Jono Stiberc

A couple of people have asked me for a race report, so here it is. It’s fairly detailed so settle in for 15 - 20min if you’re interested. Feel free to share it if you think it would help anyone.

Introduction

The 2015 Alpine Challenge was my first 100 miler. It was a bucket list run for me with my aim purely to finish. With a DNF rate of around 40% based on previous years, I thought that was going to be tough enough! At the same time in just wanting to finish, I wanted to take it seriously and enlisted assistance from Andy at Mile 27. He needs to take a lot of credit for how it all panned out.

Training

I won’t lie – I trained hard for a 4 to 5 month lead in with 80 to 120km weeks for around 8 weeks. I had a peak 3 day weekend of 110km on the track 4 weeks out from the run. I then had a 4 week taper. My training weeks were typically body weight exercises Mon/Thu, speed Tue, recovery runs Wed/Sun, hills Fri, and a long run Sat.

The Race

My run tactics were pretty much non-existent. All I knew was that I was going to walk all the ups, jogs the downs, and depending on how I was feeling walk or jog the flats. I was going to spend minimal time at checkpoints and I was also going to have a sip of a perpetuem mix and 3 sips of water every 20 mins. Other than this, I was going to block out every one around me and do my own thing for the next day and a half.

The 100km and 100 milers all started together at 4:30am from Bogong Village. The weather conditions were perfect so there were no excuses. There were a few bolters at the start which I had nothing to do with. About 5km in, I found myself with Dan Beard and chatted to him for a while, and Chris White was just ahead of us. One guy had cut himself pretty badly and Dan stopped (there was already 5 to 6 people there so I didn’t see the point, especially when my 1st aid skills are essentially non-existent), however I pushed on. I was then by myself to checkpoint 1.

At checkpoint 1, I ran straight through it as I had everything I needed. A fair few milers that were in front of me stopped here I think. On to Derrick Hut and there seemed to be a lot of people with maps pulled out asking questions. I yelled out to them and showed them down to Big River. I knew I was then in for a tough climb pretty much all the way up to Bogong so I really backed it off. Through here Damien Smith, Chris, Dan, and Gill Fowler all passed me and I was fine with that. When I reached the Bogong summit I was told I was coming 5th in the miler and I knew that 4 milers had passed me on the last climb which meant I was leading at Big River. That blew my mind a little, but I felt really good at the top of Bogong so pushed on. The 4 that passed me were out of sight within minutes of the summit. I then did the Quartz Ridge decent back down to Big River, up Timms Spur to Warby Corner and onto checkpoint 2 all by myself apart from passing a couple of 60km runners. The Timms Spur ascent was the most confident I felt all day – it went like clockwork.

At checkpoint 2 I felt great (apart from having to wait for my support crew for 10min! I went quicker than anticipated though.)! I changed my socks and shoes, reloaded water, perpetuem, coke, slammed some watermelon and I was away. I traded places with a couple of 100km runners for about an hour, but left them at a road crossing where they waited for someone and that was the last time I saw anyone for hours! On to pole 333, down to Dibbins Hut and then Swindlers Spur which I hate! For this climb I slowed it even more than T-Spur and in 25min the worst of it was done. Not a problem! It was a real confidence booster for me and I then set a fair clip all the way to checkpoint 3 so much so that I pulled in Gill just prior to the checkpoint (who was walking on a flat not far from the checkpoint – very un-Gill like I thought) and arrived 22mins quicker than my ‘optimistic schedule’ I had given my support crew.

At checkpoint 3, I once again refueled and I was off. I was told that Chris was about 100min ahead of me, Dan 80min ahead of me, and Damien (who had an extended 20min break) was about an 60min ahead of me. All of this didn’t really worry me. All I knew was that I felt really good, I had plenty in the tank, was over half way, and 4 of the 6 climbs were done! I proceeded down Bon Accord which went for ages! I had never ran this part of the track and it went for so much longer than I anticipated. I really wanted to get into Harrietville before dark, but that didn’t happen which did dint my confidence a bit.

