The North Face 100, a brutally epic run that has you digging deep and in ore of the environment in which surrounds you. On Saturday 16th May, 9 days after my 40th birthday I lined up to start my first 100km race. This race had been added to the 2015 goal list over a year ago and in November 2014, I committed myself not only physically but mentally too to this race.
Running 100km isn’t just about physical strength. Sure you need to be able to handle the load of the stairs, steep descents and climbs but your mental attitude and ability to fight the pain demons is something that also requires training, for how you deal with the low moments, determines the outcome of how you finish.
My training for this race started after Challenge Melbourne in February. This is when things got serious and my backdrop changed from swim/bike/run to climbs and weighted walks. To say I was in my element was an understatement. I was 100% committed to training under the guidance of Craig Percival. Each week my plan would have me training anywhere from 8hrs to 20hrs and this didn’t include travel time. There aren’t too many hills in Melbourne unless you call Anderson Street and the top part of Punt Road a hill!
Most weeks I headed out to either Mount Macedon or the Dandenongs where I would start before the birds started chirping with a head lamp on running or power walking into the rise of the day – this truly is where the magic happens. Training was hard. I was pushed outside my comfort zone and thankfully my body handled it well. It’s amazing how you cope when you are thriving off what you love doing.
Achieving your goal
One of my goal for TNF100 was to line up at that start line knowing I had done all I could to have a successful race. And that is exactly how I felt when I walked up to the start line at 6:10am for a 6:30am roll out – prepared.
I was up at 4:30am and quickly consumed my first breakfast – a bowl of Flip Shelton 5 grain porridge topped with Coyo coconut yoghurt and blueberries. Around an hour later, round 2 a slice of sourdough toast topped with sautéed baby spinach, roasted tomatoes and avocado sprinkled generously with Himalayan sea salt. This is my powered by plants endurance breakfast.
Arriving at the start line I felt a sense of calm until a wave of nerves rose up and the tears started flowing. I was about to undertake my biggest challenge and because I was so close to this, I didn’t actually comprehend how big it was until I started lining up with my competitors. We were all going to experience a tidal wave of emotions throughout the day and these strangers were going to become my friends and help along the way. I felt nervous but also so lucky – how many people get to experience this type of contentment and fear?
The countdown begun we were off. I felt better once I started running, this is where I was meant to be and I had the whole day/night ahead of me to enjoy this place. Time was irrelevant on this run, I had no idea how long I had been running that day, I was just out there to appreciate choosing to be out there – this was my time. My time to run.
The profile of the course on reflection was nothing but words and images; I didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into until I actually got out there. 200m elevation, Golden stairs, steel ladder, extension ladders, steep descends, dirt road, narrow and exposed cliffs, small creek, steep spur, grassy paddocks, uphill, big climb, rough road, bridge, concrete path, stairs, steep stairs, climb, unguarded cliff edges, bitumen road, slowest and toughest, exposed (cold), major dirt road, steep climb, small creek, uphill, stairs, 200m elevation gain, descend 650m in 8.5km, exposed, finish.
I would first see my support crew at 46km then again at 57km, 78km and the finish. I was excited to get to the checkpoints, not only for a familiar face but also for refueling with solid food – food that would help nourish me to the end.
You can’t do a race like this and not eat. Fundamentally this is what is going to get you to the finish line sane. My saying into this was ‘ endurance is like a eating contest with a bit of running & scenery thrown in for good measure’. My fuelling plan was as comprehensive as my race plan; it had to be as I wanted to run over that finish line not crawl.
My food esky included
Vegemite sandwiches on trashy white (only time I eat refined white bread)
Salad roll (carrot, cucumber, beetroot and lettuce)
Black rice & coconut pudding
Salad box (quinoa, beans, rice)
When I came into the first supported checkpoint at the 46km mark, I was experiencing the runners high. I have survived the golden stairs, The Landslide, the Tarros Ladders and Ironpot ridge – the first half of the race, actually the first quarter of the race (almost) had me questioning what the hell was I doing and how was I going to run 100km in this terrain.
Acceptance of the course and understanding of the environment had me just doing. I was not going to finish this course by standing still. One foot in front of the other and yes this even included the 200m elevation that is the Golden stairs.
I felt great at this stage and although I knew this feeling was not going to last, I enjoyed it while I could. The thing is with these races, you go while you can and you manage the parts that get hard but you never stop.
Hardest part of the race
The hardest part of the race was at checkpoint 4, which was 57km into the race. I was now struggling to consume the food I was running with – bars and even gels but I knew I had to keep eating; I had to keep fuelling this run. At the checkpoint I met with my support team of Zac and he helped me change clothes – I was sweating lots and it was just about to get cold. He also made me eat. A vegemite sandwich was the only thing I could get down along with a gel and even then that was a bit touch and go.
