Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Great North Walk 100km (this time) 2012

When entries opened for this event my original intent was to redeem my DNS from 2011 by entering the 100 mile event. I started my training after recovering from some niggles that prevented me from running in Sydney Trailwalker earlier this year. As it turned out the team did just fine without me so all was good, and with the break I was able to ease back into training for the GNW 100 mile event. I’m not sure what happened but my training just didn’t have the intensity for the miler, or at least what it had been in 2010 when I was preparing for my first 100mile event, GNW. As other trail running event entries started opening up for 2013 I started to become a bit despondent about doing the GNW 100 miles and I was considering if the 100mile event was really the right idea. Talking about GNW and my plans for 2013 with Brian, he convinced me that the sensible thing to do would be to drop down to the 100km event. I think he was pitching for an early night crewing. In all honesty I hadn’t considered this as an option. After I had some time to think about it, it started to make more sense and I started to find my drive again.

Most of my training runs for this year’s race had been on the 100mile course, mainly because it was close to home and partly because I hadn’t dropped down to the 100km event. I only ventured out onto the 100km course once and that was on an absolute stinker of a day with Clarke McClymont and Cooba. It was fair to say that it was good heat training for what could have been and really hot year at GNW. The following week Dave Byrnes sent an email around saying that if the area was declared a Total Fire Ban the event would be called off. So much for needing to train in extreme heat. It was a fair call as the bush which the GNW course winds through is currently a bush fire waiting to happen.

For the race I decided that I would run with two (what ended up being three) race packs. I had seen Andrew Vize do it in previous races and the mandatory gear for this event lends itself towards this strategy, unlike TNF where you are more likely to be wearing your mandatory gear which complicates this strategy. The strategy would be easy, I would run into the check point with my mobile and maps in one hand, exchange my pack for a new one, pack my mobile and maps, then continue on hopefully without breaking my stride.
Start of GNW 2012. Courtesy Michael Leadbetter

Come race day the weather was a mixed bag. The morning was warm at the start then during the race quickly became cold and windy, then turned wet, then cleared up during the middle of the day and then started to cool down as night approached. Essentially it was perfect weather for a race. The start of this years race resembled more of an organised social run. After Dave Byrnes signalled the start of the race no one seemed to be in too much of a rush and we all sort of just stuck together until the bitumen gave way to dirt then the fun and games began. Clarke and Brendan started to move ahead (although I kept seeing a lot of Brendan in the first leg because he kept getting lost) and behind them the rest of the field started to thin out. I was glad that I had chosen to wear a shoe with plenty of grip as the first section up to Brunkerville Gap was slippery on the clay trails. Up through the jungle I and two other runners (Daymo and Martin) managed to take the wrong turn and we went off track for a couple of kilometres until we became unsure of where we were and stopped to check our maps.  We turned around and joined the race back on course. I should have picked up on the detour earlier and not followed the others. It wasn’t a big detour but it was annoying none the less. I vowed to pay more attention and not make any more mistakes like that again. Coming into CP1 (28.6km) I exchanged my bag with Brian for a new one and was back out on the course in under a minute, managing to make up a few places and exiting the checkpoint in 3rd place.
Coming into CP1. Courtesy Michael Leadbetter

As I ran out of CP1 I rummaged around the pockets of my pack to see what I had to eat. I hadn’t paid much attention to what I had packed the day before so it was essentially a lucky dip. A little down the road there was a road marker and tape placed at the turn off where the GNW trail deviates from the main road. I thought that this was a little soft as the rest of the course wasn’t likely to be marked so well. I made it down onto Congewai Road and settled into a steady rhythm as I wound my way along the valley floor. Daymo and Martin caught up with me along the road section and we all ran into CP2 (52.5km) together. I was looking forward to getting to Congewai Primary School so I could change out of my trail shoes which had become annoying on the road section. I gave Brian my bag as I stood on the scales to be weighed. Half way and I was exactly the same weight as I was when I got weighed at the start. Brian let me know that I was 10min under Shona Stephenson’s GNW 100km record splits from the previous year. I quickly showed my mandatory gear to the officials conducting the gear check and I was out of the checkpoint and back on the road in 3 minutes.
Coming into CP2. Courtesy Michael Leadbetter

