Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GNW100 - 2013

"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” 
― Rita Mae Brown

I've had a little while to go over the post mortem of this run. It was as hard a day I've ever had in my running career and it really was such a humbling experience to go through the journey I did that day. It was without doubt the hardest physical experience I've ever had in a race; it brought me to my knees and it reminded me that sometimes nature and our human limitations really do run the show.

In Europe they have really gnarly, technical climbs that go forever and demand nothing more than a power walk. In Australia we have the heat and humidity and it delivered this year. Both are difficult and challenging conditions to run in but I wouldn't have had it any other way. As trail runners we have to factor in all the variables of race day and execute accordingly in order to put out our optimal performance. I have to put my hand up here and plead guilty of not doing this adequately. Doing most of my running up here in the mountains, and having only run the GNW on the two of the coolest conditions in the race's history...well I am guilty of taking the weather for granted.

Early on and feeling good!
I think there were many combining factors that led to my eventual withdrawal at the 105km point. There's no way I am going to blame anything or anyone except myself. From a performance angle I simply neither came up with a smart enough race plan nor did I execute my race well enough on the day. It was not a day for fast running, it was a day for smart running, and on that count I have to score very poorly.

On reflection, I guess there were a couple of factors that really lulled me into a false sense of security. One was the cool and overcast morning we had at the start of the race. It felt very comfortable running with Pierre all the way to the first checkpoint as was our pre race plan. I never thought once that we were overdoing it. I was on top of my nutrition and hydration and things were going well. The second leg was mostly the same; and I only realised that it was starting to heat up when we were descending down to Congewai when the cloud broke up and the temperature just suddenly went up and up.

On the way to the CP at Congewai I was pretty much running my own race. Pierre had gone off and I was confident he would be able to find his way around the course as he was picking up his GPS watch at the CP. The climb up to the Comm Tower was tough but I did it comfortably enough. I think it was the next stretch of trail, that passes Flat Rock Lookout and down to Watigan Creek where I probably pushed way too hard. My second mistake - I wasn't taking enough water on and wasn't adjusting my pace to the worsening conditions.

At CP2 at Congewai. It was getting hot!
The climb after Watigan Creek was a really tough walk. So different to last year where I ran every step of the way; I was finding it hard to keep up a walking rhythm and the water at the top was a godsend. More so for Pierre though who was also struggling. I actually had caught him by here. After the water stop I felt OK, but the descent down to the little rainforest section where we had to crawl under some downed trees and start a little uphill slog is where I began to unravel pretty badly. My heart rate was spiking through the roof and I was feeling very dizzy. Every little effort was exhausting me and I had to take a couple or rests. Pierre went on while I attempted to recover. After a little while I got going again and took it very gingerly all the way to the Basin. Half way on the out and back Pierre came running back. He looked like he was doing fine again and I was very happy for my French Inov-8 team mate.

I reached the Basin and definitely needed to sit and take an extended recovery. Ewan, my crew and pacer, attended to me with ice, water, food and moral support and convinced me to just take it easy for as long as I wanted. I was there for 40 minutes altogether and was pretty shocked that no one came in at all during that time. I had a pretty handy lead.

Starting to feel the pinch here!
I got going again, very slowly and resolute on walking much more as survival was now the aim of the game. As I approached the turnoff to go back onto the course proper, two 100 mile runners came the opposite way; so guessed I still had a half hour lead or so! All was not lost after all. I was perked up by this.I was really happy how I ran the rest of the leg. It wasn't flash but it was consistent...all but the last 3km of it. Suddenly I went from feeling pretty great and running pretty smooth splits along the road to Yarramalong to feeling like death warmed up. I lost all the liquid and food I had put in at the checkpoint and during that leg, and was brought back to a slow walk. I went from feeling like looking forward to a cool night ahead of me, running with Ewan, to not knowing how I was going to go on.

To stop the negative thoughts I basically came up with the only plan I could think of....I would get to the checkpoint, quickly change my gear and put on my headlamp, restock my supplies and get going again with Ewan ASAP...even if I had to walk the next leg in order to feel better again for the rest of the race then so be it. Unfortunately things didn't turn out this way. Evidently when I was weighed in I had managed to lose over 6kg from the start of the race, and the medical staff, quite rightly, were not going to let me go on. This meant I had to have another big break where I had to prove to them that I could eat and drink and feel well enough to get going.

Somehow I bluffed my way through this half an hour, eating and drinking some and got the green light to go. I was, amazingly, still leading the race but it wouldn't be for long. As I started the technical trail after the little road bit on Bumble Hill, it was very clear I wasn't going to go any further in this race. I was stumbling around, wobbly and losing my stomach again. It was game over. It was disappointing but the right call to make.

At the 100k CP. This was to be my final
resting place!
Congratulations must go to all finishers, particularly the athletes at the top of the podium. Gavin Markey totally deserved the win. I was out thought and out run on the day. It was a day that I just have to learn from. In my running career of over 320 races this was only my 3rd DNF, one was in a local RunningWild race due to a popped calf, the other one was during the Narabeen Allnighter a couple of years ago for pretty much the same reasons as today. I have to learn from this, especially if I do get into my dream race, Western States100, where it is notoriously hot.

GNW proved to be Australia's toughest Ultra Trail race. With only 20% of the miler field and 40% of the 100k field finishing, the proof is in the pudding!

I have to say a big thanks to Ewan Horsburgh who looked after me all day, especially when I was at my lowest. I owe you one big time mate and good luck at C2K for the threepeat! Also a massive congratulations to Pierre who ran out of his skin in unfamiliar conditions to that he is used to back in France and took out the 100k race! I feel privileged to have run some of the race with him and he proved me very wrong, his navigational skills were excellent all day!