At checkpoint 4 I didn’t have any crew there, however Damien was waiting. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but it turned out he had lost his map and didn’t know the way. I did know the way and neither of us had pacers, so we essentially did 95% of the rest of the course together. It was great! Damien is by far a better runner than me, but at the same time literally had no idea where he was going. As a team, we worked well. He probably made my go a little faster than I otherwise would have, and I kept him on track. I was feeling fairly flat up Bungalow Spur, but kept moving and reached the Feathertop summit. It wasn’t until the return back to Razorback that we saw another miler, Chris Roberts, who looked ridiculously fresh. I worked out we had about 40min on him. We proceeded down Diamantina Spur where I gashed my knee open half way down, bandaged it up, and onto Blair’s Hut. Damien and I agreed we had to keep moving otherwise Chris would catch us, so set a good tempo all the way to pole 333. Mortien Alley complete! On the descent to Tawonga Huts / checkpoint 5, we could see head torches a long way in to the distance. I looked like we had an hour on 5th place, but we really had absolutely no idea!

At checkpoint 5, I refueled from my support crew and we were off again. When Damien was waiting in Harrietville, Tom Brazier (would had already run and won the 100km that day) was telling him how easy the final section was with the best part of the last 15km downhill. Damien relayed this on to me once we had started the last section, however it fell on deaf ears. I was stuffed! About 30min later, Damien turned to me and said “I’ve got nothing, go on without me if you want”. I was going nowhere as I had nothing either. And then from almost nowhere I looked up, the 15km downhill into the finish was upon us, and Damien was gone. I didn’t mind at all as I felt I had been holding him up for the last hour or so. I was then in survival mode hoping Chris wouldn’t catch me. It was seriously a blur for the last 2 hours. My nutrition plan went out the window, my quads were shot, my back hurt, a blister on each heel popped and then the hallucinations started. Around every switchback I was seeing a gate which I thought was the finish only for it to be a fallen tree. The best one was what I thought was a corrugated roof of Bogong Village – nope, multiple fallen trees. Anyway, all this stopped when I saw the ‘2km to go’ sign and I figured I had max 15min to go. In the final 15min I thought 4th was a great result for me and I was hoping that Damien would still be there so I could congratulate him. When I reached the bitumen, there he was. What a relief. He cheered me down, I shook his hand and over the line we went - 28hrs and 9min. I actually didn’t realize until a couple of hours later, but he actually waited for me so we could get equal 3rd! He had taken off as he knew I was flat and he didn’t want Chris to pass both of us and take 3rd so he had taken off. When he saw I had beaten Chris to the bitumen, he crossed the line with me. It would’ve been a mad rush final 100m if Chris had have beaten me to the bitumen I think! So Damien – once again I thank you.

Also a thank you to Andy for your guidance, and to Glen, Dina, Nicky and Adam for crewing at checkpoints 2, 3, and 5.

Things that worked

Practice on the track – this was arguably the most important factor for me getting a decent time. There wasn’t a point in the 28 hours that I didn’t feel confident where I was. In a miler, the smallest thing can mentally set you off and having confidence in not having to back track and knowing where you are definitely helped me.

Long runs with pack incl compulsory gear – for my last 6 longs runs I did this with my fully loaded pack. Apart from getting used go the weight I learnt to not completely fill the camel back so it bulged against my back. Keeping it slightly empty allowed it to mould to my back and made it more comfortable.

Hill repeats with a weighted pack heavier than race day pack – this was an Andy special. I hated doing them, but I really think it helped. My pack with compulsory gear weighed about 4.5-5kg. For about 3 hill sessions I did them with a 6-7kg pack. Then going back to the race pack weight made it feel light.

Practice race day nutrition on long runs – for my last 6 longs runs I used the exact nutrition strategy I used on the day. This made my body accustomed as to what to expect.

I didn’t use my GPS – I all my training I used my Garmin 920XT religiously. It was 4:28am 2 minutes from the start and people were fiddling with their GPS’s. I knew it would be touch and go as to whether my battery would last the whole race, and then I thought I only really need I to know how often to drink, so I didn’t use it. I literally used it as a watch and that was all.

Breaking it down into manageable parts – I didn’t realize this at the time, but looking back now, I honestly think the key to me doing what I did was dumbing the whole run down to my 20min drink strategy. As I didn’t use my GPS I didn’t know how far I had gone (from the start or the previous checkpoint) or how far I had to go (to the end or the next checkpoint). All I knew is that I had to drink every 20 minutes and I ended up doing this 84 times. I enjoyed the drink each time, and 20 minutes wasn’t long to wait until I could enjoy it again.

Lessons learnt

Blisters – it is an ongoing problem for me. The next time I do an ultra I am going to try and come home unscathed! It should be able to be managed as the only blisters I get are on the outside of my heel on each foot. I don’t know if it’s my technique or I need a shoe change. I need to try something though! It only ever happens longer than 50km too which makes it hard to target. Maybe as fatigue kicks in my technique changes? I have tried to be proactive and cover the areas prior to them occurring, but this hasn’t worked either. It’s something to work on.

