Rocco Smit

It was hard! I finished

For the rest of you, here we go:

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take part in the Alpine Challenge (AC), Australia’s toughest/hilliest 100 miler (according to Ultra 168), and it was, as it says on the label, a challenge! I would go as far as to say, for me, it was harder than C2K (I know, this is a big statement but I’ll explain later).

What a race! Breathtaking views, hills that went on for hours and getting most of my water from streams around the course, were only some of the aspects of this race that made AC something different to all the other races I’ve done. The memories of this race will stay with me for a very long time.

COURSE DESCRIPTION

The course is 100 miles in length (there is also a 60km and 100km option) and starts/finishes at Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps. The course consists of 6 climbs, 6 descents (how hard can 6 hills over a 100 miles be?) and 2 flatter sections and the terrain is primarily unmarked hiking trails. There are some junctions that could cause directional issues but the course notes provided by the race director helped to overcome these directional hurdles. The total elevation for the course according to Strava is 6840m. (As a comparison, GNW has 5500m elevation)

Here is a breakdown of the climbs, descents and flatter sections that we would encounter during the race:

  • 1st descent to Rocky Valley Creek - Elevation: -671m, Distance: 10km, Elevation/km: -67m
  • 1st climb up Spion Kopje - Elevation: 967m, Distance: 8km, Elevation/km: 121m
  • 2nd descent to Big River via Roper’s Hut - Elevation: -807m, Distance: 6km, Klevation/km: -135m
  • 2nd climb up Mt Bogong via T Spur - Elevation: 921m, Distance: 8km, Elevation/km: 115m
  • 3rd descent down Quartz Ridge - Elevation: -743m, Distance: 6km, Elevation/km: -124m
  • 3rd climb up to Warby Corner - Elevation: 582m, Distance: 7km, Elevation/km: 83m
  • 1st flatter section through Langford’s Gap via Cope Hut to Pole 333
  • 4th descent to Cobungra Gap - Elevation: -432m, Distance: 3km, Elevation/km: -144m
  • 4th climb up Swindler’s Spur to Mt Hotham - Elevation: 336m, Distance: 2km, Elevation/km: 168m
  • 5th descent down Bon Accord track to Harrietville - Elevation: -1243m, Distance: 10km, Elevation/km: -124m
  • 5th climb up Bungalow Spur to Mt Feathertop - Elevation: 1402m, Distance: 11km, Elevation/km: 128m
  • 6th descent down Diamantina Spur to Kiewa River - Elevation: -683m, Distance: 4km, Elevation/km: - 171m
  • 6th climb up towards Pole 333 via Blair’s Hut - Elevation: 639m, Distance: 5km, Elevation/km: 128m
  • 2nd flatter section through the Fainters via Mt McKay to the finish

To put these climbs and descents into perspective I put together a short list of climbs you will come across in some of the more popular races in the Blue Mountains in NSW.

  • Mini Mini (6ft track) - Elevation: 433m, Distance: 5km, Elevation/km: 87m
  • Pluviometer (6ft track) - Elevation: 410m, Distance: 3km, Elevation/km: 136m
  • Nellies Glen (UTA) - Elevation: 401m, Distance: 5km, Elevation/km: 80m
  • Kedumba (Kedumba half) - Elevation: 685m, Distance: 9km, Elevation/km: 76m
  • Bumble Hill (GNW) - Elevation: 297m, Distance: 6km, Elevation/km: 50m
  • CP2 Signal Tower (GNW) - Elevation: 344m, Distance: 4km, Elevation/km: 86m
  • Mt Solitary (Mt Solitary) - Elevation: 655m, Distance: 3km, Elevation/km: 218m

So, if you aren’t a fan of numbers and you’re thinking “give me something a bit more tangible!”, imagine stacking 2 and a bit Pluviometers one on top of the other and traversing them 6+ times with some all round trail sections thrown in to get you to the next set of Pluvies. SO much “fun” :)

The one advantage all the climbing had was that the course provided spectacular scenery once at the top. It was a nice reward for all the hard work that went into getting there.

For a more in detail view, here is the link to the course and elevation profile on Strava. and a 3D representation on Doarama (This looks pretty cool)

LEAD-UP AND EXPECTATIONS

Sally, Ruth and myself made our way down to Falls Creek Thursday night after work. Sally and I had driven down on a Friday 4 weeks prior for a recce weekend and I felt tired from the long drive during my runs so a Thursday night drive down and a rest day before the race on Friday made more sense.

