IMG_1656Click here to see more photos from the race.

Not sure exactly when or why the idea of running 100 miles first came into my head. There was a defining moment when I saw the 100 milers running at the You Yangs last year in 2014, there was something in their eyes, I just looked in wonder and just wanted to be one, wanted to push the limits and see how I would go.

I think for some, there’s a natural progression from a trail marathon to a 50k to a 50 miler to a 100k and then to run a 100 miles.

After finishing a few 100k events I knew it was possible and the flame was lit to really dive into some serious training. I chose the You Yangs Hard Core 100 Mile event, having ran the course a couple of times and the course being a loop, I felt it would be perfect for my first.

The training went really well, I logged in some serious miles and dove head first into the Strava ‘Dipsea Climbing Challenge’ – more on that another time – this gave me the base I needed, and looking back was pivotal in making my body and mind super strong.

Andy my good mate from the Tassie days put his hand up and Shaun Brewster my occasional weekend running partner also agreed to pace me, so everything was coming together. After a fairly good feed at the ‘all you can eat buffet’ at the Gateway hotel in Corio we were set for a good nights rest and a not so early start to the 100 mile race.

Loop 1 | 0-20km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 Hammer Bar

After weighing in and using the toilet for the second time, we were all asked for a quick group shot. Brett gave us a nine second count down as soon as the picture was taken – which I thought was quite funny.

The nerves were gone as we set off up Flinders peak for the first time. For those who haven’t run at the You Yangs, Flinders peak is the highest point. Not a hard climb around 1.5k up, just a gradual climb with sets of uneven spaced steps. (For my cadence anyway!) A couple of great vantage points were you can see all the way to Melbourne City.

My aim for the whole race after getting some really solid advice from last years 3rd placer Matt Hosking, was to hike up flinders peak on every loop, and run the entire 15km or so around the course to the next ‘Climb’ up big rock. From there was around 3km to the start again, so I thought if I could manage to do that without walking at any other stage, I would be stoked.

The first lap went pretty much to plan, I had a few chats along the way with other runners and found a few who were planning to run the first loop in roughly the same time and stuck with them for a while. Each chatting about hopeful goal times and some other events they had done leading up to this one.

After the Flinders peak climb, the course was generally on a downward decline for the next 5kms, a single track which then opened up into a straight 3km 4WD track leading to the first aid station. From there I crossed a main road which was manned for safety reasons and for signalling everyone to run a 5km loop around on horse trails back to the aid station before the final three or so kilometres up to Big Rock and to the start again.

When I reached Big Rock my old school buddy Michael and his son were there to say g’day. It was great just to see someone and have a quick chat. At that stage, being the first lap I was really trying to go as slow as possible aiming to do it in roughly 2:20 – 2:30, but came up to the start line again at 2:15. I was feeling great and didn’t really care at this stage that I was a bit quicker but made the decision then that I would run the next at the same pace.

I remember briefly commenting to Riggi (Michael) in a joking way that “it was boring”. Probably just needing a laugh and at that stage it was really hard to just hold back and go slow. Knowing that surely this would eventually change, that my mind would switch into ‘holding back’ mode.

I was wrapped with how I felt after the first loop and relieved that fuelling with Tailwind seemed to be working – probably not the best time experiment! But luckily I felt no dips in energy and my stomach felt fine. The original plan was to use Tailwind on one loop and then back to water and gels for the next and keep swapping until the end. But I decided to stick with it, one because it seemed to be working and the other was that Andy and I made up a 10ltr drum of it! Conveniently positioned right near the start line.

Loop 2 | 20-40km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 apple + 2 pieces baked sweet potato

The next lap I was making the conscious decision to relax and concentrate on enjoying the experience. My body was starting to warm up and it was a great chance to have a chat to a few runners along the way. I spoke to Phil Pharkard, we had introduced ourselves before the race. Really nice guy, swapping a little bit of our past stories and how we came to where we are now. After leaving him I came to the half way checkpoint and said g’day to John Lim and ‘The tattoo running guy’. It does go such a long way seeing a recognizable face or friendly volunteers along the way in a ultra marathon. A few jokes and encouraging words and I was on my way through the loop and back to the Big Rock climb to the start again. Checking my Garmin as I came around the corner with the start/finish line in sight, I realised it was a perfect split from the first lap. It was time to fill up my hydration pack and grab some fruit and food for lap three.