Back – my back was the sorest it has ever been 5 minutes after I finished and I know what it was (and thankfully it can be avoided!) – I had a full 600ml water bottle in the back of my pack as well as the camel back and it cracked against my back for 28 hours. I brought this bottle as back up which I never came close to needing, however I ended up using it at checkpoints and streams to have a quick intake of water. Next time I’ll be taking a collapsible cup. Not only will it be smaller but it will save 0.6kg.

Sun burn – I can’t believe I did this for a second time and paid the price! I didn’t use any sunscreen apart from a quick slap on the neck at checkpoint 2. I was scolded all over and it probably made me dehydrated too.

Cut legs – I would seriously consider some sort of calf compression set up next time, not for the compressions benefits (although it probably wouldn’t hurt), but to protect my lower legs. They were cut up really badly when I finished.

Roof of my mouth – this was one I didn’t anticipate and has probably lingered more than anything else above post run, but the roof of my mouth has been killing me! I can only put it down to having 3 sucks of the camel back every 20min, or over 250 sucks for the run! I’d seriously consider a bottle type arrangement next time so I can pour / swallow rather than suck.

Nutrition

Three months out from the run I cut out all added sugar from my diet in the form of soft drink, lollies, chocolate and bakery food. This was more to try and lose a few kgs than anything. The chocolate and bakery food was the hardest! Three months out I weighed 75kgs (I’m 172cm). When I toed the start I was 68.5kgs. When I finished the run I was about 64kgs.

Two months out from the run I cut out caffeine. This was so that in the run when I had coke it give me a pick me up. It worked a treat! I was punishing 3 – 4 coffees a day before this so I was essentially immuned to caffeine. This was so hard for the first day (I wanted to sleep by midday), hard the second day, and a little hard by the third day. By the fourth day I was fine.

I did have intentions of cutting out alcohol in the month leading up to the run, but this didn’t happen (although I’m pretty sure I had the weekend off before the run!). Apart from cutting sugar and caffeine, I ate and drank what I wanted.

The Thursday before the Saturday start I gouged big time! I also drank a heap of water. The Friday before the Saturday start I ate very light and kept the hydration up. My breakfast on the morning of the run (which was the same before all of my long runs) was a piece of wholemeal bread with butter and apricot jam, a piece of wholemeal bread with butter and vegemite, and a banana. Sometimes I had a 250ml coke too, but I didn’t feel like it on the morning of the run so I went without (probably not required anyway).

Run nutrition is a very personal thing, but what I used was 8 scoops of strawberry perpetuem mixed with 4 banana gels and water so it would fit into a 450ml water bottle. I used a 450ml bottle as I ran with an S-Lab 12 and I thought the 600ml bottles are too tight in the pouches on the front. I pulled the labels off the water bottles so that I could put marks on the bottle with a permanent marker splitting the bottle into 8 even parts. In my 3 sips per hour I had to finish one part of the bottle so one of these bottle lasted me 8 hours. I roughly hoped for 32 hours, so made 4 bottles. I had Hammer gels and Hammer bars as back up in my pack and with my support crew, but I didn’t touch any of them for the whole run. In the other pouch on the front of the pack I had a 250ml coke as a backup / change up from the perpetuem. I ended up slamming these far quicker than I thought. I’d take 450ml bottles instead next time. I also had the 1.5ltr S-Lab camel back filled to about 1.3ltr as mentioned previously. And that was my run nutrition. By the end of the run, I probably only used 2 full bottles of the perpetuem mix, 5 bottles of the 250ml coke and I’m not sure on how much water but maybe 5ltrs. So in total 900ml of perpetuem mix (or 16 scoops of perpetuem and 8 gels), 1.25ltr of coke, and 5ltr of water.

Gear (excl compulsory)
  • The North Face ‘Better Than Naked’ t-shirt
  • The North Face ‘Better Than Naked’ 7” shorts with internal liner
  • Injinji mid weight socks (changed once at checkpoint 2)
  • Pearl Izumi N1 trail (changed once at checkpoint 2)
  • Black Diamond Ultra poles
  • Trucker Cap
  • Salomon S-Lab 12 (old model)
  • Garmin 920XT
  • Body Glide
  • Bandaids over nipples… Crucial!