The weather on the recce weekend was freezing cold (to the point where icicles formed in my beard) and it was the first time I’d run in the snow. So going on this and Falls Creek’s Facebook post showing how much snow had fallen 3 days before the race, I was expecting more of the same for race day. Turns out we were in for the opposite. When we arrived at Falls Creek the snow had melted and it was hot.

(Some images to show the snow and cold on the recce weekend)

Ok, so it wasn’t going to snow… I was a little disappointed, but probably more relieved because one of my main worries was regarding the lack of grip my Hokas had in the wet terrain on the recce weekend. (I was “ok” with falling, but found when you do hit the ground your gloves and thermals get soaked and then the chill sets in immediately after). Making peace with the weather not being as expected, the rest of my day consisted on Ruth and myself going out for an *easy 3k run to try flush some of the long drive down out of the legs, driving to the nearby parts of the course where Sally and Ruth would support, heading up to Mt McKay to see the last part of the course I couldn’t figure out of the map, fixing a flat tyre (who knew there were big sharp rocks on dirt roads :) and heading to the race briefing to get my gear checked and for some final notes one the race. All and all not so much a rest day but fairly relaxed.

* Even though it was just a relaxed 3k run down and back up the trails, Ruth started feeling the effects of the thinner air 1780m above sea level and I noticed a slight huffing and puffing from her as her breathing became more labored.

Descent to Rocky Valley Creek

The first 10km of the race is all downhill of which the first 5km is on a narrow pack horse trail and the seconds 5km is on open fire trail. For those who have done Coatal Classic or 6ft track, or even those who’ve done UTA and experienced the landslide, if you have any intentions of keeping up with the pointy end of the field, it’s a bit of a sprint to the pack horse trail if you don’t want to get stuck in the conga line behind slower runners. I, however, didn’t even think of this before the race but was happy enough to stay in the position I found myself in, happily cruising down the trails, saving the legs, knowing that there was still a lot of running to come.

I made it to Howmans Gap (5km and the end of the pack horse trail) feeling very relaxed and also excited as this was also the first sport where Ruth and Sally supported. From there is was just taking it easy down to the river making sure not to work the quads too hard and watching out not to fall on the steeper downhill sections.

Climb up Spion Kopje to Warby Cnr

First river crossing for the day and my first look at the type of hills the first 100ks of the race had in store. I had covered all the hills in Mortein Alley (more on this later), which is km 83 - 143, in my recce run so I knew what to expect from the back half of the course but this first section was an unknown. Luck for me the first section didn’t disappoint, with almost 1000m of elevation and going up for the next 8ks, the climb up to Spion Kopje was a bit of a wakup call. I was still having fun though. The legs were feeling good and I power hiked the steep parts of the hills while shuffling anything “flattish”. I was passing loads of runners that went too hard to the river and were feeling it now. I eventually caught up to Alex, who had run this course last year but had to pull out at the 70k mark and was back for a second helping of elevation. Running with Alex was great. Just having someone to talk to and take my mind of the 1h30 hill climb and also to let me know what to prepare for next was invaluable. We crested the hill and the saw the trail wind into the open plains. 5ks to CP1 and to Sally. As we ran along we could see CP1 far off in the distance and Alex was telling me his wife would only be joining him at the 70km CP. I remarked that there were more people than I expected at the CP, to which Alex jokingly replied: “They are all here for you”. The next moment we heard a cheer: “GO ROCCO!!” and I turned to Alex, smiled, and said: “Yip, that my wife”

For the support crew, getting to CP1 is a 7km hike from the nearest road. Sally and Ruth had made their way there after cheering me on at the 5km. I was just too glad they had made the trek.

Descent to Big River via Roper’s Hut

Ok, 25ks down, now for the big 36k loop over Mt Bogong (or Mt Bogan as Sally likes to call it). First part of the loop, getting down to Big River. By the time I left CP1 Alex had already set off so I was going solo again. My head was still in a very happy place and I was constantly fighting myself to not stop and take more pictures of the scenery. On this section there is 1 important fork in the road where you had to turn right. At the race briefing Paul told us about runners going left and doing the Mt Bogong loop the wrong way around, finding out their mistake and having to go back and do it the correct way around. Brutal!