I ran into CP2 with a few runners around me but I got the jump on them at the checkpoint and hit the trails by myself. As I got closer to the top of the hill and the telecommunications tower I looked over my shoulder a few times to see if anyone was close by but I couldn’t see anyone so continued on alone. While doing this section all I could think about was how horrible it was doing this leg with Clarke a few weeks earlier in the heat. I was grateful for the cooler weather and the fact that I didn’t have to turn around at the end and come back again. Whatever bit of trail I covered now I could leave it behind me. As I approached the Basin turnoff I wasn’t at all surprised that I didn’t see either Clarke or Brendan who were the only two runners ahead of me at this stage. This section is a 2.5km out and back so essentially you get to see runners who are both 5km ahead and 5km behind. Those boys must have been flying. I arrived at CP3 (81.6km) for another quick change of packs and was in and out again in under a minute. Before leaving, Brian let me know that I was 45min under Shona’s splits, so I knew I was still going well.
Coming into CP2. Courtesy HokaOneOne Australia Roger Hanney

On the way back out I passed Daymo, then Shona then a short distance back Gill Fowler and Nikolay. All four were doing the 100mile and seeing the two girls so close together it looked like the race was on. I climbed up out of the Basin to the top of the ridge then left onto the main fire trail then turned right onto the side trail. The only problem was the right turn was too early, which luckily I realised early enough. Back on the main fire trail I ran a little further down the road before turning right again. I ran down the trail thinking it was the right trail as it looked just like the one I was supposed to be on. I kept looking for the turn off for the single trail but it never came and the trail ended in a dead end. No single trail, no nothing. I felt sick as I realised what I had just done. After verbally venting my frustration at the wildlife I turned around and back tracked uphill to the main fire trail again. After venting my frustration at the wildlife I turned around and back tracked to the main fire trail again. Up on the fire trail I met Nathan Parker (fellow Berowra Bushrunner) who had also had a major navigational error, however he was on his way back down to the Basin. After exchanging some colourful language in an attempt to describe what we had just done wrong, we headed in separate directions. I now had to make up for my unintentional adventure and get to the finish line. I wondered how much of my advantage was still left and how much I could now salvage. I made it down onto the road into Yarramalong with Nikolay Nikolaev. I explained to Nikolay what I had done and how my target was now in ruins. He was really kind and did my final splits for me. I had 1hr, 10min to do the last 11km to the finish line. He was so nice he offered to give me his watch so that I could make my target time. I declined the offer and surged ahead. It would be by legs that got me to the finish line, not the watch. So full of determination I headed off down the road as fast as I could. I didn’t know it at the time, but Brian was at the finish line and had been informed by two groups of people that I was AWOL and that no one knew where I was. To make it worse I had my mum, sister and two nephews were at the finish line all waiting for me to finish. Two kilometres out from CP4 I caught up with Shona and saw that she was having a rough run. She gave me some encouraging words as I passed and I put the hammer down as I came into Yarramalong. She even gave me encouragement to break her 100km record. Coming into CP4 (103.7km) I was greeted by Brian telling me to hurry up. I came up the drive to Yarramalong Primary School and crossed the finish line in 12:36, a new female GNW 100km course record. I would like to say that I was the first female to come into CP4 but I was about 12 minutes behind Gill who had already arrived and left on her quest to finish her first 100mile event, which she did becoming the first female to run sub 24hrs, getting female GNW 100mile record and getting a well-deserved gold finishers medal. Oh well, I was in a similar situation in 2010 when I came into CP 4, under the previous 100km female record, but was unable to claim the title as I had entered the mile event and not the kilometre event. To formally finish the race I once again stood on the scales which said that I had lost 700g in the last half of the race. I put it down to getting lost, though others might say it has something to do with food and fluid.

I’m pretty grateful that I was able to get the 100km record having gone off course for so long. I would have liked to have finished knowing that I had given the run my best effort, but now I’m left with unfinished business at GNW. Til next time….


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Centennial Park Ultra 100km 2012

I have never done a proper road ultra before, however after watching the performances of Ewan Horsburgh over the last 12 months and Brendan Davies’ performance in Italy earlier this year and Allison Lilley’s performance in Poland a few weeks ago, I was inspired to sign up for a road/track ultra. The one that stood out for me was the Centennial Park Ultra 100km. It’s in Sydney, at Centennial Park (a place that I had never been to before), flat and seemingly long enough and a busy enough location to minimise boredom and monotony of a lap event the event.

