How to survive 100 miles on the Australia’s Alpine challenge Course.
This is my personal account on what worked for me in racing ‘Australia’s Hardest 100 miler’. I was lucky enough to have most things go to plan and had the chance to really enjoy the experience for what it was. It was without doubt the toughest, most challenging but rewarding run I have ever done. 6 major climbs with 8,000 meters of total ascent, including Mt.Hotham, Spion Kopje, Mt.Feathertop and Victorias highest mountain Mt.Bogong. I hope this can help those out there deciding on racing this event or people who are just interested in the question I always get…’How do you even run 100 miles?’
Training – The number one magic ingredient, to train specific to the course your going to run. Now this may sound obvious but I was surprised to hear over and over after the event by other runners comments like..’I didn’t train enough’..’didn’t do enough hills’ or ‘probably didn’t get enough k’s in the legs in my last training block’. The Alpine challenge is one tough mother, so I would suggest to get enough ‘Quality’ sessions in your weekly workouts. Getting a coach for these events will help greatly. View my training block on strava for more info. It’s a great feeling getting your training for an event right, the confidence it gives you is what get’s you through when things start to get tough. Work on your weaknesses, this course has lots of climbing and descending if your stronger at one more than the other work on it. I know where I can make up more time next time I run the event.
Nutrition – This is a very personal one but this is what works for me come race day. Two weeks out from an event I start to try and eat cleaner than usual and concentrate on my hydration. I eat more whole foods and try and get to bed at least an hour earlier than usual, which is sometimes hard with being a chef and working nights and little kids waking you up in the morning!
During the event I alternate between hammer bars and gels, but I also consume nectarines , bananas , peaches and watermelon. I made up some sweet potato wholemeal rolls with sauerkraut ( I cook the sweet potato with rosemary and salt), I ate 5 of these during the 26 hours I was out…and even tried to eat Micks only one when I ran out haha. I drank to thirst but made an effort to drink more than usual, being up higher in altitude I found myself getting thirster especially when we descended into a valley.
Navigation- Thank god for digital maps! All the course was able to be downloaded into an ap which worked great most of the time. It allowed you to see where you were on the course, which without it I would probably still be out there running. This year was the first year this was introduced and I think is a real positive move. I physically mapped out the race with a highlighter on a map I bought from Bogong just so I could familiarise myself mentally with the course. I did however get lost twice (once after the decent down Bon Accord) at the river crossing, couldn’t find the trail for a while on the other side. And also the connection to go up towards pole 333 from Blairs hut, this only cost me a small amount of time.
Race effort- Probably the second most important tip.. race pace. I started exceptionally slow (on purpose), you can’t run 100 miles flat out. I probably passed 20 or so other milers in the second half, you know what you can sustain and although only running one another miler I wanted to feel good when I met my pacer 60k’s in. That was one of my many smaller goals within the race, I also wanted to maintain that to my second pacer at 100k. I was always holding back at touch and saved the racing when it presented it self later into the night and the following morning. If you can pace it right, your day out can be enjoyed and a lot more successful. Aim to move efficiently throughout, walk/hike with purpose and run the flats and descents.
Personal vibe- I aim to smile as much as I can, talk to other runners, get to know them and thank all volunteers on course. If you can send out positive energy as much as possible it helps with your journey along the race. I met some amazing people out there, Greg from Queensland and I started talking early on and ended up running 65 kilometres together before he turned off at pole 333 to finish strong for his 100k race.
Crew/pacers – Paramount tip right here, get a solid crew and pacer/s for this event. I get asked a lot if pacers help, and unless you haven’t had one in an event you probably wouldn’t know. They are invaluable in racing, especially in the longer runs. Without the help from Dan Whitehead and Mike Manders during my Alpine Challenge I wouldn’t have gone anywhere as well as I did. They are your brains out there, you can switch off and just follow. Good pacers will remind you to eat, drink, know when to talk and when to not. They can pick up on how you are feeling and encourage you when needed and to back off at the right time. These guys did a unreal job, not just with the company they gave me but the experience shared with each other is now a lifetime memory.
Mike kept me awake when I was climbing up Mt.Feathertop. I was swaying all the way up, fighting off fatigue and 4 strong runners on my heel. Still wondering how we managed to hold them off all the way up, Mick actually grabbed me as one foot slid off the side of the mountain!
Drop bags- Use the drop bag facilities with this race, even if you don’t think you will need it. I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t need the Pretty Valley drop bag with 7k to go but it was actually one of the most satisfying peaches and coconut waters I’ve ever eaten/drank. Plan what you will need apart from food at each aid station drop, I packed tape which I used on two blistered toes 60 km in. There are 6 river crossings! My tip would be have as much variety in food as possible, you never know what you will feel like at certain stages of the race.
Packing/mandatory gear/shoes – There’s no doubt the Alpine Challenge had an extensive mandatory gear list. We were blessed with great weather this year, but I can see how things can turn pretty quickly with the weather. Pack on the gear, choose your kit based on what works for you. I wore my new Salomon s/slab Sense Ultra’s, they were perfect for my shoe choice. Light and durable enough to handle all the terrain on course and very importantly had great drainage with the upper webbing. This is crucial for Alpine, river crossings create wet feet, wet feet and socks will create blisters so choose a shoe that wont hold onto the water. I packed a spare pair at Mt.hotham ( Salomon Pro Max’s) for more cushioning , but didn’t change into them.
Use your gear effectively, Alpine weather changes as you go up and down. So add and remove layers as you go, having a controlled body temp will make your run comfortable and you can move more efficiently.
Mental preparation for the ‘dark times’ – This is a good one, go into this race knowing that at some stage your going to get hit some bad patches. My kids and wife are my true motivator when shit hits the fan mentally, heading up Mt.Feathertop 120 kilometres in I began to fatigue pretty badly, fighting off sleep I repeated my daughters names over and over. Something I hadn’t previously done or thought of, it came to me mentally when I needed it most. Find out what works for you, thinking about the training you have put in could work, or maybe the meal your going to have once finishing, or just how good it will feel once you have crossed that finish line!
Accommodation- This may be not be as important as the rest of the tips above but take into consideration where you are staying in terms of movements around course. Stay as close as you can to the start line, would be my recommendation. We stayed at the Falls Creek Country club, not only was it super close so we could sleep in a touch with the 430am start time. But we had a pool, spa and sauna and a short drive (10 min) to Halls Gap for the check in on the Friday and course dinner and briefing that night. Not to mention the glorious Breakfast they put on for the milers on Monday morning!
I hope this helps anyone out there considering running the 60k, 100k or 100 miler at the Challenge. I highly recommend this event and personally had the best time out on course even though it was the hardest course I have run. The most Spectacular views throughout the Alpines made the gruelling climbs and descents and touch easier. Looking forward already to go back and knowing what I know now, to try and take some time off the clock!
5th Overall / 26hrs and 46 mins 🙂