I managed to stay to the right at the fork and got to clearing at Ropers hut. Chuffed with myself that my directional skills haven’t let me down yet I realised that I had no idea how to exit the Ropers hut clearing… I was trying to follow the snow poles but with all the dead trees around the snow poles were camouflaged and very hard to spot. Not too long after, another runner appeared and he was having issues with his phone so he was no help on the navigational front. I pulled out my phone and the GPS showed us the way. Good old technology. My now new running buddy (a 100km runner) was nice, but also very to the letter, must have the map to make sure we aren’t lost, follow the course exactly, oriented and wanted me to have my phone out every step of the way to make sure we weren’t getting lost. I was pretty sure we were going to right way and knew I was going to need my phone for a while to come and was trying to save the battery. I managed to convince him that as long as we reach the river we should be in the right place and if we weren’t we could walk down the river to where the crossing would be. He seemed to be happy with that so off we went.

It’s a steep descent to the river and parts of the track were recently cleared so the branches on the ground made for slippery conditions under foot. Getting to the river was a relief. We had been going the right way. Another pleasant surprise was that Alex was at the river filling up his water.

Climb up Mt Bogong via T Spur

I took a moment at the river to take some photos and take in some food. In that time the runners that were at the river took off up the hill. The last thing I remember before they left was Alex telling me there was water 7km up the hill and me saying I was having too much fun on this run!

Well that fun didn’t last… Probably 1km up the hill (around km 33, 4h30 into the race) I had my first "What the f*ck am I doing here, why is this such a struggle, there is still another 130km to go" moment. My legs were O.K. considering the terrain, but my head was going off the rails somewhat. I wasn’t too surprised. The same thing happened to me about 33km into UTA and a little later during C2K at 60km. I don’t know if it’s because most of my mid week long runs maxed out at 4 hours, if that was just the time of the day the heat started getting noticeable or if my head is just use to focusing for 4 hours before it is use to getting a lunch/home break at work… what ever it was most of the remainder of the climb was a very unhappy one.

I had phone reception on probably 90‰ of the course so I was able to send Sally a SMS letting her know my estimates of 6 to 7 min ks (I know, extremely optimistic, but hey, at least Sally wasn’t late for any checkpoints were well off and I was struggling up these hills. She replied and reminded me that we knew there were going to be hills, that I had prepared for it and to just enjoy it. This reminded me so much of GNW 3 years ago, my first attempt at a 100 miler and my only DNF. I was climbing up to the signal tower after CP2, finally had phone signal and used it to SMS Sally and let her know I’m pulling out of the race, she agreed after convincing me to make it to the 100km CP and that was it. How things have changed. I’ve learnt that for me 100 milers are purely survival races and its not over till someone physically removes you from the course and Sally has learnt to ignore my whinging and loves telling me “We are not coming back! So get it done”.

Once last thing about getting through the hard times. Something I found to be a driving factory in these hard races is my support crew. They don’t even have to do anything. Just the fact that they took time off work to come support me, time they could have spent next to the beach sipping Mojitos, really helps me to push through. This was the case when I hit the wall 70km into C2K with Sam, Aileen and Sally supporting me and was definitely proving to be the case here with Ruth and Sally supporting.

Ok, enough about the struggles, on to some good stuff. I finally made it to the stream up the hill Alex had informed me of. Just in time as well as I had finished the last of my water coming up the hill. My first go at Bear Grylls-ing it and getting water from nature, Yea! Now not to get the shits, or cramps or what ever bad non treated water gives you. The paranoia was strong (as I got more tired during the race the amounts of shits I gave about treating the water diminished exponentially) so I doubled up the water treatment dosage and filled up my soft flasks. Double Yea! O, wait, now I have to wait 30 min for it to take effect…

Heading up to the top of Mt Bogong there was a support station witch was great, some smiling faces and lollies to help with the moral. Once I saw the top of Mt Bogong I knew the worst was over for a while, my spirits lifted and I was loving the course again.

Descent down Quartz Ridge

Heading down from Mt Bogong back to Big River was great to start with. It was down hill (always a bonus) and we were following the faintest of walking tracks along the ridge down into the valley which was an adventure in itself just to stay on track.

This is however one of the parts of the track that they could not get to to clear for race day so on the way down the track was overgrown and littered with fallen trees. It was frustrating because you couldn’t get a rhythm going, but have I said it was downhill! You cant complain on a downhill, well not thins early in the race any way.

