Alpine Challenge Race Report - 17th April 2021

Adam Brodie

Elevation: 7,600m
Distance: 100 Mile (160km)
Duration: 34:28:42
Place: 20th

It’s 4:28am and it’s 2 Degrees. Not quite as cold as I had expected. I’m standing at the start line at Slalom Plaza, Falls Creek, about to embark on my 8th journey of 100 Miles or greater. Paul has just finished his final encouraging words of pre-race briefing – something about how there’s no dishonour in turning right, running the first half with our body and the second half with our minds, and a joke about using the snake bite bandage to warm up a cold snake. I’d heard it before, but I chuckled anyway as I checked my watch – 64 hours on the extended battery life mode. The race cutoff is 42, so let’s hope I don’t need that long!


I’d been nervous about the early start, and the cold temperature. Neither were as bad as I’d expected. In fact, I’d had a fantastic night sleep last night, probably my best ever before a race – I usually have terrible sleep anxiety and barely sleep a wink the night before a race, but I dozed off reading my course notes with reruns of Friends happening in the background, and dreamt that I was a contestant on MasterChef, with Kitty Flannagan as the judge. She had challenged us to cook delicious bachelor food. I feel like there was a theme running through this dream that had something to do with the commercials on the TV. I woke up and ate a hot crossed bun and a banana for breakfast, made a couple of last minute changes to the items that were deemed necessary in my pack (who needs sunglasses), and headed out into the cold night/morning.

 

Less than a minute to go now. I think Paul had stopped talking. I stared around at the faces in the darkness, trying to spot the familiar ones. Brendan Davies was there up front. There was Millerine, Deb, and Gaetan. I couldn’t see Brian anywhere, hopefully he hadn’t slept in. I was so excited to be here amongst my friends, and to be a part of their first ever 100 Miles journey! Suddenly we were running, down the road as a group, and straight onto the single track of the Packhorse Trail – my course notes study hadn’t gone too well, but I remember last time I was here there were plenty of people around for this first section. No chance of getting lost.


Last time had been five years ago. My first ever 100 Miles race. I think I’d slept less than 4 hours the night before. I’d had my course notes laminated and hole punched, carrying them on front of my race belt with my bib so that I could refer to them easily. They kept getting in my way. I’d had a huge support crew, complete with awesome pacers, and my goal was just to finish the race. I’d done it in just under 39 hours, with plenty of adventures along the way. Today, my goal was just to finish again (it’s always the same goal for a Miler) – but for my first ever 100 Miles without any support crew or pacers, the stretch goal would be to try and beat my time from 2016 – I’d told a few people that I was aiming for sub 38, and optimistically, I’d even printed out my course notes with a 36 hour option for each aid station, just to see how I was tracking.

I felt like I was keeping a reasonable pace along the Packhorse Trail, and I was really enjoying this first section of the race, flying downhill in the cool night. Millerine was just behind me, and I assumed Deb, Gaetan, and Brian must all be in front somewhere. With my beanie on my ears and my buff over my nose and mouth to keep warm, I gave up on attempts at conversation – if we stuck together Millerine and I would have more opportunities to chat later on. We’d had plenty of time to chat in our training together, and I wondered how long we’d stick together for today – she’s a strong runner, and I had no doubt that she’d be ahead of me soon enough.

A guy in front of me pulled to the side to let us pass, and I realised there was a huge gap in front of him, we were losing track of the next people in front of us. I wondered if I was moving too slowly, and whether I was holding up the people behind me – it didn’t feel like it. Best not to think like that, less than 5km into a Miler, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for the field to spread out. Hopefully I knew my course notes well enough not to make a wrong turn on the first leg. I’d already noticed that the GPX file on my watch seemed slightly off.


After flying downhill in the dark for what seemed like forever, I finally came to Rocky Valley Creek, the first creek crossing on this race. I was nervous about getting my Peregrines wet (they are terrible wet, and they never seem to dry!) but I plunged in, letting out a bit of a shriek as the icy cold water made sure I was well and truly awake. Millerine asked me later why I hadn’t crossed on the log. I never saw it.