You go into these races with a plan of what you are going to consume but like the race itself, you need to keep changing things based on how you feel. Your body is under a tremendous amount of stress and consuming solids can be difficult
I remember setting off from this checkpoint feeling cold. I had stood and sat around for 25mins and during this time by core temperature had dropped. Thankfully I was now in dry clothes but running into the cooler winds had me shivering and worried I was under dressed for the hours left in front of me.
The never ending challenge
The next 21km was going to be challenging. My notes were to ‘fuel well’ because it was just about to get hard. The notes also said the next 21km could take up to 4hrs so that was a reality check of what was ahead of me. In the back of my mind I was worried I hadn’t eaten enough at the 57km mark but I was stocked with At One bars, gels and a carbohydrate drink so this had to do, there was no going backwards now.
Indeed the next 21km were hard but hard was becoming the ‘norm’ so once again head down and keep moving forward. I smiled, I chatted with fellow runners and I was in ore of how nature was protecting and feeding me with energy. I was feeling OK. I was feeling as if I was going to conquer this beast.
Checkpoint 78. I felt good. I was riding high (again) despite having run in the dark since around the 66km mark. As I ran into this checkpoint I heard people say ‘look at how well she is running, she is running strong’. Yes I was running strong, I felt strong I was now 22km from the finish and I was excited. I was doing this. I was running TNF100.
My support team of my husband, Zac, twin sister Bec and friends Chris, Terry and Mark looked after me well at this point and made sure I ate and got warm. They say this is an individual sport but I could not have done this without the support of my team and this included Craig who was messaging me throughout the day.
Make sure you have everything!
After a change of socks, warmer hat, gloves I was off but SHIT I forgot my high visibility jacket so back I went with Zac meeting me half way – I had just run an extra 1km! OK now it was time to get the job done, I ran into the night to finish the journey I begun 12hours earlier.
Craig had said to me before the race, you will start passing people and that will feel good. It was true, I was passing people, I was running, I was running downhill and feeling good about it. Sure the quads were having a bit of a conversation amongst themselves but it wasn’t loud – I was OK, I could see myself doing this. But I couldn’t get too excited; I still had a long way to go.
Then with 15km to go, lights out. It was the descent, the cliffs edge, trees, the pitch dark and me. Head torch battery failure. OK so find the back up head torch with the help of the iphone and away I went. Another 5km in and I noticed my back up headlamp lights getting faint and nothing. Another failure. I was now running blind. With all the carrots I eat and I still didn’t have night vision, how unfair.
A fellow competitor asked if I had ‘issues me my knees’ and I said ‘no, I’m running blind’. Her kindness helped me to the finish line – she lent me a small torch. It wasn’t great but I could at least see., if only a little.
So with the torch attached to my head, behind my ear and even in my mouth, I power walked the last 10km annoyed that this had happened but also understood I could not change the situation, I once again just had to keep moving.
The long kilometre
A kilometer in the Blue Mountains isn’t that of the road, there were no personal bests with this time but I gave it a fair crack. Throughout the race I had people comment on how good I was going uphill, this gave me fuel and confidence to just keep going.
I could see the light haze at the top of the trees, this is where I was heading – this is where the finish line was. Then it disappeared, we were going down again and the finish line felt like it was getting further away instead of closer.
One foot in front of the other, the journey is only going to be complete when you move forward. Like everything, you get there in the end. Then out of nowhere I came across 2 volunteers, “900m to go and then you are home”.
The Furber steps
The 900m were the Furber steps – vertical steps at that. A climb of 860 stairs and about 200m of elevation gain. Lets do this. Lets bloody do this and finish.
As I finished the climb, I called Zac to say I was close, and at this point I didn’t realize how close I was. I saw people, a whole lot of people. I had done it and the thought that went through my mind was ‘shit I better start running’.
Crossing the finish line
I can’t really remember crossing the finishing line, I remember seeing my Fit Chick girlfriends who had run the 50km, I remember Zac yelling my name and I remember a volunteer giving me my bronze belt buckle. But I can’t really remember finishing. It felt surreal. My journey was over. I had run 100km.
This experience was bigger than me but it was me who had done it. My training was satisfying and enjoyable and the race was almost perfect. I have now run 100km and I still can’t believe it – I think I need to do it all over again so I can remember it this time.
Will I be back next year? Indeed I will. Yes this was one of the toughest races of my life but I got to know myself more and I liked what I saw. I liked that I was comfortable with myself, that I believed in myself enough to finish actually to even get to that start line. I was happy my body worked with me – no blisters, not one. No knee or hip issues and although the quads were burning they weren’t so much on fire.
I am sad now. Sad that it is over, I felt comfortable out there, I felt comfortable with that distance and I felt comfortable with my ability and me. I am still experiencing the runners high and I hope it doesn’t go away anytime soon. I want to bottle and sell this feeling but everyone feels and experiences something different.
I left a bit of me in the Blue Mountains and I brought a bit of them back with me. I am the luckiest person at this time of my life.