Climb up to Warby Cnr

From Big River we followed the Big River fire trail back out of the valley and complete the Mt Bogong loop back at Warby corner. I stopped to filled up my water again at Big River and knew this was the last big climb for the next 30km or so. What a mental boost, one last hill till I reach Ruth, then she can kick my but up the hills, and it’s a nice long, not that steep, open fire trail all the way to Warby corner. This section was purely head down, heavy on the poles, power walking to the top.

Sally and Ruth weren’t at Warby corner this time around. By this time Sally had dropped Ruth off at Pretty Valley Pondage (or Pointy Pony as it became known between the ladies) from where Ruth had to hike 5km to get to Pole 333 where we would meet up for her pacing duties and Sally the made her way to Langford’s Gap (10km from Warby corner) to meet me at the 70km CP there.

Note to self, when you support crew leaves your yogurt in the sun, think twice about eating it… I wasn’t too sure how long after Warby Corner the yogurt was going to stay down for. Luckily it didn’t reappear and I was merrily on my way again.

Flatter section through Langford’s Gap to Pole 333

This section was pretty uneventful. 10km of rolling fire trail till I saw Sally again and then a further 15km of single track over the high plains till I met up with Ruth. By this point my legs were tired but not unexpectedly so. My goal was to run 4 or 5 snow poles, walk 1 pole and repeat. This seemed to work O.K. and I was able to maintain roughly a 6 - 8min/km pace. It felt SO good having the kilometers tick off at a faster and more consistent rate compared to heading up the hills. This section also joined back up with the part of the course that the 60km runners were completing. It was good to have some company on the trails again.

When I got to the Langford’s Gap checkpoint, the time keeping lady let me know I was roughly 1h30 behind the leader. Say what now! This was a big surprise considering my struggles over Mt Bogong. What I found more surprising was that the lady said I was in 14th place! I’m use to 100 mile races being more spread out that that, but hey, this race is crazy that way.

Anyway, I wasn’t going for position. My main goal was a 30 hour finish and I was still on target for it.

Next stop, Ruth at 84km.

Descent to Cobungra Gap

As mentioned before, Ruth had hiked to Pole 333 (The 333rd pole along the Alpine walking track from Falls Creek to Mt Hotham. Pole 0 is at Mt Hotham) and waited for me there. When I got there I found her comfily nestled away in the tent relaxing. Tough life being a pacer.

Pole 333 is the big decision point in the race. The is where the 100 km runners and the 100 mile runners spilt. The 100 km runners have 16 km to the finish and 100 mile runners have a 60 km loop called *Mortein Alley to complete before returning to Pole 333 for the final stretch. If you’ve had enough as a 100 mile runner you can choose not to do the extra loop and get your result registered as a 100 km finisher’s result. This 100 km option is such a massive metal hurdle that you need to overcome.

*Mortein Alley is the 60 km loop that the 100 mile runners need to complete in addition to the 100 km course and goes over Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop. It is called Mortein Alley because this is the section of the course where runners drop like flies… Every year there is a prize for the first person to DNF on this notorious stretch of trails.

Finally, I had some company again and the good/bad part is I’ve done almost all of this loop on my recce weekend. Good because I knew what was coming and bad also because I knew what was coming. At least we wouldn’t get lost.

The run down the valley was great. Ruth and I were keeping up the run 4 poles walk 1 pole routing, well I was, Ruth was full of energy and darting around. In my head I knew, relax to the bottom because once we are in the valley getting out the other side is going to be ugly.

Climb Swindler’s Spur to Mt Hotham

I remember sitting by the stream at Dibbins hut, in the valley, eating a gel while Ruth kindly filled my flasks from the steam, and thinking how much this next hill sucked on recce weekend and how much of a struggle it was going to be on tired legs… Not a good way to start the hill but I was not looking forward to this. This hill is not very long (about 2 km) but its steep. I think of it as Mt Solitary’s little brother.

Oh, before I forget. Every time we passed people camping, they would cheer and tell Ruth she was second lady. Go Ruth! At least the people were cheering and it was nice to have some support.

Ok, back to this hill! What can I say, I got real quiet and as Aaron kept on reminding me on GNW, “Just put one foot in front of the other”. Ruth, still beaming with energy was bouncing up the hill and every now and then I could hear her (but not see her any more as she was too far up the hill) say “You’re doing well Rocco”. My tank was quickly running empty and I had no reply.