The first long climb began. I guessed it would be about 1,000m climb over 15km until I reached the first checkpoint at Warby Corner. My climbing legs were feeling strong and I pushed ahead, up and up and up. I realised that I already had today’s earworm stuck in my head. There’s one for every big ultra, a song that gets stuck in my head, the same lyric playing over and over again. Five years ago it had been Eminem, as I had kept telling myself for almost 39 hours, “I’m not afraid”. Sometimes they are less motivating, once I had Paul Kelly reminding me that I was doing “all the dumb things” for 100 Miles. Today’s song was a good one though. Chet Faker was encouraging me to “Get High”. I’m not entirely sure that he had skyrunning in mind when he wrote the lyrics, but my interpretation of them was going to keep me motivated for this entire race.


I knew Millerine was right there behind me throughout this entire climb, just like a Terminator – I could run all I like, but her walking pace would always be strong enough to stay right on my tail. I had no interest in competing against my friend, it was nice that we were still sticking together so far, and I knew we were both pushing each other hard – I recalled her words to me at Hounslow (“Adam, why are you sprinting?”) and briefly wondered whether I was going too hard too soon, and whether I’d blow up and regret it. Back then she had a good point. For now though, I felt great!


The sun began to rise, but it was still freezing cold. In fact, the higher we climbed the colder it got, and despite wearing two pairs of gloves, my hands were freezing and almost numb. I was aware that my fingers couldn’t move properly, and if I wanted to stop and get something from my pack I probably wouldn’t be able to – I hoped I wasn’t going to make the same stupid mistakes as I had a month ago at Hells Cauldron. Surely I’d feel the sun’s warmth eventually, and the course would flatten out enough for me to run, that would warm me up.


And just like that it happened, the course flattened slightly, and the guys in front of me sprinted off. The sun in my eyes was blinding me, and I could barely see the icy scrub in front of my feet. How the heck were those guys running here? And why did I take my sunglasses out of my pack this morning before leaving my accommodation? Even if I hadn’t, my fingers were so cold that I wouldn’t have been able to take them out and put them on. Just push on, the sun won’t be in your eyes all day. Get on with it as best you can!


Warby Corner finally appeared on the horizon. I remembered how nice it was last time, five years ago, seeing my crew here for the first time in the race. There’d be none of that today, but the memories of them were keeping me strong – after all these years I was still benefiting mentally from having had such a great support crew on my first Miler, and I acknowledged my gratitude towards them. I also acknowledged that I’d be grateful to find a toilet stop soon. I’ve encountered gut issues for most of my ultra-running career, and it’s definitely something that has gotten worse over the last few months. I’m reading up about different strategies to deal with it, and I’m learning new lessons all the time. I thought I had come into this race feeling relatively relaxed and confident that it shouldn’t be a problem, and I hoped that this was just timing – I’d reached that time of the morning, I was right on schedule. I filled my water at Warby Corner, tucked my headtorch into my bulging pack, and headed off in the wrong direction. Luckily Millerine called me out. I headed in the right direction and she promptly passed me. I felt slightly relieved to have the pressure taken off, I doubted that I’d see her again before the finish line now that she’d warmed up.


Before too long we got to Ropers Hut and I took advantage of the opportunity to use the facilities there. As I came out and put my pack back on Brian came bounding past, saying he was surprised to see me so far towards the front of the pack. I wondered whether he really had slept in and missed the start. Brian is a much faster runner than me, but surely I wasn’t anywhere near the front of the pack. I was just as surprised to see him as he was to see me. He bounded off and I lost him.


At the bottom of the hill I came to the Big River crossing and got my feet wet for the second time. The water was still icy cold, but at least the Peregrines weren’t giving me any trouble. Still, I vowed to change my socks at Cleve Cole Hut at the top of the next climb, keen to avoid blisters before the hike over Mt Bogong. I powered up the climb, once again feeling strong and grateful for the hill training I’d been doing, my climbing legs were right on point, and before I knew it I’d caught up to Brian again. It was great to chat with him for a little while as we approached Cleve Cole Hut. He made sure to tell me that I was crazy for having run the Mt Solitary Ultra the week before as my taper. I exclaimed that Brendan Davies had done the same and therefore it was ok. Brian told me I had inspired him to run UTA in a month’s time. I told him I thought it was a bad idea, and that I hoped my crazy training routine wouldn’t inspire him to do anything stupid and get himself injured.


