It's as long as the race, so grab a snack.
I chased my dream and on Saturday I finally caught it. It's a dream that's evolved and has never had a determined end point but I knew at 4:06pm that I'd found some sort of conclusion. I don't know if it's the end of Chapter 1, 2 or 10 but I was asked many times over the weekend when I started training for this year's race and each time I said 6 years ago when I started my running journey. I believe everything I've done; every training run, every race, every recovery session has led to that point, the pinnacle of my career thus far. That event and result means more to me than any others; not because I conquered what I believe to be one of the toughest pound for pound courses in Australia, not because I won or even knocked off the great Kilian Jornet's record. It meant so much to me because I was among the people I admire, respect and love and It was all happening in my own backyard.
The race began the night before and as is my style, the usual rushed packing of my kit and dinner of quinoa, veges, sweet potato and fish. Nadine and I had the company of my friend Vajin and his wife Prasasta from NZ and two other friends from Queensland. Vajin was already packed and ready to roll. We chatted about our recent races and training. We both knew that in the morning we would turn into competitors again. Nadine and Prasasta knew that it would be a close match up and were far more practical about it, deciding to go around and crew together in one car.
I busily got together my nutrition. I was curious to find ways to streamline my checkpoint times this year so I decided to go for a much more minimalist plan. I decided to go with Hammer Perpetuem Solids for the first 3 legs, backed up with a flask of Gel. I started with 1250mL of water in the bladder and a small 350mL bottle of water to use before I touched the bladder. The plan was to minimise weight and basically carry nothing unnecessarily at any point.
The weather at the start was not as cool as I had thought. I had the gloves on and soon worked out that it was a little overkill with those and the arm warmers too. I took them off soon after the start and stuffed them up my shorts. I chatted to Ryan and Vajin about their plans for the rest of the year and to some of the other Aussie boys like Sam Walker, Chris Truscott and Jono O'Laughlin. We were cruising the streets of Leura, none of us knew what would transpire during the day. I guess when we didn't see Ryan or Andy Lee bust out into the distance we were all happy to run the initial 5km together, nervously waiting for someone to take the initiative and play a card.
The first little single track section gave me the chance to test how the Trailroc shoes would handle the dry conditions. Perfect. I was moving well and my confidence was sky high. Exiting the wide single track section and running up to the 6km mark at Gordon Falls, I was waiting for either Ryan or Vajin to take the reins and lead it out on the first real single track section down to Leura Cascades and onto the Federal Pass. When no one stepped forward it was left to me at the front to take the first initative. I turned right coming of the stairs and scooted along the top section of Prince Henry Walk. I put in a few surges and from hereon I was never to have anyone near me again to talk to for the rest of the day.
The descent down to the Cascades was some of the most technically perfect running I've done. Taking no unnecessary risks but quickly getting over obstacles and down stairs. I was cornering well. My balance was on song. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day. The Federal Pass is one of my favourite sections. I put on my sunglasses which I had decided to use to stop my nose from dripping snot and it was working. This is only a small thing but all the little annoyances you can avoid add up over 100km. I was popping an Enduralyte every 30 minutes, sometimes two depending on the level of exertion and sweat loss and eating my solid Perpetuem every 40 minutes. It was a gorgeous day in the Blue Mountains and I gave myself the indulgence of a quick glance to see the splendour of Mt Solitary. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was taking the edge out of the mountain air making it very ideal running weather.
Along the Federal Pass I slipped and had a touch down with my hands. It was the only one I had all day but I did get a little wake up call that perhaps I should slow down just a touch. I was running way under threshold at the nice trail running pace; breathing easily and comfortably. I was leaping down flights of stairs and getting my footing right. I love this piece of track. I train on it a lot and so have almost a perfect memory of every rock, every log, step sequence and hazard. This was a massive advantage. I know instinctively how to approach an obstacle to get over or around it with little exertion and risk.
The landslide at 15km is a very tricky section and one that I don't particularly enjoy. But this year it was different. I had a rhythm through here. Rhythm is not something you really associate with technical trail running but for once I was flowing through this section rather than stopping, struggling or clambering my way through. Something Mick Donges said after the race to me over pizza strikes a chord here. He said that when he watched great mountain runners descend technical trail it was like watching water flowing down a mountain stream. I guess I felt this way. My feet and brain were working fast and my focus was sharp.