As the event got closer I set myself some loose goals.
1.       To see if I could do a sub 9hr for the 100km. This would give me a qualifier for the 100km road world championships. I had to aim for something and this was a good enough target, or so I thought.
2.       Could I run 100km nonstop? I know I can do the distance on the trails, but can I really run the distance.
3.       At the very least I’d treat this as a tempo training run for my next trail race.

Also in the lead up to the event Brian produced a split calculator. Something he does for all my events. He’d be crewing for me at this event so would be able to give me feedback as the race progressed.
Come race day I was up at 4am to get to the start line at 5:30am. It was a beautiful morning at Centennial Park. The early morning mist was sitting low over the parklands and the suns rays were slowly starting to peel back the dark predawn sky. As I was getting my race kit on it was just starting to sink in how under done I was for this event. I’m not a road runner. Not at all. I have no speed and I feel sluggish on the flats. Those that know my 10km road PB know what I’m talking about. You’d laugh if you knew as on the trail this doesn’t matter and I’m frequently running with people on the trails with road PB’s far superior to mine. I’d done next to no road running leading up the Centennial Park, except for short distances on road to link up with trails, but that was my choice, I knew I had the fitness to do 100km so whatever I ran on this track would be more a reflection on natural ability than a goal I really worked towards or perhaps deserved.

After a short prerace briefing by RD April Palmerlee we were off and running. I settled down to an easy pace in about 7th or 8th spot behind the lead guys then held on for my very first lap ever of Centennial Park. The first of 28 laps to be precise. I enjoyed these first few laps watching the park slowly come to life. The birds started to get restless, the mist finally got burnt away by the warming sun and people started entering and using the park. My splits for these first few laps were spot on for the 9hr target. I even managed to get 2min under for a few laps. I held this until about lap 6 when I made my first toilet stop. When I re-entered the course I was right on my splits. I stayed like this for another few laps until my second toilet stop. This put me 2min over my target splits which I never regained.
Pre-race briefing with mist on the oval.
The first 100km runner I started to regularly lap was Ben Phillips aka "blind Ben", along with is guide. I made sure each time I passed to say “hello” and give him some words of encouragement. To his credit he didn't make the full 100km but he was out there for the entire allocated 12hrs to clock up 70km's. That in itself is very impressive.  

The 50km competitors entered the fray after an hour of running. It was great witnessing the speed that Alex Mathews and Brendan Davies exhibited. Both class athletes strutting their stuff. It was always exciting to see who would come around first the next time they lapped me. Alex ended up taking the win but Brendan made sure he fought for it the whole way. Watching these guys run and then finish made me wish I had entered the 50km instead of the 100km. But I still had plenty of other runners still out on the course doing both the 50km and 100km to keep me company a little while longer.
Nearing the half way mark
By about the fifty km mark I started to feel a little queasy in the stomach. Something that I’m not unaccustomed to but I thought with an event like this, where I’m drinking and eating regularly this wouldn’t be a problem. I probably made the mistake at this time to skip a few opportunities to eat something. Even though I wasn’t up to eating I should have forced something down.

Somewhere around the 60km mark I started to get some blisters on the top of my toes. These must have been the first blisters of 2012. I got them under the nails of my 2nd and 3rd toe of my left foot. My feet were all fine then all of a sudden these blisters just flared up. Admittedly I had only got the shoes I was running in the Monday before the event and had only done a few km’s in them around the house, but I’d been fine doing similar things before. I was kindly attended to by a member from the Achilles Running Club who taped my toes up and off I went again. This is when I really fell of the split bandwagon. I was a total of 7min off my target splits. Brian mentioned this to Brendan and apparently his response was,” that’s no good, she’s stuffed”. Thanks Brendan. Next time I see you racing I’ll think of something inspirational to say to you too. He was right though, I was.
I continued around the course and everyone I passed looked like they were in the same hurt locker. I had gone this far in the run, there was nothing to it other than continue on. Every now and again I was cheered on by Brian or Mum as they walked around Centennial Park with my dog Jack. It was always a nice surprise as I wouldn’t know where I would see them next. For the last few laps my support crew was joined by fellow Berowra Bushrunner Jeff Hodder who dropped by to check the event out. I don’t know if he left inspired our not but it was great to see him nonetheless.