We arrived at Cleve Cole Hut and I changed my socks, applied some sunscreen, and refilled my water, enjoying a chat with some of the Alpine Search and Rescue guys there before heading off for the hike up to the summit of Mt Bogong. Brian had gotten ahead of me again, but I met a Welsh guy with a flag attached to his pack and together we marvelled at the beauty of Victoria’s highest peak, while both also reminiscing about climbing Queensland’s highest peak. He told me that he lived on an island with only one small mountain, and as I commended him for being able to train for this race there, I was reminded of the French people who had marvelled several years earlier at L’Echappee Belle, at L’Australien, who “must go to New Zealand for training, non?” (They had raised a good point, haha).


I wanted to stop and take a photo at the top of Mt Bogong, but I also wanted to press ahead as quickly as I could, and I had gotten that photo last time. Up until now I hadn’t looked at my watch, and I had no idea how I was tracking according to my goal time – it was too early to be thinking about that anyway, I knew I still had a very long way to go. I took a quick minute to appreciate the view without stopping, and began the tricky journey down the technical Quartz Ridge Track. This was prime ankle rolling territory, so despite the awe inspiring (and vertigo inducing) views, I pushed on with my eyes firmly fixed on the ground in front of me. Finally approaching the downhill section of the track. I had some vivid and traumatic memories about the last time that I was on this trail – it had been so tough to get through there, with fallen trees everywhere slowing me down. Over, under, over, under – my quads had been on fire already at that stage, and I’d lost a clip bottle attached to my belt from climbing over all the logs. Today I smiled gratefully as I flew down the clear hill – there were a couple of fallen trees here and there, but nothing to be too concerned about. I chuckled as I ducked under one, recalling how many times I’d bumped my head on a branch over the last 6 months. Almost 50km in, I was having the greatest time and thoroughly enjoying my race so far. But the hills are a like a roller-coaster for both the legs and the mind, and things were about to change.


I crossed Big River again, this time feeling refreshed by the cool water in the heat of the day, and enjoying the chance to fill my bottles and drink the delicious cold Alpine river water. Drinking from this river was one of my favourite memories from the race, so I was glad to be back here. The next climb back up to Warby Corner wasn’t so bad – it was just a long steady firetrail climb in the heat of the day. My legs were starting to feel tired and fatigued, but I knew that I could get up there easily enough. My stomach was starting to rumble again, and I was looking forward to getting to my dropbag, changing my shoes, and enjoying an energy drink. I’d had a slight headache all day, and it was starting to feel worse now – I wondered whether it had to do with the cold air I’d been encountering most of the day, or the fact I hadn’t had any caffeine. Probably both. I usually wean myself off caffeine for about a month before a big race like this, but this time I had purposely decided to break that rule, in an attempt to determine whether it was really necessary. The thoughts made me anxious about the coming night ahead – the temperature would drop below zero. I don’t handle the cold well; I’d already had trouble not being able to feel my hands with 2 sets of gloves on. I started thinking about what I would need to be wearing when it started to get dark. Would I end up with hypothermia from wearing wet/sweaty thermals? Would I overdress and overheat? Would the headache get worse, forcing me to feel tired and sleepy? And then the worst thought of all started to work its way into my head – what if I turned right at Pole 333?
Of course, I could… Why not? I didn’t have anything to prove out here… It wasn’t worth breaking myself.