Hitting the Golden Stairs I was determined to keep up the run. I ran what I could and stepped up quickly the tricky stair cases. UTMF had prepared me well. I had power and purpose. Reaching the top, my good mate Clarke McClymont surprised me with his big camera. He offered some nice words of encouragement. Reaching Narrowneck, I broke back into a fast pace straight away. I remember in prior years when Golden Stairs was a walk and then I'd get to the top a spent, puffing mess. But the training methods I've used to remedy my weaknesses was paying off. Gretal Fortmann was at the top and her big smile and encouragement was what I remember the most. The trail running community is such a beautiful one.
I approached the first aid station having chewed through 2 solids, a bit of gel and a couple of Enduralytes to top up my salt and electrolytes. I had emptied the small bottle of water and touched a bit out of my bladder. I stuck to the plan and just filled the bottle. I accidentally broke he tap lever on one of the water kegs, but the boys there weren't too angry and let me use the high speed jet nozzles instead. I was on my way in 20 seconds. Perfect.
I did not see or here anyone else approach the checkpoint and I knew already I had a handy lead. Narrowneck is quite open though and in certain sections of the long firetrail you can see way ahead. I was sure that whoever was chasing would be able to see where I was and work on chipping away at my lead. I love Narrowneck. It is so stunning and beautiful views appear on both sides that take your breath away. I was putting the pedal down and getting into a really nice rhythm. Sally from barefootinc was out there and she let me know that I was looking good. I was feeling good. I never looked back. I never do. I mean what is the point when you are in front? You turn and see someone and that will only bring in negative thoughts of being passed and worrying about that. You look and see no one, and that can only bring about complacency. It's not easy being in front but today I felt like it was my spot to be.
Moving to Tarros Ladders, I was moving down the rocky outcrops as fast as I've ever done it. After shifting out of fireman mode, I hit the the track through Little Cedar Gap which is my favourite part of the race; fast and technical. I was swerving, ducking, weaving and maneuvering well through the whole range of motions. This is my type of obstacle course. Up Mount Debert and down to Medlow Gap was fun, throwing myself down little descents and having completer faith in my shoes to grip, swivel and turn in quick succession.
It's a bit of a comedown when you hit the firetrail again but at least it gives the mind a bit of a rest and I just got into a fast rhythm. Last year I passed Andy Lee here and Vajin and I ran together all the way to CP2 avoiding the 'garden path' caused by the removal of course markers. But this year I had to run it on my own. It's a good thing, I was running the uphills well and flat sections were a great opportunity to take on another solid and drink some water. Each climb was tackled with just enough energy to stay under threshold, I was listening to my body instinctively Once at the top I would whisper 'now flush' as I could feel the lactic acid dissipate and leave my legs to perform the job they had to do on the next descent or flat section.
Into CP2 and another friend Garth was working the CP here. He looked happy to see me and his energy was infectious, you couldn't ask for a better CP man. I chucked him the empty bottle and he filled it up while I approached the gear check table. As I sculled the bottle, they asked for lights and matches/firestarters. I looked but I couldn't find my lights. It should have been at the top of my pack where I put these items. I let out an expletive (sorry to the CP people!). At the start of the race, as we were running the first km or so, Matty Abel kindly pointed out that my pack was open and clipped it back together for me. Had my little ziplock bag with my pointlessly small keyring sized lights fallen out? Thankfully not. Some more digging around and the lights were found. As I repacked the bag, Garth filled my bottle again to take away. Although not a perfect checkpoint stop, the positive was that the chasers did not approach the CP while I was there. I knew I had opened up the gap even more.