Jack waiting patiently for me to run past again.
I was finding this event difficult to get my head around. I’m used to A to B races where you know your position in the race is relative to where you are running in the field. Being a lap race, the person in front of you could be either the person 1 position in front or 1 position behind. I think this was also one of the reasons my splits started to drop off in the later stages of the run. Its not the same as running scared knowing that the person behind you really is someone that wants to beat you.
On my second last lap my stomach finally got the better of me. I knew what was coming, or more precisely what was coming up. I quickly purged the system right in front of a horse and other people, it was a bit embarrassing but what can you do. I quickly continued on hoping no one noticed. In the process I received a compliment by a fellow runner who had seen me quickly stop then continue on like nothing had happened. It is not like a practice these things, but a compliment is always nice to receive at this late stage of the run. Without seeing the splits this second last and last laps were my slowest laps and saw me come over the line in 9hr 22min. Not quite my target but a finish and a benchmark to aim for next time, maybe.
Only a handfull of laps to go.
I did learn a lot from this event however. I learnt:
a.       I can run 100km non-stop more or less.
b.      9hr for 100km is potentially achievable with some specific training, on road not trails.
c.       I love trails and felt homesick racing an ultra on a flat track.
d.      I still have work to do when it comes to my race nutrition.
e.      Centennial Park is a nice place, and in particular Centennial Park Ultra is a great event.

Thank you April for such a well organised and enjoyable event.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon

Normally I wouldn’t write a race report for anything less than an ultra marathon, however due respect should be given to the newest and one of the more difficult trail runs I have done (if you just want to read about the race then scroll ahead).
Pre Race Prologue

When talking to Sean Greenhill earlier this year about trail running he mentioned that he was working on a marathon event in the Wolgan Valley which would incorporate the Glow Worm Tunnel. The suggested date would put it at around 3 weeks after The North Face. I had been to Glen Davis. I had been to the Wolgan Valley. I had been to the Glow Worm Tunnel. I thought I knew what I was up for and it sounded like a good idea at the time.
I didn’t place much emphasis on this event as all my focus had been on The North Face. Following The North Face however I was starting to wonder if I would recover enough in 3 weeks to do GWM. I was not impressed when I found out that my recovery time had turned into my taper time which had been cut to just 2 weeks because I got the dates wrong in my head.  Bugger. Leading up to race weekend my mind was set on how my body was recovering, how much climbing the course has, how cold the Wolgan Valley would be and how much rain would be falling. Not the most positive things to focus on in the lead up to a weekend away.

The Saturday before the event my husband, Brian, and our friends Dan and Kathy decided we would visit the Glow Worm Tunnel before the event. Kathy wasn’t running so it would give her an opportunity to appreciate the spectacle of the event. After a very slippery drive out there along Glow Worm Tunnel Road we arrived at the little carpark and then walked down to the tunnel. The glow worms were spectacular and the walk gave me an opportunity to familiarise myself with the high ground within the tunnel. I have done the tunnel twice with just a stick and I can honestly say that it is much easier with a torch, however the glow worms do appear much brighter when your senses are struggling in the dark. Following our visit to the tunnel, Brian decided to take Blackfellows Hand Road through the National Park to Wolgan Valley Road. We had done this before and it was passable in our Forester. Hopefully it would be passable again in the Forester along with our friends in their Vitara. As we dropped off the plateau, with 2kms to go the trail started to get rougher. We had assurances from some more serious 4WD’s that the track would be OK with our vehicles. We were going to find out.  The track soon deteriorated into something which was fast becoming scary. We bottomed out once and the track ahead was looking much worse. With light fading fast and being so close to the end Brian and Dan committed themselves, like they had any other option because reversing or doing a U-turn was impossible. They bounced (though not bottoming out again) and slid their way through and we were back onto a sealed road. Although proven to be passable again I don’t think that we’ll be doing that road again.
Off we drove, down into the Wolgan Valley and Newnes in the late afternoon mountain rain. We drove down to the old camp ground and met up with Joy and Ted who had already set up camp near the river. After setting up our tent we headed over to dinner at race HQ where we met Sean who was quick to inform me that Angela Bateup was expected to turn up for the marathon. Bugger. Although Angela had done the last leg of the pairs race at TNF (and got the course record), her depth of ability would easily have me covered on this course even on a good day. I’ll now be racing for second with Shona. Shona had done the full TNF and it took me a good part of the race before I caught up to her then finally pulled away. We would just have to see how we felt during the race.
Actual Race Report
After a quick pack up of our camp site we drove off to the start line and breakfast. A quick catch up with Pete, Jeff and Lachlan and the Berowra Bush Runners compliment was ready to go. At race briefing we were told that in an emergency we are to blow three times on our mandatory whistle. My first thought was what mandatory whistle. I hadn’t read that in the written brief. Judging by the confused look on the other runners faces they hadn’t either. No problems, safety in numbers. In the interest of classing this race as a marathon we all walked 200m down the road to the pre-determined marathon start. On the way people started talking about only running with a head light for the first half marathon to the tunnel. As I saw more and more people shed their bags and left just holding a head torch I again thought no problems, safety in numbers. I’m not sure if this was someone’s play on words or if it was in fact what the race director (Sean) had in mind. I’m sure this will get clarified for next year.
So on a very mild June morning in Newnes under heavy cloud we set off on the first out and back to the Glow Worm Tunnel along the old Newnes train line. I was expecting the first section to be a little more flat, but it wasn’t. There were small sharp sections of down and up where the railway embankment had been washed away. This must have been in the fine print along with the whistle. These sections helped break up the grade and only added to the character of the event. I felt a little heavy and sluggish on this first section. The body was taking a while to loosen up and I wasn’t sure if it was going to get better or worse. How much had The North Face taken out of me? I was happy in my position and I could still see Angela  up ahead. Past the first check point the trail started to get a little dryer and the rock face a little steeper until the track suddenly turns left into a fern gully which marks the little stream which runs through the glow worm tunnel. At the start of the tunnel I slowed to a walk in accordance with glow worm edicate, turned my torch on and headed for high ground in the tunnel.