The most challenging thing of all about Alpine Challenge is the choice that is presented to 100 Mile runners at the Pole 333 checkpoint, roughly 85km into the race. Continue straight ahead into the area of the course known affectionately as Mortein Alley, where runners drop like flies. Or turn right, ditching the 100 Mile course and instead taking the easier option of finishing the 100km course. It’s a tough and cruel choice, between a gruelling night of freezing cold temperatures, followed by another day of climbing, or a mostly flat and relatively easy shuffle to the finish line. Runners need to decide if the Pole 333 checkpoint is their halfway mark, or whether they only have another 15km to go to finish it off – and those who take the 100km option will get rewarded with a finish time, whereas those who drop out in Mortein Alley will be recorded as a DNF, even if they’ve achieved more than 100km.


I was struggling, but I wasn’t feeling particularly bad. In my mind I was weighing up my options. With no crew, no pacers, and facing a freezing cold night, did I really want to continue through a painful 100 Miles? The night would surely be difficult. The following day even more so. Blisters, stomach problems, headache, hypothermia… It didn’t take too long to convince myself that I wanted to turn right at Pole 333. I promised myself that no matter what happened, I wouldn’t make any hard decision until I reached that point. But as I struggled towards Warby Corner, it felt like I’d already made up my mind. I saw Brian in the distance and wondered whether I could catch him, but as I tried to run, my stomach reminded me that I’d need another toilet stop soon, and I looked around, thinking that this wasn’t the greatest terrain for ducking behind a bush.

I sat for a few minutes at Warby Corner, allowing the vollies there to help out with refilling my water while I ate a pineapple fruit cup, it was delicious, and I realised that I probably hadn’t been eating properly in the last stage of the run. I snacked on a small Mars bar and set off again, feeling annoyed at myself for walking this very flat and runnable section. Last time, my support crew had all run here with me for a couple of kms – how had I had the energy to do it then and not now? Getting this race done without pacers or support crew was going to be a tough call, was I really strong enough? I plodded along towards Langfords Gap where my first drop bag awaited.

As I finally pulled into the Langfords Gap checkpoint I was greeted by familiar faces. I hadn’t expected to see anyone I knew here, so at first I didn’t recognise them. But there was Wally and Bel who were crewing for Millerine, and Chern who was crewing for Deb, Gaetan, Shermayne, and Florian. Millerine was reported to have left the checkpoint about half an hour earlier, while Deb and Gaetan were about half an hour behind. I was surprised, I’d been certain all day that they were ahead of me. I was also grateful, because my friends crews took such great care of me – so much for my race without a support crew, haha. I sat for a few minutes and they helped me to change into dry shoes and socks. I dressed in my thermals – I was just over 70km into the race and it was about 4:30pm, the weather was starting to cool, and night would fall soon enough, I had to prepare for the cold weather I’d been so anxious about. Chern had brought a thermos of hot water, and he prepared me a coffee while I downed a Red Bull with some paracetamol – that headache didn’t stand a chance! Neither did my stomach. I confided in my surrogate crew that I was considering switching to the 100km option. I couldn’t tell them that my mind was pretty much made up already – thoughts of enjoying a hot shower, a good nights sleep in a warm bed, and watching my friends cross the finish line with a beer in my hand, had all been teasing me in my mind. They did their best to try and talk me out of it, to encourage me to continue on, to embrace the Challenge that I had signed up for. I promised once again that I wouldn’t make up my mind one way or the other until I got to Pole 333. I thanked them all for their help, wished good luck for all of their runners, and pressed on. I felt cold for having stopped, but also reenergised after my caffeine hit and some food. My pockets were now laden with delicious ham and cheese sandwiches, sans crust – just as they had been on my first adventures here five years ago (and have been for every Miler since).


Shortly after leaving Langfords Gap, I was delighted to come across a toilet! After a brief stop I was on my way again, and feeling much better as the sun began to set. I allowed myself a quick look at my course notes, and was surprised to see that I was slightly ahead of the 36 hours goal time that I had optimistically written down. I wondered why I had been feeling so negative during the last leg, considering that I was making pretty good time. I put on my earbuds for some extra motivation and hit play on my playlist, immediately starting to shuffle with a spring in my step. The first song I listened to? You guessed it, Get High! I smiled, and the run became a dance into the night. I suddenly knew that I wouldn’t be turning right. After all, Mortein Alley was my favourite part of the course!