Half way up the hill Ruth sticks a phone to my ear, its Sally. She was at Mt Hotham and drove there via Omeo. The plan was to fill up the car with fuel at Omeo. Turns out, the petrol pumps at the only petrol station in Omeo are out of order… Great, the closest other petrol station is in Bright which is a 2 hour round trip and it sounds like Sally wouldn’t make it to Bright before the petrol station closes. To add to that we were only 1h30 out from Mt Hotham where the checkpoint was. Du du duuuuu, the suspense. What to do. I was struggling to breath/talk up this hill and wasn’t able to give much advice other than to get fuel and we would make the rest work. To get the full version, ask Sally, she can help you out with that, the short version is, she managed to get petrol.

By the time we got to the top of the hill I was spent. Run 4 poles walk 1 turned into “try and convince myself to run 1 pole and walk 1 pole”. I was physically falling apart and I was struggling to get food in me. just thinking of gels were making me sick.

My aim was to get to Mt Hotham (100 km) by sundown and we had a little bit of time so I had a quick lie down at Derricks hut (about 6 km from Mt Hotham). This was probably not the smartest idea as the grass was damp and cold and I was loosing a ton of body heat quickly. At this point I told Ruth I needed a proper rest (around 30 min) at Mt Hotham.

Ruth gave me the queue that my 5 min for the lie down was over and I reluctantly got up and we made our way towards the CP.

As we neared the checkpoint the sun dipped behind the mountains and the temperature dropped sharply. One final kick in the teeth before we reached the CP… My body didn’t like that. Along with feeling drained I started shaking, properly shaking. Luckily I’m aware of this reaction I have to switching from heat to cold on these long races and we weren’t far from the CP. During the night leg of C2K I sat in the warm car to eat and when I got out my entire body started shaking to the point where Sam had to help me back in the car so that I could put all my winter gear on.

Once at the the CP I put all my winter gear on. Thermal pants, rain pants, 3 thermal shirts, my running T-shirt, my rain jacket, gloves and beanie. I still had the recce weekend in mind and thought it was going to get very cold during the night. Ruth got me some hot soup while I re-taped my feet. It was time for a lie down. This actually worked out well as it also gave Sally time to get to the CP. I needed a fleece and it was in the car as well.

Descent down Bon Accord track to Harrietville

The rest and warm clothes combined with it being night time did me the world of good. I felt like a new runner (sort of). On these longer races I tend to get a second wind after sundown, be it because it’s not hot any more or because most of my training is at night and my body is used to running at this time, I don’t know, but I was happy to be shake free and to have some legs under me again.

The next 15 ks is from the top of Mt Hotham down technical single track to Harrietville. I was also only allowed a pacer for 2 checkpoints so I was doing this section solo. I needed Ruth for the last 2 big climbs to come after Harrietville.

By the time I summited Mt Hotham I was sweating bucket loads and the next 5 km turned into “run a km and then take off a piece of clothing” and repeat till I found a happy medium for staying warm enough.

I was feeling happy again and had that Finding Dory “song” in my head: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”…

The one thing that caught me by surprise on this section was that even though it was downhill, the trail was so steep and technical in places that while running the bits I could, I was still only going 10 min/km. That walking walking speed… Anyway, just keep swimming.

I reached Harrietville and found Sally waiting for me in the road. What a wonderful sight. We made our way to the CP (which was at the local pub and the pub was still pumping).

Climb up Bungalow Spur to Mt Feathertop

It was time for the biggest granddaddy of them all and the climb I’ve been dreading it for the last 50 km. The Mt Feathertop climb is pretty much the entire 6ft track race’s elevation in a 11 km hill. Oh joy.

Ruth and I left Harrietville around midnight and I must say, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such polite inebriated pub patrons before. These guys were having a great Saturday out and as Ruth and myself ran past we received some really nice support and absolutely none of the craziness and heckling I was expecting. Colour me very impressed.

With the 40 min break at Mt Hotham we were getting closer to 30 hour pace than I felt comfortable with. This lead to me hitting the first 2 ks of the climb hard. We were pushing at 10 min/km pace up the hill. I had opted to leave my poles with Sally ever since Mt Hotham. I was preferring my natural swing of the arms over the support the poles gave. In hindsight this climb would probably have been a good place for the poles again. About 3 km up the hill I couldn’t maintain the pace any more and fell back to a more comfortable pace of 14 min/km. The hill was just too much. I found it extremely hard too, at 120 km into the race, get my head around the face that the next 3 hours would be non stop climbing. That and by this point everything was hurting, my feet, my back, my shoulders, everything was unhappy.