I scuttled out of there, and headed towards Iron Pot Ridge. Here I was mentally preparing myself for the tricky climb. If I was to feel UTMF in my legs it would be here where the power hike up the mountain would draw on the same muscle groups that I had to use so repetitively and relentlessly in Japan. But nothing. I was climbing up quickly and even running the more runnable bits. A lot of talk pre race was about how I would back up after UTMF. I knew though, if I did the right things, UTMF could actually benefit TNF. After all, it was only going to give me more strength, fitness and endurance than I've ever had. But I had to look after myself in between and it seems I did do all the right things. At the top and onto the Iron Pot Ridge singletrack, I leaped over logs and bounded through bushes. I was looking forward to the view where the Indigenous musicians sat and paid homage to their heritage. The little out and back gives runners the unique opportunity to see each other. Everytime I do an out and back I start counting as I turn to get a bit of an idea how far the next runner is back. I was expecting it to be Ryan or Vajin within a minute. A minute went out to two minutes which meant I had a lead of at least 4 minutes before I encountered another runner. I high fived Vajin as we passed and he gave me the quiet look of confidence and control. Next was Andrew Tuckey, Andrew Lee, Chris Wight (who looked super super cruisy), Jono O'Loughlin and Rob Walter. Wow, where was Ryan? Had he fallen off the pace or had he dropped from the race?
The spur which descends Iron Pot is tough but fun! I was bounding and galloping down rather than running and using the trees as emergency brakes! I wonder if the trees would still be standing after all competitors went down there! The next Tin Pot Hill section is just plain hard work. My pace was slowing on this grinding uphill section and to counteract the negative thoughts I kept telling myself that if I was slowing then everyone else was too. It's a lonely leg here, so I used this time to reassess my progress, get my nutrition in order and put one foot in front of the other in the relentless forward progress. I didn't look at my watch as I had no predetermined splits but I made sure that I assessed my eating, drinking and sweat rate. I tell you, Ultra Marathoners have to be more than gutsy, determined runners. They have to be on the run dietitians, first aid officers, crisis counselors among a whole heap of other roles.
Back on to Megalong Rd once again, Clarke appeared this time on his trusty mountain bike. He let me know that this road was my domain and that brought a wave of positive vibes which I grabbed with open arms. Once on the smooth dirt road I switched to road runner Brendan and went through the checks; cadence at 90+, arms, footstrike, breathing. All was in order and I was back in a good rhythm. Clarke rode ahead to take some photos and this cheered me up. I was really feeling for Clarke who is injured and can't compete. Last year he smoked the GNW 100k, breaking my own course record in the process from 2011 and had a superhuman UTMB. All was geared for an enormous year before his Achilles injury has wiped out 2013 thus far. At least he was reveling in his role of course photographer and leaders updater working for Dan and Ultra168.
I ran consistently with purpose all the way up the hill on Megalong Rd. In 2011, I walked the last few pinches and I have a photo of me walking up there burned in my brain as motivation to never do that again. Once at the top, I had to climb over a fence due to a locked gate and I knew the the spine of the hill was snapped and I'd soon be on beautiful, sealed road which descends down to the 6 Foot Track junction. I don't know what my splits were through here but I would have to have been doing 3:50 kms for the last 2 or 3km. Turning off into the Old Ford Reserve just before the Checkpoint, I was disappointed I didn't see any horses as I did last year! I missed saying hello. But I got to say hello to Lyndon for Marceau Photography who said he had a hard time getting to me in time!
At the 54km 6 Foot Track CP, I was greeted with very generous applause from the crowd of support crew and many others. I think it was my good mates Jane 'Seris' Trumper or Michelle Cochrane who were there crewing who told me that Ryan Sandes had officially dropped out. I was sorry to hear this for Ryan, but I wasn't going to let that news affect me, I had my own race to run and I knew that equally as talented runners such as Vajin, Tucks, Mick, Jono and many many others were no doubt doing their best to bridge the gap. My checkpoint time was 1m 10s which involved me swapping my now almost empty bladder (which I hadn't changed from the start yet), sculling a bit of coke, collecting a flask of Perpetuem (from here on I was going with liquid Perpetuem) and grabbing a banana. The crowd watched every move intently. I kissed Nadine and went on my way. There was a bit of an anti climax as I took off I could feel that my pack's top clip was not done up and a helpful photographer managed to do it up for me and again I was on my way.