I bounced along into the darkness, suddenly engulfed by thick fog as I crossed into the High Plains, barely able to see a metre ahead of me. I took a wrong turn at the SEC Hut – exactly the same wrong turn I had made five years earlier, and the same one that Paul had warned us about in the pre-race briefing. I chuckled about it as I corrected my course, having only travelled 100 metres or so in the wrong direction. But the GPX map on my watch really was slightly off, I’d have to be careful or it would lead me astray. Once back on the correct course I pushed through the foggy plains until they became swampy, and I slowed my run to a fast walk, knowing the pole line would begin soon. Five years earlier I had experienced my first ever hallucination here – a non-existent fishing line that I had ducked under, then puzzled over why I had thought it was there. I wondered what marvels my mind would create for me this time, worrying slightly that without a pacer to look after me, hallucinations could potentially be quite dangerous. Still, I decided to keep an eye out for any Sting Rays lurking in the mountains, as I tried not to let my feet get wet and cold through the swampy marshes leading up to Pole 333. I noticed a pole next to me on the trail and stopped to inspect its number – 437. I was getting close. I pushed on, finally seeing the light of the tent at Pole 333 ahead of me. I stopped to refill my water and continued straight ahead towards Mortein Alley as quickly as I could – turning right wasn’t an option at all.


And now that I was past the halfway mark, I really was about to embark on my favourite section of the course. I’d gotten fairly familiar with some of the trails in this area during the Hells Cauldron race a month earlier, and I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. The next checkpoint would be at Loch Carpark, where my next drop bag would be waiting, along with warm pot noodles. There would be a decent climb up Swindlers Spur to get there and I knew it would be playing to my strengths. I descended along the pole line towards the river, picking up speed along the way. The last time I ran this section five years earlier Steve had been pacing me, and I had insisted on pressing ahead and leaving him behind with my friend Tilly, who had been alone, suffering badly from blisters, borderline hypothermic, and hallucinating Alpine Sting Rays. She was far more in need of a pacer than me. When I had arrived at Loch Carpark my pacer for the next leg was Dan, but he couldn’t leave with me as Steve had the mandatory gear that they were sharing, so I’d left Loch Carpark alone and wandered around lost on top of Mt Hotham for ten minutes before he finally caught up to me.


I crossed the river (grateful for a bridge this time) and immediately started pushing up Swindlers Spur track as fast as I could, knowing that it would flatten out towards the top and there would be a nice runnable section before arriving at Loch Carpark. As the path flattened I saw a couple of headtorches ahead of me and I began to run again, feeling so strong and so happy. As I approached I realised one of the headtorches belonged to Brian, and I shouted out for him to hurry up as I passed him. By the time he arrived in the Loch Carpark aid station I was already halfway through my pot noodles and was downing yet another energy drink. I slipped a coffee sachet in my pocket, determining that I’d want to drink it at Harrietville.


Brian and I left Loch Carpark together and proceeded to climb up Mt Hotham, chatting about our experiences so far with the race. We’d passed the 100km mark now. It was great to spend some time with my friend, but he confided that he was feeling a niggle behind his knee. I hoped it wasn’t anything too serious, I really wanted him to be able to finish the race. Brian mentioned that we were on track to get to Harrietville by 3am, and should also be able to arrive at the summit of Mt Feathertop in time to see the sunrise. I could barely believe it, I’m pretty sure the last time I had done this race I’d reached Harrietville around 8am, and Feathertop sometime after 11am. The thought of sunrise on Feathertop spurred me on, and doing the math in my head (which I am usually terrible at), I realised that I was well ahead of my 36 hour goal time, and now looking at a potential 32 hour finish if I could stick to Brian’s plan. The thought excited me,

I’ve never been the kind of runner who would finish 100 Miles so fast, even my Tarawera time was slower. Could I be looking at a 100 Miles PB?
It was so cold on top of Hotham, as I knew that it would be. I was wearing 3 pairs of gloves now, but I couldn’t feel my fingers at all. The cold burned. But I knew it was only temporary, and my favourite part of the race was coming up soon, as the course would dip back below the tree line on Bon Accord Spur for the descent into Harrietville. Once we hit it, I began the shuffle, remembering how I had flown down this section of the course with Jin towards the end of GSER in 2019. But my more recent experience had been much worse, making mistakes with my choices not to stop to dress appropriately, and walking slowly in the wet slippery mud as it was pouring rain.