Loop 3 | 40-60km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 banana + 1 mountain bread wrap of quinoa, sweet potato and tuna
Music | London Grammar + Solomun Global Underground disk 1

Andy waved me over to have my first weigh in. Before the start of the race every racer had to have their weight checked. I found out that it wasn’t due to losing to much weight but to check if you are gaining water weight. As over drinking can lead to Hyponatremia, which can be fatal…we don’t really want that. So I had lost 2.5kg which was around about my guess from running that far. I had never checked my weight during ultras before so I was interested in seeing the results along the way.
I made my way up Flinders peak for the third time, this time I put my iPod in and started to listen to some tunes. I took note of the front runners coming down as I was going up, I roughly guessed I was in around 30th position during lap one, I passed around four people in lap two and was slowly gaining on some other runners going up as well. I smiled and said some encouraging words to the other runners as they passed coming back down the decent, I tried to gage by there faces who was looking strong, who I was hoping to catch and who I was going to pass.

My body was feeling pretty good having just run nearly 50k and my mindset was just to concentrate on running all the down hills and flats. To keep my set pace as best as possible but not to stress if I slowed down to much on my first two lap times. I was drinking my 500ml of Tailwind per hour, and I ate my sweet potato around 1km before the half way checkpoint. This point had subconsciously become a regular time to eat and had really worked for my body and stomach thus far. I knew if everything was going down well I could eat something at the checkpoint or reward myself with a special ‘treat’ of some sort from the aid station if needed on my way through the first time or as I looped around for the second.

John Lim and the ‘tattoo running guy’ where there again, was great to see them. John joked telling me how easy I was doing it and mentioned it was just another long run for me. I made my way up through the MTB tracks again towards The Big Rock for the third time and noticed I was around fifteen minutes slower than the second lap. However I had already passed around six people this lap, so I was glad I was pacing myself well. I was probably a bit slower than I wanted but was happy with the way I was going, hadn’t had any real dips. low points or negative thoughts.

Loop 4 | 60-80km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 apple + 2 pieces baked sweet potato
Music | Solomun Global Underground disk 2 + Jordi Weishdonholf July show

I quickly refilled my hydration pack and grabbed some food for loop four, I noticed it was around four o’clock and asked Brett (RD) what time it was going to get dark. He just said to take your head torch, so I did just that and adjusted it to my head and headed up Flinders peak for the forth time. In hindsight it may have been better to leave my pack at the base of the Flinders climb to reduce the weight I was carrying, although it would have been slightly faster I was content with the system I had and didn’t want to stop each time. It’s funny in ultras, if somethings working, you don’t want to change it on the slight chance of something going wrong and then having to come up with a solution to fix it.

This lap was the first lap I felt slightly uncomfortable. I couldn’t pin point what it was exactly, I just wasn’t feeling the flow. Maybe checking my watch too much and having a slight feeling of being behind the eight ball. I was still catching up to other people, which was great I could see them in the distance, I used this as an incentive to reach them as a small goal while focusing on staying at a steady pace. So far no one had passed me that I hadn’t caught from the start so I was content to keep on keeping on. Coming through the checkpoint I turned my head torch on, I wanted to leave it to the absolute last minute to preserve the battery life. As I came up to the Big Rock hiking stage the light was fading and the temperate was dropping, so I put my Outdoor Research jacket on and sent a txt to Andy telling him I would be at the start line soon. That lifted my spirits knowing I would have a friend with me to pace and to share this experience with.

Loop 5 | 80-100km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 banana + 2 pieces baked sweet potato + 1 mountain bread wrap of quinoa, sweet potato and tuna
Music | none

A quick weigh in showed me losing another 2.5kg.