The leg up 6 Foot Track is traditionally not a strong leg for me. Last year, Vajin made significant inroads on me here after I left the 6 Foot CP with a handy lead. I didn't want this to happen again. My strategy was simple...run all the way to the base of the first step of Nellies Glen and then powerfully walk the steps. The stubborness and simplicity of this goal is the best thing. It means I can just do what I do, not worry about pace and just concentrate on how my body is feeling in the moment, footstrike by footstrike. The firetrail part of this leg passed quickly and before long I had reached my first mental checkpoint, the Nellies Glen signpost. Here the trail becomes singletrack, very rocky and starts climbing sharply. But I was resolute still on running, and even though my run was not any faster than a strong walk, it kept me positive as I was sticking to the plan. Finally I reached the first step and took a look aroound for a second to lower the heartrate just slightly. It was still and calm, the only sounds were the flowing of the water and the occasional bird call. It was beautiful but it was time to go.
My strategy up Nellies is to walk one stride per step; in other words right foot one step, the next stride with my left on a new step. It didn't matter that the rough bush steps are unevenly spaced. If they were further apart I would stretch, if they were closer then I would still use it. I think the important thing to do going up Nellies is to keep this walking pattern and be very very alert of your heart rate. In 2011, I wanted to lie down and die going up here, but I am a different runner this year. My fitness is higher, my weight is lower and I did a massive amount of stair training this year. It was all helping me immeasurably now. I kept repeating 'flush' as I felt the lactic leave my muscles on each lunge. Eventually I got to the top and got into a jog again. I was mentally assessing my leg knowing that Vajin would be strong. I easily did that leg faster this year, but no doubt Vajin was also a better runner this year too.
Running towards CP4 at the 65km Aquatic Centre I was joined by none other than Dave Eadie who was in the 50k event. I was feeling low. The little Nature Track section between Nellies and the Aquatic Centre had been tough going. Dave was a great motivator, telling me that he believed in me and that my previous form would not disappear and hold me in good stead for the rest of the day. I immediately felt better, thanked Dave and scooted off to the Aquatic Centre. Once there, I met Nadine who had all the gear laid out. I made a gamble that there would be enough water in my bladder to last the next leg and just had a bit of coke, grabbed another Perpetuem and Gel flask, a banana and was on my way. This gamble about my water was later to prove almost a costly mistake.
Through the bushy section on the way to Furber Steps, I was beginning to pass a lot of 50k runners who were pretty speedy and they gave me a chance to judge how my pace was. I thought that if I was running faster than these blokes than I must be doing alright! At the oval, I saw Ben Berriman, Ben 'Sleep Train' Artup and a few other local lads who offered me their encouragement. I have so much respect for these guys as they know their stuff and for them to tell me I was looking sharp and focused I knew there was no BS involved there!
I was feeling strong along Cliff Top Track to Echo Point and was quietly pleased with the way I was tracking. I hadn't looked at my watch, that data is studied later in the postmortem, but I could tell by the slightly warmer and higher sun that I was tracking quicker than I was the year before. Funny how your body instinctively will remember what nature offers. At the last CP Nadine had told me that Vajin was 9 minutes arrears at the 6 Foot Track CP. I'd have predicted he would have pulled in at lest 4 minutes of that on the last leg and with Kedumba coming I was beginning to run scared. Vajin is a great climber and I knew after experiencing him run off on me up Kedumba last year that I would have to put in a good leg here if I wanted to hold him off and avoid a last leg show down. I also was worried about Andrew Tuckey, who is just a brilliant athlete and a real all rounder who can climb quickly, and run the flats faster than me.
Past Echo Point, which was thankfully a little devoid of tourists, I hit the footpath down to the Giant Stairs and opened up my stride. I didn't really have to call ahead to many tourists who must have all been enjoying their lunch somewhere. I was careful down the Giant Stairs but descended them with speed. There was no way anyone could get down much quicker I thought. Once at the bottom, I ran along Dardanelles Pass fluidly and reached the darkness of Leura Forest once again as I had done some 5 hours earlier. There were lots of 50k runners now coming up from Sublime Ridge and they were very respectful, moving out of the way. I tried to wish a lot of them well, but the descent was in full swing and I was letting the free fall begin.