Out of the tunnel I picked up the pace again and proceeded out onto the old Coach Trail. Up over the saddle the trail dropped away back down to check point 1 and then onto familiar trail down to Newnes. The railway grade up to the tunnel was very gentle, if not flat, but on the way back down I could really notice the difference. My legs felt less sluggish and I started to open up a little. Back at the river crossing I was kindly reminded by Shona’s two little girls that I was third female and behind their mum. Thanks girls for the kind words of encouragement.
Photo by Shona Stephenson
Picking up my back pack I ran down the road towards the campground and the river beyond. I hadn’t done any of this next section and was surprised to see how much of the old village could still be made out. It was pretty easy to imagine the hill covered in little cottages with their own private gardens. The trail dropped to cross a little creek which fed into the Wolgan River. I looked up and saw a marker on the tree above so climbed the embankment and followed a trail which was made by someone ahead. I kept following it until I realised that it wasn't the actual trail. I looked over my shoulder and a guy behind had joind me. We stopped composed ourselves and spotted a fluro green ribbon on a tree up ahead. On we trudged until we re-joined the proper trail and headed off towards the big tank. The small detour didn’t cost me much time and only added to the adventure of the leg. A bigger adventure however was just up ahead. The climb up the Pipeline Track was announced with some brick steps heading up the hill. Well this didn’t seem too bad, but they soon stopped and the trail just continued to rise while winding up the hill. The trail was that annoying grade where you can still run but can power walk at just the same pace. So I mixed it up until I came to the ridiculously steep terrain. The power walk then became a climb with hands on knees and reaching out for rocks and trees to pull myself up. It was steep, but at least the climbing was direct. At the top the trail tapered out to another small saddle before dropping down into a fern gully which eventually spilled out into farm land. This was the only part of the run where I experienced a short shower of rain. I was glad that Sean had done some trail maintenance along this section as well as those runners in front as the vegetation was very dense and would have kept me at bay otherwise.
As I got into the little township of Glen Davis I kept an eye out for Angela but didn’t see her before the check point where Shona was just heading out. She hadn’t seen Angela either so she must have gone off course somewhere. After a quick drink of coke (races are the only time I have coke where the effects are noticeable) I headed back for the return trip to Newnes. I passed the Bush Runners Lachlan, in front of his dad Jeff, followed by Pete. I caught and passed Shona near where the farms finish and the fern gully starts. About half way up the gully I passed Brian. He let me know that Angela was about 5min ahead. That was too far to chase her down especially on terrain with a grade like this gully has. The decent back down into the Wolgan Valley was very slippery and I really questioned my choice of shoe for this run (a road shoe). I do have shoes with a grip designed for the mud but they were clean and dry at home.
The last 3km’s or so the trail winds back along the bank of the Wolgan Valley River and the whole time I was thinking Shona is catching. She would have hammered it down that technical decent and she would have closed any gap I made on the climb up. Along the last road section I took a few quick glances over my shoulder to see if I could see her but I was safe. I was happy to finish second in this race. The male and female podiums were full of runners who had backed up from TNF 2 weeks ago; Angela, Brendan, Mick, Shona and myself. I think that we were all equally exhausted following our efforts in these two demanding trail races.