Seeing Andy at the checkpoint was great, he asked me how I was and I said I was travelling well. He asked me what I needed and so I got him to fill my hydration pack and I grab some more food. I was still not breaking the cycle of eating a piece of fruit every time I climbed Flinders peak, at this point I noticed my throat was getting really sore, I’d been fighting off a cold all week and was slightly worried it was going to hit me again.

On our way down I asked if Andy had any throat lozenges and he said yes! I wasn’t expecting that at all, it was lucky. He ran down quickly to his car and grabbed some, I made my way down to the bottom to meet him. This could have been a breaking moment later on, so never be under prepared for anything.

I think I used the toilet at this stage and noticed my foot being slightly sore. It felt like a bone just underneath my ankle. I was a bit worrying but I pushed it to the back of my mind and continued on into the night with Andy just in front. We managed to pass more people in the first half of the lap. Seeing their head torches in the distance we would slowly make ground on them.

We talked tactics and time goals, we joked and had long periods of silence. It was great knowing someone was there with me, having a pacer during an Ultra is definitely essential for the later half.

It was well into the night and the weather was getting quite cold. At this stage I was wearing long skins, a long sleeve racing top, another short sleeve over the top of that and my jacket. I also had my beanie on and was quite comfortable with how I was feeling with the pace and how my food was going. We ran through the checkpoint where a fire was blazing, welcoming runners to come and get warm. A real danger in my mind was to stop during this stage, so far there were no breaks only for the climbs up Flinders peak and the Big Rock where I welcomed the hike pace and chats with Andy.

We rolled into lap six in around 16th position.

Loop 6 | 100-120km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 apple + 2 pieces baked sweet potato + 1 mountain bread wrap of quinoa, sweet potato and tuna
Music | none

After Andy filled the hydration pack I was relieved to hear he wanted to run more. Another lap with my mate was great but my foot at this stage was a bit worrisome. I made the decision to get the medics to tape it up, with that done, it was time to push up Flinders for the sixth time!

I pushed the foot pain to the back of the mind and asked Andy for another throat lozenge – I think I’d had at least four by this stage. As we reached the top I concentrated on eating my apple up the steps as Andy took a few photos.

On the way down my foot felt fine, there was no pain at all. I couldn’t work it out but I think the combination of the tape and the below minus temperature was helping.
This lap was harder for me, I was mentally getting tired, the legs were still ticking over but my concentration was wavering a bit. Pretty funny looking back, it seems quite obvious why, I was fifteen hours deep at this stage.

Andy was great, he led the way, asked the right questions at the right time, and was very aware of when the time was just to run with no conversation. There were times that I couldn’t or didn’t feel like talking, just running was all I wanted to concentrate on.

We would see other competitors in the distance and would work on catching them. At this stage it may have even been people we were lapping. I ate at the same stage as I had done for all loops, just before the half way aid station.

Once again ignoring the welcoming flames there but noticed other runners hadn’t been so lucky and were warming themselves, understandably in this freezing night. We ran the horse loop back around, which was starting to get mentally hard. It was just a point in the race where it was only a 5k loop but it was flat, long and a wide – not my favourite type of terrine in trail running.

We got through with a couple of bad jokes from Andy, at this stage I think he was just trying to keep me awake. My eyes would shut and a grey fog would start from the outside of my vision and work its way in, my eye lids shutting, I was sleep running for a couple of seconds here and there.

We got to the Big rock climb and talked tactics for the last loop; Andy would charge my head torch if it was running out of battery and I would use his on the next lap. I also had a watch change after testing my Garmin knowing it probably wouldn’t last the distance. Without contact from Shaun I was hoping he would be there for the next lap, or it was going to be very lonely out there in the cold.

Loop 7 | 120-140km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + 1 banana + swig of coconut water + 2 pieces baked sweet potato + 1 mountain bread wrap of quinoa, sweet potato and tuna

Running through to the checkpoint Shaun was there waiting for me. Andy went to the car for a sleep, and Shaun took the rein’s for lap seven.