The next part of the course is make or break time. The descent has to be attacked but then again you have to save your legs for the climb. I really think that UTMF conditioned my legs, especially my quads, perfectly for this long drop to the valley floor. Before the race, many people asked me how I would go seeing that UTMF was only 3 weeks earlier and every time I answered I'd (hopefully) tell them at 5pm the next day. I also told them that I was a bit of a science experiment in live action! But I was always confident that UTMF would help TNF. It wasn't really a blind science experiment either. It was based on some evidence. I was curious to to test a tactic that I remember Ben Artup telling me once on a training run. Ben put a lot of his record breaking 2010 6 Foot Track run down to a hardcore downhill treadmill session he did about 3 weeks before the race. I forget the science behind it but he said that his legs were smashed but recovered to their optimal level by the time of the race to gain the most benefit. Now I believed my legs were stronger than ever and particularly able to withstand the battering on the downhill thanks to Fuji.
So I chucked the gearstick into neutral and floated down to the bottom. Not flat stick but quick. The Trailrocs were gripping and giving me all the confidence in the world to do so. I kept reminding myself to keep good downhill form - landing on my toes, with my feet under my hips, not overstriding and keeping my heels away from the ground. My core was getting a going over as a result but it was up to the challenge. My arms were swinging in circles; while it may look crazy it is the most effective way of maintaining good balance. My splits tell of a quick segment (thanks Strava!). Crossing over Leura Falls Creek I was grateful for the blocks laid across, I didn't really want the feet to get cold. I climbed the next ridge with confidence knowing that I've run all this before in the race and that the real test was to come a little later.
Jamison Creek marks the end of the up and down undulations and the start of the 6km or so of uphill grind. This is, in rockclimbing terms, the crux of the race from a performance point of view. This is the Everest and the make or break. Going into the race, this is the section that I knew I had the greatest amount of time to snatch back from previous years' times. Forget other competitors, this is me against the course. The course is the competitor of everyone and in some ways as has been the case for me in previous years, I've had no choice but to surrender to the course. For some, the course might take the victory on other sections of the course...Iron Pot, Nellies Glen...it could be anywhere. But for me it's always been Kedumba that maims me and then the last tricky last leg which has finished me off. Not this year.
To conquer Kedumba I have trained specifically and purposefully. Back to back to back long runs to simulate the fatigue I would feel at this point in the race (80km mark). Lots of long uphill training. Lots of mental visualisation of every step of the ascent and picking targets to break the leg into small chunks. Lots of getting out on Kedumba and getting victories over the beast in training. It may sound crazy but for me to get a victory over this part of the course, I had to hit that escarpment hard and take it's influence over the day's proceedings out of play.
My first goal, going by previous years where I have succumbed to the pain and begun walking much too soon, was the turn off at Kedumba Valley Rd where I was sure there would be another gear check as there has been in previous years. It is a forced, but timely, break and one that is actually a benefit. Rather than seeing it as a place where time is lost, it's a place to break the climb up into half and get the heart rate down before tackling the next, tougher, half of the climb. Working my way up to this point, I was using my Mantra 'This is tough but I am tougher" repeating this in my head to the rhythm of my cadence until it dawned on me that this actually was not tough. This is slow and a grind, but was nothing compared to the climbs in UTMF. So I stopped repeating that mantra for that mantra should be saved for special occasions only. So my mindset began to change. I then used a counting as a strategy; counting my footstrikes and arm swings to 100, then starting again over and over. I wasn't going to stop for anything.
I believe in running uphill all the time. Even when I believe that walking may be faster. The reason for this is that when the gradient on the climbs levels out, it is much easier for me to get back into my running gait and rhythm when I'm already going through the running motions. Sometimes on really steep climbs I'll be running and it almost looks like I'm running on the spot. I've been passed by walkers while I've been running. But whenever the trail levels out, because I'm already running, it's often a place where I then will pass the walkers who haven't or find it hard to make the decision whether to start running again or 'there's another big steep bit ahead, I'll just keep the walk up'. I think sometimes walking uphill can be good, please don't get me wrong, but for me, I need to run.