I’m glad that I did the event. Mountain Sports really know how to put on a runners event. This is why I stick to trail events and don’t partake in the road events. The trail crowd really make it a pleasure to turn up and compete, no matter what. Now I think that I’ll have a proper rest before my next race.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The North Face 100km 2012

I consider myself an ultra-trail runner. My 2012 target races were to be Bogong to Hotham (64km) in January which was called short at the 34km mark, 6ft Track (45km) which was washed out and Mt Solitary (45km) which was postponed. Was it me or was it someone else? All I knew was that I had entered The North Face for the 5th year and all the signs were anything but positive. Last year I made what had been the most difficult decision of my running career, which was to pull out of The North Face 100 due to an ITB injury. 2011 had a strong international contingent of female Team Salomon runners which I dearly wanted to compare myself against. In the lead up to the event I had been battling injury and subsequently I left my decision to race to the Friday morning before the event. A short run resulted in a lot of pain and discomfort at just the 3km mark. My mind had been made up, I would not start. My first DNS, ever. I was relegated to the sidelines to spectate as Julie Quinn ran a superb race which was ultimately rewarded with a win and new female record of 11:39, bettering her previous record of 12:13. I had come close to that time when I won TNF100 in 2010 but fell short by just a few minutes. Upon reflection I felt that I could have gone a little harder, walked less, been quicker at check points, talked less, so on and so on… 2011 was my chance to see if I really could do better, but my injury would have the final say. I would be sidelined until 2012.

In the last few years I have formed a good relationship with Shane Simpson from the lower Blue Mountains. Shane and I have similar goals for TNF100 2012 and in the lead up to the event I made sure I would make the effort to train with him. Training together usually consisted of meeting at 4am at the base of the Blue Mountains. This meant a 2:30am start at my house. Together with my husband, Brian, we would arrive in the early morning, occasionally greeted by Andrew Lee and co. After a few greetings Andy would run off on his own and we would be in hot pursuit, the gap increasing with every hill. With Shane’s conversation and jokes going full steam the run would end in the upper Blue Mountains where we would jump in a car and head back home for lunch. At the time I loathed the thought of getting up so early for a run, but I put it into perspective and focused on the benefits that these runs were having.
With race day looming ever closer I was contributing to the Berowra Bushrunners TNF100 2012 Entrant Support Group. With 6 members (Noel Annet, Kevin Heaton, Jeff Hodder, Justine Laughton, Gavin Markey and myself) competing this year it would be the biggest representation of Bushrunners in the events history for the boutique running club. We all had different goals and targets in our minds but we all gave equal amounts of support and motivation to each other leading up to the event.
TNF100 race weekend eventually arrived and I found myself in a queue of runners at registration. The growth of TNF100 typifies trail running in Australia over the last few years. My participation in the sport started shortly before the inaugural TNF100 event in 2008 and every year since that first race I have watched the number of runners swell. Its good seeing all the familiar faces at registration, but each person I look at seems to be fitter, stronger and better prepared than I am. It does little to relieve the anxiety ahead of the race. After registration I retired to my families holiday house "The Brow", at Katoomba with Brian, Noel and Kevin for a quiet dinner and some pre-race banter.  It is a time when we can compare gear, bag weight, target times and chat until bed time. I always try to go to sleep early but all that seems to do is to prolong the restlessness. So once again I had a terrible sleep and just when I started to drift off to sleep the alarm goes, signalling that any possibility of a good sleep has now passed.
I'm in there somewhere.
The temperature at the start line was noticeably warmer than in past years. The wind chill was definitely above zero this year. After the pre race briefing it was a matter of following the tide of runners through the Fairmont Resort Foyer to the start line outside. With less than a minute to spare I was issued with a GPS tracker that would keep track of me throughout the race and then the race was on. I didn’t particularly care where I was in Wave 1. I know that there would be a big surge of runners up the Fairmont drive and down the road to the first bit of trail. To run off with them is not my style of running and I know better than to get carried away in the excitement of the start and speed of the road sections. Speed on the road is something that I lack, but this is a trail race and there is a lot more dirt and stairs than bitumen.  I joined the line of runners as they headed onto the trail. I guess that I was about middle of Wave 1, with a handful of girls in front. A small group of people at Gordon Falls informed me that I was 4th female coming through. In the chaos of the start I lost track of where I was positioned so the three girls in front became my targets. I had 94km to catch them, and 94km to stay in front of Julie Quinn. As Leg 1 meandered in and out of the trails I slowly started to warm up and loosen the body in time for the technical decent into Leura Forest. I love this bit of trail. It is a section that I frequently traverse when I’m holidaying in Katoomba, though I am more adept to climbing up from Leura Forest then running down the stairs into it. In a moment of recklessness I found myself running Shona style down the stairs, two or three at a time. All along Federal Pass I held a steady pace, at which time I only had Shona Stephenson ahead of me. I had run with Shona a few times in races and training and I wasn’t surprised to see her put in a solid effort at the start. Leg 1 is more like an obstacle course and a strong runner like Shona is always going tackle it with more aggression than me. I caught up to Noel near the base of the Golden Stairs. Noel suggested that we have a go at beating our time up the stairs. I thought he was only joking but off he ran, taking two minutes off his PB at the top. At least Noel was feeling relaxed.
Courtesy Ben Berriman