It was absolute torture climbing to the top. Every turn felt like the last and then there would be more climbing ahead. I knew this climb was long from the recce weekend but doing it in the dark with no visual queues to determine progress was very hard.

About 10 km up the climb we got to Federation Hut. I needed a quick stretch lie down again. My back was in all sorts of pain. I found lying on the stretcher at Mt Hotham helped so I wanted to try it again.

The only other time I can remember my back being in such a state was on C2K during the section from Charlottes pass to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko and back. I think on both occasions the over reliance of the poles to take some weight off the legs left my back in a over worked state and I was suffering for it. Either that or the constant, hands on knees, bent over nature of climbing hills had gotten too much to maintain.

Either way, I was ready for a lie down. The problem with a lie down was, by the time we got to Federation Hut its was around 2:30 in the morning. The perfect time to go to bed… Ruth did amazingly here to keep me from falling asleep and pushed to get me going again.

The next 1.5km to the top of Mt Feathertop was a slow grind and once at the top I had no energy to celebrate. We would have had some amazing views form the summit if this part of the race was during the day!

Ok, so, earlier on I said that I felt AC was harder than C2K and this mountain climb is what formed the basis of my decision. On C2K I had some very dark patches but I was always able to walk when running became too tough and keep moving forward. On these AC hills (up and down) even walking became to much and then a stop was required. Not being able to cover any ground while standing still was a massive mental blow and falling apart physically and now mentally, I was Defeated.

Coming down Mt Feathertop I was so tired mentally and physically that I stopped, lied down, curled up into the fetal position and told Ruth I needed a rest… Ruth told me that she needed to change her headlight batteries so I could lie down for how ever long that took and then we needed to go again. Did I just win? Was I going to get a chance to sleep! Well the answer to that was NO. "Lucky" for me Ruth didn’t care too much for my attempts at taking the easy way out and had her light batteries changed in 2 seconds flat. The next thing I knew her newly powered headlight where tanning my retinas, through my eyelids, with the lumens of a 1000 suns and she was cracking the whip to get me going… Thanks Ruth.

Descent down Diamantina Spur to Kiewa River

Not much happened on this next section. Well, 1 thing happened. The initial hike down the mountain was very slow, I was still struggling to get my head back into the race and I hadn’t been able to eat any gels since Mt Hotham so I wasn’t overflowing with energy either.

Ruth had been hanging on to a Clif Bar for me and every now and then she would give it to me but I could only eat a bit, probably about the size of a $2 count per attempt. Still, it was better than nothing.

As a side note: Man, those Clif Bars are dry. Lucky I had water to wash it down with. I guess they try and save on water weight. Still, it helped me through the final 60 km of the race so I shouldn’t complain.

This section was also the section where I though Ruth and myself were going to get lost, for sure. On the recce weekend this section was so overgrown that I didn’t know if I was following the trail or making my own. Luckily the trail had been cleared for the race. Happy days.

O.K, So, the 1 thing that happened was that as we made our descent to the valley the sun started coming up. I don’t know what happened but just like Superman’s dependency on the sun for energy, my energy levels were rising with this sun. I had my 3rd wind. Awesome sauce! This was probably the happiest moment of my race.

Climb up towards Pole 333 via Blair’s Hut

With renewed vigour I was ready to take on the remainder of the course. I think it also helped that I knew there was just one major hill left and it was “only” half the size of Mt Feathertop.

I also braved looking at my watch again to see if we were maybe still in with a chance of sub 30 hours. We were in luck, 30 hours was still a possibility but we would have to make short work of the climb to Weston’s hut and then try muster a run to make up some time.

So with that I filled my water from the river (SO rugged and manly surviving off nature, no treatment tablets used and Ruth and I set off on the climb.

On the recce weekend this climb was littered with fallen trees and I found making my way up the hill while climbing over and under trees to be extremely hard work. Luckily things were starting to look up for me as most of the trees on the climb had bean cleared for the race. I was smiling from ear to ear. Well that’s how it felt. I’m pretty sure Ruth will tell you my face was showing that I was working extremely hard to get up this hill in a time that would still keep the door open for a 30 hour finish.

I even think I remember Ruth huffing and puffing slight because of the pace we were setting. This most probably isn’t true but I like to remember it that way

Nevertheless, we made good time, managed to pass 2 other 100 mile runners in the process and 1h30 later we were back at Pole 333. Mortein Alley behind us (It only took 14h30 for the 60 km…), luckily no prize for a DNF and only 16km to go to the finish.