It was half way up the first section to Kedumba Valley Rd turnoff, when I downed an Enduralyte, and discovered that I was out of water. Nothing in the bladder was left and I'd made a very bad strategic error with my fill up amount back at CP3. Running through the Aquatic Centre without taking any more water on was a mistake and I know realised that this was a serious situation. To dehydrate down here with such a long part of the climb to go could be costly. Immediately I went into First Aid Officer mode. I took my little flask, downed the last of the Perpetuem I had in it (not ideal as I was timing that to last all the way to the top) and filled my bottle up at a little creek. You probably don't even notice it, but when you need water your mind finds water. It flows under the road through a conduit. I've no idea how clean the water is, but this water was now my 'For Emergency Use Only' supply! I would only drink it if it was dire.
Towards the turnoff I saw the boys who were manning the gear check station who were out setting up their signs and putting glow sticks in the trees in preparation for the night running. First question I asked was 'Do you guys have water', to which they answered 'yes'. Phew!! Saved by their supply. I got to the table and the young fella filled my flask with clean water and I downed it straight away. I showed him my thermals and as I packed them up he filled the flask again. I wanted to drink that but also didn't want to use up any more of their supply, as this would no doubt be needed for other people's emergency use as well. I said a big thank you, I'm sure they didn't know how crucial that stop was for me, and turned to hit the steeper leg of the beast.
Prior to the race, I made a target to run all the way from the gear check to the pig gate, where I expected that I would have to stop and open the gate. Immediately after the gate, the trail gets over 12% in gradient and after stopping for the gate, is a walk for the most part of the next km. But as I turned and hit the last little hill before the gate, I could see that the gate was open...of course it would be....the 50k runners would've been hurtling down through there earlier in the day. So now when I reached the gate, I could keep running and mentally it was here that I broke the backbone of Kedumba. I continued my run under the road cutting, up the steep ascent and knew then that I was going to run the whole thing. I was taking a lot of heart from the previous year's race. Last year there was a photographer under the cutting and I remember apologising to him for walking and then saying, 'I bet the others (Ryan and Vajin) are running'. He answered that they were walking too. This bit of information was now to feed my fire within, knowing that I was running through here showed me how much more of a complete trail runner I was this year compared to last.
Rising to the top of the last sting in the climb (the old 'pipes'...what has happened to them?), Clarke on his bike came hurtling around the corner. No doubt Clarke was expecting me to be lower down the climb, and I could tell on his face that he knew something special was on the cards for me today when he saw me. I was blowing pretty hard, recovering on now flatter land and getting used to running off my calves and back into a normal running gait. I gave myself a bit of a pat on the back and told Clarke that I just ran the whole beast. I stuck the knife into Kedumba and by telling Clarke I was twisting the knife around! The gate marks about a mile to the CP but with some tricky climbing still, it is a place not to get complacent. The presence of the camera crew stationed at the top of the little climb just before the checkpoint spurred me on to run it strongly. Clarke had meanwhile ridden off to get to the Checkpoint to make sure Nadine was there and ready! She wouldn't have been expecting me there that early and I knew she was planning on going on a bit of a walk herself in between the long wait time leg of CP4 to CP5. But I shouldn't have ever doubted it. There she was waiting with exactly what I needed, a bottle of water and a bottle of Perpetuem. I had deliberately asked for a bottle here as I was predicting running dry my bladder by this point (but it occurred much earlier!) and to cut down CP time I did not want to have to swap bladders.
Clarke told me nearing the CP that I was 4 minutes down on Ryan's CP split from last year. He kept it to the facts and didn't mention the record at all. He reminded me of the importance of good nutrition right to the end of the race. It was good advice. I took on my fuel and drink and headed off feeling strong and quick and back to my big fluffy lounge chair on the road section. Dan Bleakman, who was covering the race for Ultra168, let me know that I was on track for a 9:30 type run. But I could tell from his face that he really wanted to tell me that something special was on the cards. He was a great support all day as he was I'm sure for the many other guys and girls he followed.
I was a little caught by surprise by the little deviation off the road and behind the houses that this year's course introduced, but found my bearings and soon was on Hordens Rd towards the last tricky trail section of Rocket Point Track. I know it's tricky and has ankle snapping rocks and roots but it's a section of trail I'm so familiar with having run it countless times in training. I opened up on the flatter, smoother sections and surprised a few tourists on the blocks at the Falls. The flight of stairs up to the Undercliff Walk was, as the name suggests, walked. It was a minor victory to the course. Shortly after the photographers were out in force and I high fived my mate Tod from Aurora. Tom is someone you can smell before you see; always out there with his ciggie hanging out of his mouth, camera in hand. A top guy who can take a mean shot too.