Up Flinders we climbed, the front runners were coming down (at this stage I didn’t realise this was there last lap). Shaun went out hard, it was great, I felt like I was just hanging on to him but at some stages I didn’t have enough energy to tell him to slow down. He did a great job, I felt if I could just hold on and keep putting one foot in front of the other I would be fine.

We seemed to be making time on the last couple of laps, it was definitely a case of digging deep. Just gritting the teeth, and running in its purest form.

I knew at some stage this would come and even though the pain was at its peak it was so enjoyable. I think anyone who runs long distances and especially races them understand that there is a stage of pure focus. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I was not going to finish this 100 mile run, and I was just focused on getting to the Big Rock climb so I could stop running and just hike a bit and get the mind ready for the last lap.

Loop 8 | 140-160km | Fuel | Tailwind 1.25ltrs + a mouthful of concrete + 1 apple + 2 pieces baked sweet potato + 1 mountain bread wrap of quinoa, sweet potato and tuna

I weighed in for the last time, I looked at the scales with disbelief I had lost 10kg!

The medic told me not to stress because they scales were broken and they were going to work out a percentage, whatever that meant. So with relief I thanked Shaun and mentioned to Andy that we were just going to take it easy on this lap. I felt after running the last at pretty much my fullest, the best decision was to keep it together and just enjoy it.

Enjoy it we did, but taking it easy we didn’t. We headed up Flinders peak for the last time, it was around three in the morning at this stage and it was freezing! I asked Andy for his scarf thing and put it around my head blocking my mouth from the cold air. Legs felt tired and I was struggling to keep awake but Andy did a great job in just leading through the run, we kept a solid pace all the way through to the checkpoint.

I saw a massive Campervan pull through the entrance to the national park and realised it was my lift! Baz had arrived and all I could think of for a few minutes was that warm bunk in the back welcoming me to my coma!

It was an added incentive to hurry up and finish this lap. We approached the checkpoint and I rewarded myself with a cup of Coke, which was possibly the best tasting liquid I had ever had.

At this point all I had in my mind was to run this last damn loop and head to the hiking stage and to the finish. The last horse trail loop was just so hard, it literally felt like a 30km loop, it was the longest 5kms I had ever ran. The Coke had warn off and the dark puddles of water looked like night creatures with there backs to me about to spring up for an attack! Sleep depravation had well and truly kicked in.

I asked Andy how long we had to run to the end of the loop and he said 1km, it seemed like it took forever. He mentioned at some stage during the loop “how good is running?” I took him literally and just tried to enjoy it. I later found out he was joking and it became even funnier than when he said it originally.

We headed back through the checkpoint which we thanked the volunteers for the last time. Andy checked his watch because I wanted to go sub twenty-two hours and we had one hour to run 3kms. After he mentioned it to me I literally thought about it for around seven seconds before he said, “We’re going to do that easy”. With a flood of relief I laughed at how slow my mind was working and we headed off towards Big Rock.

We started celebrating at this point, we had had done it. The feeling of running towards a goal you set for yourself was nearly overwhelming, so happy as together we hiked up Big Rock for the last time.

We turned a corner and could see the big timing system lighting up the early morning sky. Wow what a feeling, I ran to the finish line as proud as can be.

Passing even more people on the last lap and as it turned out it was my fastest lap since the 60-80km loop! I asked how I placed to the timer and she said I was seventh. Just a great feeling of accomplishment rushed through me, finishing a 100 mile race and in the top ten.

Forty-four starters, nineteen DNF’s, this put it into perspective on just how hard it was. Not massive elevation (3,500 meters), but combined with the sub freezing temperatures it would explain why it was nearly a 50% finish rate this year.

Hard to explain just how happy I was especially after all the sacrifices I made through training, working full time as a chef and juggling a family with two young kids.

Without the support of my wife and close friends in my life I could not have done as well as I did. Running 100 miles takes dedication and hard work, I enjoyed every moment out there and was blessed to have Andy and Shaun there to share it with. Great event from Trails plus, I’ll be back at some stage.

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