Flatter section through the Fainters via Mt McKay to the finish

This next section was all about making up time to Pointy Pony (The last checkpoint for the race, the first time we’d see Sally again since Harrietville and the finish of Ruth’s pacing duties). I had 2h30 to cover 15 km. Sitting here writing this it sounds like ample time. Walking 15 km should take 3 hours, so if I could throw in a little bit of running I should just make it. Too easy! The only problem, this was 140+ km into the race and everything hurt. I tried to implement the run 4 poles walk 1 pole strategy but that very quickly turned into run 3, run 2, run 1 pole walk 1 pole. Still, I was covering ground faster than walking and I was closing the gap to a 30 hour finish.

Having a quick sit down at Pretty Valley Pondage I looked at my watch and I had just under 2 hours left for, what I thought was 6 km to go. I was ecstatic. I was going to achieve my goal that looked very much impossible just 25 km earlier heading up Mt Feathertop.

I walked to the top of Mt McKay with a purpose, every km getting more excited because I was making “good” time. At the top I took a moment to enjoy the spectacular views and then started to make my way back down towards the finish. 2 km to go according to my watch/calculations.

This is where the race had its final little surprise in store. From driving this last section on the Friday, I knew there was a “2 km to go” sign along the course but I was nowhere near it. That meant my watch was telling porkies or I had the distance of the final leg wrong. if you were a betting person you would have made some cash if your money was on me getting it wrong… Turns out the last section was almost 10 km and not 6 km.

The sub 30 hour race was on again and for the first time in 130km I pulled out a sub 6min km (and it hurt, ALOT!)

I was convinced I was going to make it, but too scared to look at my watch to confirm and just went as hard as my legs would allow. The last km of the race goes down Falls Creek’s “The last hoot” ski run and the run spits you out right in the center of town conveniently at the finish line. This probably would have been more fun on a snowboard (in the snow :) but there was no time to think about it. Must, keep, running!

Coming around the corner and seeing the finish arch, I had to fight really hard to keep the tears at bay (Still struggling to keep the tears away as I’m typing this). This race was brutal and FINALLY over! What a humbling and rewarding experience!

Finishing time: 29h33 (13th overall)

As a testament to the quality of the field that showed up on the weekend, this was the first time in the race’s history that the DNF rate for the 100 miler was below 30%. Also, my time for the race would have placed me 5th and 6th in the previous 2 year’s races.

As a added little tidbit. Race start weight, 76.5 kg. Weight once we got home Sunday night after a double lunch and lollie inhalation sessions in the car. 72 kg.

Final thoughts

First, I just wanted, again, to say a massive thanks to Sally and Ruth.

Sally, your support is always without compare. Also, massive thanks for taking on the majority of the driving duties for the weekend. Driving around to the remote locations on the course and then driving us home on the Sunday arvo was a momentous undertaking. Thanks again.

Ruth, I’m pretty sure I gave you the most resistance, in terms of not wanting to run, that I’ve ever given a pacer. Thanks for your cool head and for kicking my butt over some pretty f*cken big mountains. I reckon the sweepers would have found me sleeping at the top of Mt Feathertop if it weren’t for you.

O.K., thoughts:

Could I have gone faster? Probably, but not by much.

Is there a feeling of unfinished business? Not at all. The race is a massive tick. I am extremely happy with bettering the goals I set for myself.

Too many photo stops? Never! Thinking back on it now taking the time to stop, take in the scenery and take some pictures was a welcome (and needed) rest from the onslaught of elevation this race provides. I’m also grateful that I now have all these wonderful photos to remember how amazing this race is.

Would I recommend the race? In a heartbeat. Be prepare for a crazy roller coaster but if you want to challenge yourself, this race will definitely do so!

Takeaways for the next race?

Force that food in. Even if I need to stop and prepare for a projectile vomit if the gels don’t stay down. It pays off in the long run. Maybe go back to water based nutrition e.g. Tailwind. I didn’t know how much water was available on the course so I didn’t even consider Tailwind for this race. Also, be smarter with the sections of the course to use the poles on (Technical trails and poles are not friends) and train more for/with poles.

That’s a wrap. Time to go pack. Its off on the next adventure, supporting Tim on has epic journey from Eden to the top of Mt Kosciuszko in C2K.