Five years ago had been worst of all, as I had been slowly sleep-walking my way down the mountain like a zombie, being paced by Dan, and insisting that I should stop for a nap on this log and that one. Tonight, apart from the cold, the conditions were perfect. I bid farewell to Brian and trotted off down the mountain, only stopping to walk for the flat section at the bottom, realising that I needed some fuel and trying to eat some sandwiches. I came across so many spiderwebs on this section of the course that I began to wonder whether I was somehow in first place, or had gotten myself lost. I guess the spiders had just rebuilt their homes so quickly after the previous person had passed. Or maybe I was just hallucinating them.


I arrived at Harrietville before 3am and asked the vollie to make me a coffee with my sachet. “Would you like condensed milk in that?” I couldn’t believe my ears. Yes please! Yum!


I met Brian’s son, Michael, at the Harrietville aid station, and he offered to let me sleep in the car for a little bit with the heater on. It sounded very tempting, but also seemed like it could be a trap. I decided against it. Feathertop sunrise was on my mind, and I was determined not to spend too long here. I drank my coffee and pushed on, noticing another pair of runners just ahead of me – it was Millerine and her pacer Bel! Boy was I happy to see them! Millerine had stopped for a short nap at Harrietville before setting off with her pacer for the next leg. They both looked fresh, and we chatted for a few minutes before I slipped ahead, pushing myself for the long climb up Bungalow Spur. My climbing legs had been feeling great for all of the climbs so far, and they were still feeling good now. I remembered climbing this section with Steve pacing me five years ago. He had set his watch timer with an alarm to force me to drink every 12 minutes. I was having minor tantrums about it, and not wanting to eat or drink, but he got me through it, and he took my lemon iced tea and left it in the snow to cool down while I ascended Feathertop, rewarding me with a fresh icy cold drink when I returned.


I looked up towards the sky and could see a light shining. I wondered whether it was coming from the Federation Hut, or from the summit of Feathertop. And also whether it was always there, or had only been put there for us for this race. I couldn’t remember having ever seen a light on top of the mountain before, but then I guess I’d mainly only been there during the daytime. I climbed on and on, up and up, singing to myself as I went. “I wanna get HIGH! I wanna get OVER YOUUU!”.

Finally, I hit the wall.
I stopped, feeling dead. My energy reserved had run out completely, the caffeine was wearing off, and I knew I’d had too much of it. I tried to eat some sandwich, took a bite, then spat it out, resolving to throw them all away at the next aid station. I was immediately disappointed with myself; I knew I was about three quarters of the way up this climb, but that light wasn’t getting any closer! I couldn’t eat, and I knew I was about to experience caffeine overdose symptoms. I already felt a bit nauseous and my appetite was non-existent. I’ve done this to myself before. What I needed right now was a ginger beer, but I had left it behind in my drop bag, opting instead to drink energy drinks and coffee. My stomach churned, and I knew that it was on the verge of diarrhoea. I’d have to be careful, knowing that I couldn’t fuel myself with solid food anymore, and only being able to get liquid energy – things weren’t going to be pretty from here on in. But I pushed on.


As Millerine and Bel passed me, I realised suddenly that the light on top of the mountain was actually a star in the sky. No wonder it wasn’t getting any closer! Bel assured me that we were close to the top now, but it still felt like absolutely forever, climbing and climbing the relentless trail to Federation Hut, and then, finally on towards the summit. I was walking much slower now, but I caught up to Millerine and Bel once more and we hiked to the summit together, the three of us like zombies in the night. As we approached, we could see the orange tint on the horizon. Sunrise was coming! And we’d reached the summit too soon for our goal!