I hadn’t done TNF since they moved CP1 to the gate on Narrow Neck. It makes for a good climb up from Federal Pass, all up, up and up. Along Narrow Neck I stretched out a little more taking in the long rolling hills interspersed with some short sharp ups and downs. I quickly caught up with Shona and we ran together for a bit. She seemed so strong when running, I was wondering if my style of running looked just as strong besides hers, though I doubt it. Shona started to drop off on one of the up hills and I stretched out to catch up to the next runner ahead. This is where I was accompanied by myself and my thoughts, and the end of Narrow Neck has to be amongst the best places in the mountains to have that sort of company. The air is crystal clear and you can look out forever across the Great Dividing Range. The next section off the end of Narrow Neck all the way to Meadlow Gap gets the legs pumping with all the short sharp ups and downs. This is also another section like Land Slide on Leg 1 where you need to coordinate your hands with your feet to traverse the ups and downs. It was along this section that Shona whizzed passed me. She must be the most amazing downhill runner I have ever seen, gliding down all the rocks so effortlessly. I caught up with Noel and Shona again on the flatter fire trails and passed them both. Along the fire trail to Dumphy’s Campground (CP2) there are a few places where you can look back upon the trail and see the line of competitors making their way along the course a few km’s behind you, their silhouettes outlined by the sky beyond. I use sections like this to reflect upon the sections of trail I have just been over, safe in the thought that I won’t have to do that bit again. Another spot where you can see participants a few km’s behind you is the section off Iron Pot where you re-join Megalong Road. If you look up over your right shoulder you can see runners as they leave CP2 headed towards Ironpot. It's demoralising if you look down and seeing the runners coming off Ironpot.
Back on the open fire trail heading towards CP2 I caught up with Shane and we picked up the pace and ran together until Dunphy's. After a  quick gear check I grabbed a chunk of water melon and I was off again heading towards Ironpot. It was on this session I saw Jez Bragg. I was surprised to see him this far back as he was one of the favourites to win. I didn't realise at the time that he went the wrong way as he did not mentioned it or seemed bothered at all. He came across as still very composed and focused. I didn’t notice that there were markers missing as my mind was in autopilot, following the TNF trail that I was used to. The section of trail known at Iron Pot is the part of the trail that traverses private land which we are not allowed to train on prior to race day. Essentially over this section we are all on the same playing field. At the end of the out and back along Iron Pot we runners were treated to a cultural experience by the lands traditional people who were playing their cultural songs. It is a rare treat between CP’s. Back onto Megalong Road I was pleased to see the little pony in the farm at the bottom of the hill. When I first ran TNF in 2008 I saw this pony and every year since I say “hello” to him as I pass.
Approaching CP3 I could hear the energy radiating from all the support crew and spectators who had invaded the paddock to watch the procession of runners. Here I was met by Brian and my parents, Jim and Joan. I quickly got refuelled and was pushed out again. As I was running out of the CP I saw Ewan Horsburgh casually standing around after he had finished the first let of the pairs event, before he handed the baton over to Angela Bateup. Ewan looked so fresh. I was envious that he had finished for the day and I was only half way, with the climb of Nellies Glen my next immediate challenge. The last time I had run with anyone was on Iron Pot, and being in the lead on the second part of the run I was forever thinking that Julie would be hunting me down and Shona would be waiting for me to fade. I dug deep on Nellies and made sure that she wouldn’t get the better of me. All I can say about Nellies is that she must have been a B#*^h!
At Katoomba Aquatic Centre, CP4, I was again met by my support crew. They had got a text from some friends at CP3 to let us know how close the next two girls were behind me. All that Brian told me was that I had 15min on Shona and 20min on Julie. I was in front but still far from safe.  Refuelled for leg 5 I headed out towards the Giant Stair Case along with its tourists. As I came running through I got the usual cheers of, “you go little girl” in a smattering of different accents. They all seem to know that we are competing in an event, however I doubt they could comprehend exactly what we had been through, let along what we have ahead of us. I was presently surprised to see that concrete blocks had been placed across the ford for the female runners, though I’m sure that a few of the guys used them as well. I thought this was a bit posh for a trail race. I got pretty close to Oliver Zambon but he took off pretty quickly when he saw that he was going to get chicked. Down in Jamison Valley I caught up with Tim Cochrane who was mixing up walking and running on the up hills. I finally caught Tim Cochrane at the gear check at the base of Kedumba Pass. I got my gear checked then I took off and was soon reduced to a walk up the steep incline. . I dearly wanted to run all this but the legs had nothing in them. I had run up this before with 60km in the legs but with 80km in them I was reduced to a walk. Tim caught me and walked with me for a bit. He had a fall earlier on and looked a real mess (no offence Tim). We saw Mick Donges up ahead and he looked a mess too. I did not recognise him at first because he looked so bad (sorry you had such a bad run). So I was with Mick and Tim and no one had much to say. Tim decided to give running another go and took off and I hurried off to beat the sun to CP5. I was thinking about Mick on the last leg and I was hoping he would make it to the end. I was so glad to see him come over the finish line. What an amazing effort. You are such a good role model for others not to give up when things don't go the way you planned.
Courtesy Ben Berriman

