I regretted those front squats at the 13km mark of the half marathon the next day, but oh in hindsight how I’m glad I did them. Fond memories.

Each day since I have been injured I look down at my thighs in fear and worry they are getting smaller. I sit down so I can see them at their biggest. Surely they wouldn’t shrink in a day, a week, but 28 days?

I got the courage to weigh myself the other day and I’d lost 2kg. Oh the sorrow – where did that 2kg come from? My quads, my glutes????

Flash back seven years ago, pre CrossFit and pre ultramarathoning to a time when I hated my body. I had a nervous breakdown at 26 and lost 10kg from stress. I remember initially feeling upset when I tried on one of my favourite dresses and it didn’t fit because it was too big. I felt like the weight loss was the wound that the public could see – the outward sign of how I felt internally. I wasn’t trying to be thin, I was just too depressed to eat.

Then the compliments started to come in. I don’t remember a single person saying to me “what the fuck is going on with you?” Or anything to that effect. Instead I got compliments about how great I looked. I recall one close friend saying to me “You don’t want to lose any more weight but you don’t want to gain any either – you look perfect.”

My fridge contained a carton of Carona’s and a bag of carrots. My pantry contained 1L of Jack Daniels and a tub of protein powder. Oh but I had found the secret for beauty according to those around me.

Depression turned into hypermania and that was when I made a conscious choice to stay thin. That was when the self hatred began. As my weight slowly increased because of all the booze I was drinking, I loathed myself even more.

Then I got diagnosed with bipolar and put on heavy meds that made me gain around 15kg in a very short time frame. I was bloated and puffy and even when I stabilised and came off the meds, I couldn’t lose the weight.

I’d like to say there was a light bulb moment when I looked at my body and said “you’re okay sister,” but there wasn’t. I struggled for years…and then I found CrossFit.

I’d been running for a few years before I started CrossFit and whilst I think that initiated some of the changes in my thought process – it was lifting heavy shit that really made me appreciate what thick thighs could do.

I love following all the women CrossFitters on Instagram because none of them are defined by what their bodies look like but rather what their bodies can do. I watched “A day in the Life of Lauren Fisher” the other day and she says something to the effect of “I don’t worry if I gain weight, but I get upset if I lose weight.”

That’s how I feel right now as I look at my thighs and worry they are getting smaller. I worked bloody hard for those quads of steel, those strong glutes. Don’t leave me friends!

Having injured myself to the point that I had to be on crutches for two weeks, I’ve started to appreciate my body for all the things I have taken for granted – not just running and squatting. Like grocery shopping! How amazing that this body has been driving itself to the supermarket, walking the ailes and carrying a basket all these years and I haven’t thought to say thank you.

Well the time has come for me to say thank you. Thank you Body for all the wonderful things you do for me, all the things I have taken for granted all these years. I look forward to running and squatting with you again soon, but for now, I am grateful that I can buy my own groceries again, that I can check the letterbox and get myself to work (the older trams and how terrible they are for anyone with mobility issues deserves an entire blog of it’s own).

And Body , I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all those years I didn’t appreciate you. For all the hate and loathing I cast your way that was in no way justified. You are beautiful just the way you are and I love you.

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Why do I run?

 

Day 22 of being injured.

Just over three weeks ago, I ran a half marathon on road. I pushed myself quite hard, but I wasn’t road running fit. I struggled to hold my pace. At the finish, I just had to sit down. I was knackered.

After the race I told my friend who had just run her first half marathon, to take it easy. Take a week off. Let your body recover.

Did I listen to my own advice? No.

The Tuesday morning following the half marathon, I was at CrossFit. I was thinking about my broken toe that I had been ignoring and realised it was quite sore after running a half marathon in minimal shoes. I was mid box jump as I was pondering over my foot and thinking about the next move – rope climbs when POP! I felt what seemed like a hot sharp knife in the back of my leg.

I had done a severe grade 2 tear to the gastrocnemius. 6-8 weeks recovery. 105 days to go to Patagonia – a 250km race carrying all my gear and food that I will need for 7 days. I was (am?) optitimistic. If I can just maintain my fitness as best as possible, that will leave me with 5 weeks to train before flying out to Argentina. Definitely possible.

It’s now been just over three weeks and I have progressed from rest, pain and crutches, to moving around the house pain free, upper body strength work, swimming with a pool buoy and assault bike work outs.

I’m trying to be patient.

Five years ago, a few weeks after running my first marathon, I got a stress fracture in my foot. I had to take eight weeks off running. I took six, then I did myself some permanent damage and had to take 3 months off running. It seemed like the end of the world at the time and years on, I felt embarrassed about that performance. I vowed to never be so pathetic and impatient again.

And yet, here I am, three weeks into an injury and feeling pathetic. I miss running like I miss my mum. Why? This down time has got me thinking. I can still do some workouts, still get my heart rate up and get some endorphins and yet it’s just not the same. So what it is about running that is so special?

At first I thought it was the fact that so much of my life revolves around running – my friendships, my routine, my wardrobe. I thought it was the gap in my social life and the isolation that I might have been bringing me down.

I also know that running is my means to get into nature – to connect with the earth. There are studies that demonstrate that human beings are not meant to be removed from nature. These concrete jungles we live in make us sick. We need to connect with the earth.

So maybe that’s why I’m so sad? I miss my friends and I miss Mother Nature?

Saturday I drove myself to the entrance of a national park and walked just far enough in to get to the first big gum tree. I hugged it and I felt my heart fill with joy. It was momentary however, when I heard terror to my ears – three horrible boys under 10 screaming and shouting. You see, if you hang around the entrance to a national park, you don’t get far enough in to escape the families with young children. I’m all for exposing kids to nature – I just don’t want them near me and I certainly don’t want to be able to hear them.

I left feeling enraged and I realised that whilst I do miss my running friends, I miss being alone more. Running for a long time in isolated locations is the only time I ever really feel alone. I don’t need to check my emails, don’t need to be available for phone calls, don’t need to talk to anyone. It’s the true meaning of “me time.”

The other day I put a call out on Facebook for some suggestions for hobbies I could take up given I can’t run and my other main hobby – music, is also out of the picture as my damaged leg is my drumming leg. I got a lot of great suggestions but reading through them, I thought “I don’t have time for any of these.”

It’s not that I have an abundance of time now that running is out of the picture. I work full time in a demanding but rewarding profession. I study part time. I read a lot and I’m still training – just not running. So I wasn’t looking to fill my time. What I was looking for was something to fill the void.

Growing up I had a lot of energy and at times that has turned into depression, aggression and a whole range of negative emotions and behaviours. When I found music, I felt for the first time that I could be still. I could just purge the emotions and get on with normal life.

When I took up trail running, I got the same feeling but I could never understand why. Running didn’t feel like a creative outlet compared to music. In fact, growing up I had hated sporty people as I didn’t think they could also be creative – you had to be one or the other in my black and white world. But now I get it. It’s the fact that when you go for a run, you can give yourself permission to think and feel and work through whatever it is you need to work through – a bit like writing a song. Work it out, purge it and then move on, get on with everyday life. Having the freedom just to feel for an hour, two or seven – however long you want to run is a total cleansing of the soul.

So that’s it. Without running, my soul feels dirty and my mind clouded. I’m frustrated and angry and not good around people right now – especially children. I know it’s dramatic and I know I will run again, soon hopefully. But the positive in this experience is that it has allowed me to truely understand why it is that I love running so much.

 

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.