It was so cold up there, once we reached the summit I immediately turned around to go back down, grateful that the girls were stopping to take a photo that I’d be able to ask them for later, but knowing that I had to keep moving because of the cold. Hikers were climbing up the mountain towards me, having camped at Federation Hut overnight. “Aren’t you going to stick around on top to watch the sunrise?” I’d love to, but I’m supposed to be in a race, and I’m freezing cold, I need to keep moving, even if it is slowly now. At the Razorback junction Millerine and Bel passed me again. I’d see them a couple more times in the distance as we all descended Diamantina Spur, but they were moving stronger than I was now, and I knew I wouldn’t catch them again. My butt was starting to chafe badly, and I’d left the cream for that in my dropbag at Loch Carpark. It was disheartening to know that I’d be walking from here on, with 30km left to go.


The sun continued to rise, and everything looked so beautiful as I meandered along Razorback towards Diamantina Spur. If I still had running legs, then it wouldn’t be so bad. Diamantina Spur is so technical, and such an annoyingly long section, but if I could have pushed through confidently and happily then it wouldn’t have been so bad. It was awful moving through there so slowly, feeling the cold, tripping on rocks, and hurting in so many ways. At least I started to feel warmer the lower that the track dropped. I finally got to the section of the track that I know as the “Rockwall” – when I’d come to this spot with Steve five years earlier we’d wondered where the trail went, before eventually realising that it continues on directly over the edge of the cliff. More recent expeditions had led me to realise that the rockwall cliff wasn’t so bad at all – it’s actually a nice adventure track that I’d love on fresh legs. But after more than 130km, and feeling in the state that I was, every step was a challenge. I literally had to carry my legs into place to try scale the cliff, and once I got past that part, I kept slipping and falling on the muddier dirt section below. I was so grateful to finally get to the bottom of Diamantina Spur and refill my water at the river below.


I pressed on towards Blairs Hut, taking a left turn on the firetrail at the horse yards junction. I felt a little bit annoyed that I wasn’t on track for my 32 hour finish anymore, but I reminded myself that I’d previously been happy with the idea of a 38 hour finish. I’d been having the best race of my life up until this point, and even despite my current setbacks, I would still be on track for a great finishing time. I’d definitely still beat that 38 hour goal, and probably still beat the 36 hour goal too, so long as I just kept pressing on. There was only one more steep climb to go. I looked at my watch, the GPS was showing me as being off track, but it had been slightly off quite a few times before, so I pressed on, assuming it would meet up again. But I could see the course was curving around to the left slightly, and my course was curving around to the right.

I considered that perhaps I was going the wrong way, and consulted my course notes. They weren’t too clear, but I decided to back track for a little bit – that hill on the left looked intimidating enough that it was probably where I was supposed to be, and there was a hut down in the valley there too. Yep, sure enough I had missed the turnoff to Blairs Hut. By about 800m. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I scolded myself anyway – I really didn’t feel like I wanted to be doing Bonus Distance in my current state. I continued on, following the correct track to the hut, and then beyond, for the final steep climb, up towards Westons Hut and returning towards the Pole 333 checkpoint. I checked my watch again, and now the battery had gone completely flat. I have no idea what happened to it, my Suunto has always been so reliable, but Deb had mentioned to me that sometimes battery life declines in the extreme cold. Maybe it was that, or the weird GPX file, but whatever it was, I had one more challenge now to finish the course without following along on the map on my watch. I chuckled slightly and told myself – “It doesn’t matter to me” – remembering a time when I’d been pacing Steve at GNW 100. His watch battery had been almost flat, and it very much had mattered to him at the time. Luckily, I felt confident that I knew the course well from here on.
The climb back up to Pole 333 dragged on seemingly forever. I stopped for breaks frequently, at almost every switchback. I forced myself to sip on my water, even though I didn’t want to. I just wanted to sit down. Or lie down. And sleep. I was so tired. I couldn’t eat anything. I just continued to climb, on and on. Was this trail really so long on the way down? I kept singing in my head. “I wanna get HIGH! I wanna get OVER YOU! I wanna SURVIVE!”