The whole race I had not been focusing on a race time or splits. Not wearing a watch meant that I had no option. My main goal was to get to Queen Victoria Hospital, CP5, in daylight. When I won this race back in 2010 I had come through on last light. I knew that if I arrived before last light that I was on target and a PB (below 12:16). When I came into the CP Brian let me know that Julie and Shona were about 20min behind at CP4. He also said that if I ran a solid last leg that I might get the course record. Doing the sums in my head I figured that that would be a decent PB. With that in my mind and the thought of Julie continuing to hunt me down I headed out of CP5 literally running scarred. With the way I had handled the last let I was sure that she would have closed the gap. I pretty much ran this leg on my own. It is a cruel way to finish an ultra like this and Tom Landon-Smith knows how to set a course that leaves you with nothing in the tank. Last light disappeared at Wentworth Falls and I turned my 'day maker' Ay-Up head torch on to find my way over the last of the course. I know how cruel the last few km’s are on this course. You start heading towards the golf course then the lights of the Fairmont before disappearing back into the wilderness in some cruel test of your desire to finish TNF100. Eventually I emerged from the trail and up onto the manicured lawn of the resort and the long awaited finish line. In previous years the finish line had a clock showing race time. This year someone had turned it around hiding it from view until you had crossed the finish line. I crossed the line, First Female. I had waited two whole years to do this race again and to get First for the second time was just fantastic. But after crossing I heard people talk about the record and I turned to look at the race clock which read 11:18. I went weak at the knees and my first reaction was that I had read it wrong. That was a 58min PB. Going into this years event I had serious doubts about being able to go sub 12hrs, let alone beating Julie’s previous race record by 21min.

I hung around the finish area, mainly the bar, for as long as I could to see friends and competitors cross the finish line. Julie and Shona kept me honest throughout the day and showed that the depth and competition amongst Aussie girls is getting stronger each year (yes I know Julie is a Kiwi, but she is a top athlete so we will forge that minor discretion).

I can now look out from my family’s holiday house above Leura Falls, Katoomba, across the Jamison Valley and Mount Solitary knowing that I have command of the two gruelling solo ultra-trail races in the Jamison Valley and my greater backyard.