The next little section up to the carpark had changed this year due to the track closures and was all new. Running along the footpath was a new experience and definitely made it easier going. I hit the Shortcut Track hard and hugged to the outside verge of the steps when possible, not stepping up the stairs to avoid unnecessary fatigue. The presence of a growing area of verge is evidence that many trail runners had been on the course in previous weeks training. The Short Cut led to Conservation Hut and I could begin to smell the finish line. I was close, but I was still visualising Vajin right behind me, motivating me to keep pushing hard.
The Nature Track at 96km starts with a lovely flowing piece of trail and I broke into a tempo type pace. I was feeling strong and ready to go if needed. The extra kms in training, coupled with the extra distance in UTMF had changed the whole feel of this last leg. Down Edinburgh Castle Rock I was careful not to stuff it up by twisting an ankle or go over the cliff edges!. I crossed the creek and walked the stairs up from it to Lilians Glen. Another little victory to the course, but I captured its queen 15km ago and knew that it was only its last desperate dying attempts.
The second last km seems to go forever, but once I crossed Lilians Bridge I knew that this dance was drawing to an end. The final hill is all stairs but I wasn't going to walk now. Slowly but surely I got to the top and ran adjacent the fairways of the golf course. I entered the Fairmont Resort and could see a marshall on sentry duty looking out for me. They were expecting me. He bolted back and that's when the buzz began. The final couple of hundred metres were all a haze. I couldn't help getting emotional, seeing the finish line and hearing the rising cheer. I had kept my focus all day, razor sharp and alert over really tough terrain, and in the end it was pure and present human emotion that was to bring me down. I gave myself about 50m to shed a tear. I high fived good mate and mountains training buddy Terry Meehan who has been a mate all through my running journey, wiped the tears away and climbed the steps for the last 20m stretch to the gantry. It was all a blur. Emotions took over and I crossed the line and fell to my knees. I felt hands on my shoulders and it was Nadine. It was the best feeling in the world to share that moment with her.
It was not till after the race with a quick interview with Alina from AROC did I hear that I'd broken the course record held by Kilian Jornet. I couldn't believe it. My increasingly failing garmin had died at Wentworth Falls and even if it hadn't, it wouldn't have been something I was running for. I gave a big hug to Wes and Kel who had hung around after Wes's brilliant 4th place in the 50k and many others too. There was a great atmosphere at the finish line.
When I first started my running journey in 2007, Tony 'Fats' Fattorini had just won 6 Foot Track for the first time and I remember reading a R4YL feature about this and a quote from Tony has stuck with me ever since. Fats said something along the lines of "If I never run a race that well ever again I will finish my running career a satisfied and happy man." A great quote Fats, and I now know how you felt when you said it.
My wonderful wife Nadine who impeccably crewed for me all day and put up with my many hours away for racing and training runs and for supporting me always. All my friends and running family members who said g'day before, during and after the race. So many new names and faces! I don't like singling out people but one of the greatest joys I got out of the weekend was getting to know a bit more a true gentleman and student of the sport Vajin Armstrong. His presentation speech were words I'll never forget. Special thanks to all the Blue Mountains training buddies I have, you guys and girls make training a joy; Ewan, Jo and the whole gang at BMMC. Earl, Jim and Rob and the juniors who keep me fast at the track and Wayne Bulloch for the regularity and great company of that tough mid week long run. My Inov-8 team mate Shona and of course all my sponsors who believed in me. Thanks also to Running Wild, Mountain Sports and all the other race directors that give all of us the opportunity to test our skills and get together regularly with our trail running buddies.
Inov-8 Trailroc 245
Injinji 2.0 Original Weight Performance Socks
Zensah Compression Shorts
Zensah Arm Sleeves
Hammer branded RaceReady Running Tank Top
Injinji Branded Headsweat Visor
UltrAspire Omega Pack
Ate and Drank...
Hammer Gels; Banana and Tropical
Hammer Choc Chip Bars
Hammer Perpetuem (solids and liquid form)
Injinji Compression Socks
Pizza and Beer
Good friends, work and clean living!