Finally, after what seemed like eternity, I could see the tent at Pole 333 in the distance. It took me another eternity to walk to it, I was moving so slowly that I suspected I might collapse. When I finally got there, I sat down inside the tent and closed my eyes, trying to find the strength to go on. I had no choice now, with 15km to go, I knew I could finish it. One step at a time.


A first aider came into the tent to check if I was ok, did I need anything. I told him about my chafing, and to my surprise, he had a cream that would help. I almost cried. It was too late to think the cream would work any miracles, I knew I still wouldn’t be running again today, but at least it would take away a lot of the pain that I was feeling. I gratefully applied some of it, and eventually made my way out of the checkpoint, feeling slightly better. I walked on towards the next checkpoint at a slightly faster pace. The heat of the day was bearing down on me now, but I resolved to myself that I didn’t regret my decision to stick to the 100 Miles course rather than turning right last night. I was 100% guaranteed to finish this race now, just one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. And most importantly, I was still proud of myself for the race that I’d run, and the enjoyment that I had gotten from it. I’d had fun, and I hadn’t put too much pressure on myself.


I pushed on through the last checkpoint at Pretty Valley Pondage and continued on along the road towards Mt McKay, less than 10km to go to the finish line. I wondered about how strange and cruel it is of Paul to include Mt McKay as the last climb, but then again at the start of the race I laughed at how small this mountain is. It’s such an easily achievable section, and I remember running strong towards the finish line the last time that I did the race, with a few of the last km coming in below 5:30 pace.
A car pulled up in front of me, and Brian and his son wound down their windows. They’d come to wish me encouragement and give me a bit of a cheer on. I was grateful for the nice gesture, but I was disheartened to find out that Brian had pulled out of the race at Harrietville. His niggle had gotten the better of him, and he made the right choice to be sensible and not make it worse. But, up until then I had wondered whether he might have gotten in front of me when I made the wrong turn and missed Blairs Hut. I congratulated him on getting as far as he did – 120km is an immense achievement. I continued walking as he drove away, smiling to myself and wondering whether he was a hallucination.


I climbed Mt McKay and came back down to the final section, walking through the scrub back up to the main Falls Creek Road, where a lady joined me to walk the last couple of km. I apologised to her, knowing how bad I must smell, but she didn’t seem to mind, and we chatted about her son who had also done the race, and his friend, who had always been experiencing severe gut issues. She told me I should speak with him, as he had gone to see some kind of specialist about it and found it very helpful. At some point I will have to look the guy up. I thanked the lady for her company as she peeled away, allowing me to descend the final section into the finish line at Falls Creek alone. It had been nice having someone to chat to, making that last section a bit more bearable.


Finally, there in front of me was the finish line! I walked across it, wishing I could run but knowing I couldn’t, and just being happy to cross it. With my dead watch, I had no idea what time it was. I didn’t care, I collapsed on the ground at the finish line and wanted to just stay there. Suddenly Brian and Wally were there, handing me a beer. I gratefully accepted it, and then got dragged away by the race photographer for my photo shoot and to return my PLB. Then I returned to sit out by the finish line with my friends, drinking my beer and hearing stories of everyone else’s adventures on the course.

Finally realising what time it was, and smiling to myself to realise that I had pulled off a 4.5 hour course PB, despite everything that had gone wrong towards the end. I was so proud of this achievement. And what’s more, I’d made it back in time for our pizza reservations! Wally gave me a lift back to my accommodation, where I showered for at least 40 minutes before finally making my way to meet the rest of the group for pizza and beer to celebrate. I reflected once more, on the pizza we had enjoyed in the same restaurant after my race five years earlier. I realised how grateful I was for the memories of that race, and all the others since, and the friends who had been there on that journey with me then. Although I had achieved my first ever 100 Miles without a crew or pacers, I understood that they had all been there with me in my head the whole time, and it was those memories that had propelled me forward and gotten me through it.