Cameron Ultra Trail 2016

Cameron Ultra-Trail 100km, 8-9th October 2016
Last weekend, shouts of “Watch your head!” and “Look out for the hole!” were par for the course at the inaugural Cameron Ultra Trail 100km. Running through a technical forest trail in the Cameron Highlands at 4am requires more than just nimble feet. Protruding tree roots, fallen tree trunks, and a pitch black night were just some of the challenges faced in the first 20km of the run. You couldn’t just concentrate your headlamp beam on the terrain, either, for fear of smacking your head on one of the many fallen trees. Ascending mainly required using hands and legs to pull yourself up steep inclines, while descending was for the brave and ideally, long-legged.
 
The route starts in the town and takes runners up to Peak Jasar after just over 3km, a nice warm-up for climbing to the summit of Peak Berembun at 16km.
Sunrise was just before 7am and it was nice to see the trail properly in the light. I was running mostly in the company of Ray Lee and Adrian Jeyakumar, and it was good fun to try and keep up with Ray on the descents. So much so that we took the scenic route just over the top of Berembun where we missed a marker which had fallen off, and went downhill for far too long in the wrong direction. We hadn’t seen a marker for a while and Ray was well ahead, so I turned on the course maps on my Garmin Fenix 3 HR and saw that we were well off track. Ray comes back up at this point, having realised his mistake too, and we’re all a bit annoyed with ourselves for having to climb back up again. Lots of runners made the same error, and they turn back when we explain the mistake. We’ve lost about 2km and maybe 30 minutes now, but apparently the front runners went further than we did and some even got to the road at the bottom.
 
Going down the right route this time, right to the bottom and out towards the tea plantations. I’m still on Tailwind and run through the checkpoint without needing to refuel.
Once we’re out of the trail, it’s mainly undulating gravel track and dirt roads that meander through the BOH Tea Plantation.

The views put a smile on my face. A sea of green shades, speckled with tea workers busy harvesting the leaves. It looks like they’ve managed to introduce some automation to a skilled job that requires painstaking labour. The plantation workers slide a contraption over the top of the tea bushes that plucks the top layer of leaves. It looks to be much quicker and far less labour intensive. We dodge huge piles of fragrant tea leaves in the harvest area, some workers happy to wave and return our greetings as we run past. 
For most of the way to CP9 (the 100km turnaround point), I’m running with Ray, Adrian and Andrew. They’re all good company, running steady and full of banter. It feels like a good day out, with the added bonus of being sunny!
At the turnaround point I grab my drop bag, to which the volunteer remarks “It’s so small!” All I have in there is some Tailwind and a Runivore bar. Almost everyone else is taking a break here, changing clothes and making the most of the hot food on offer. I have a few swigs of cold Coke and head off on the home stretch. Everything is feeling fine, and since I’m alone, I plug into some tunes to liven up the journey. 
It’s a very sociable run, meeting the other 100km and some 50km runners along the way, and the return leg is dotted with familiar faces heading towards CP9. All the volunteers are super helpful and friendly, making the run much more enjoyable with their support. The second woman is about 20 minutes back, but she’s also in the open category. I’m in the old ladies category so I’m not sure if there’ll be an overall classification. No matter, I’m having fun and it would be an awesome bonus to keep the lead. 
I’m enjoying this till it gets dark and we’re back on the trail again. Then I feel the fatigue from the last few weeks set in and it’s the longest 15km ever. The trail feels like it’s never ending, and I’m moving at snail’s pace to keep upright. There’d be no point falling over and ruining my run now for the sake of saving a few minutes. Either my legs have gotten shorter, or the forest stretched itself out – the climbs have me on all fours pulling myself up over the tree roots and my legs are scratched and bruised from walking into branches and roots. I face-plant a few times, on soft ground (thank goodness!) and the only major injury is when I smack my shin on a large tree trunk. I let out some choice expletives and look down to see a small gash in my shin. The skin’s gouged out so it’s just a small scoop of white underneath, gross! I consider stopping to put some antiseptic on, but decide that the blood will congeal over it eventually. It’ll be fine, no scars, no proof! There’s also some kind of singing concert going on in a nearby village and my solo trek in the forest is set to a bizzarely discordant soundtrack of women singing in a language and tune I can’t quite identify. Somewhere along the way I get passed by Shine and someone else, but for the most part, I’m alone.
It’s feels like a lifetime before I’m finally out of the forest and onto the road leading back to the finish. It’s a relief to see the final CP at the corner of the road, nearly finished!
 

Even though it was early hours of the morning, the CULTRA crew were at the finish, cheering the runners in and making sure everyone was ok. It was a pleasure running this race, a well organised event with a good field of runners and excellent support from the organization and volunteers. Congratulations to Arman, Zul and the team!
Come run this, it’ll be a challenge for sure, but judging from the tears (of joy and relief!) and smiles at the finish line, it’ll be an experience you won’t regret.
 

I love how passionate he is about catupturing our moments of pain and triumph, all for free as well!
If you need 
photography services, drop him a message here:https://www.facebook.com/RanyTanPhotographyMore photos of the event from Rany here: 
https://www.facebook.com/ranytan/media_set?set=a.10208597760274836.1034285801&type=3

And donations as small as RM1 are welcome, photography is an expensive hobby! Details for donations on his FB page.

A great video of the event by Double F studio: https://youtu.be/mY8Nqve0lcw

Results: http://cultratrail2016.racetagpro.com

Equipment used:
Dynafit Enduro tank
Dynafit React skirt
Tailwind/Raidlight Responsiv Gilet 8L
Hoka One One Speedgoat
Dirty Girl gaiters
Led Lenser h7r.2
Petzl Nao 2
Alpinamente 3264m sunglasses

Nutrition:
16 servings Tailwind (different flavours)
some Coke at check points
two dates
half a Runivore bar

It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings

… but in my case, it was more like Roxette belting out “These boots were made for walking” with perfectly timed ironic angst.

After covering 315km in four days and finally feeling like I was on the home straight, my attempt at the 450km ANZAC Ultra was finished. I suddenly went from bouncing along the trail to having sharp shooting pains all up my left shin, unable to bear any weight on my left leg. When I saw that the swelling and redness had spread from my lower shin up my leg and around towards the achilles, I switched off the music and turned around on the trail.

Canberra is gorgeous!
Ready to start!

Four days ago, 8am on Easter Monday, a small group of runners set off on an epic challenge that sought to celebrate the centenary of ANZAC Day, and raise funds for Legacy, an ex-service organisation that looks after the welfare of former servicemen and their families. The original route was meant to re-enact the 320 mile Cooee Recruitment March from Gilgandra to Sydney, but red tape and logistical obstacles saw the final route manifest as a 6-laps of a 75km loop on the Canberra Centenary Trail. There’d be teams and runners doing shorter (300/150/75km) runs which started later in the week so ideally it wouldn’t get too lonely out there!

450km would be the furthest I’d ever attempted. For those of you who asked why, it’s because it was there. I chanced upon the race on Ultramarathonrunning.com one night, and after a few emails exchanged with RD Phil Essam,  I’d signed up. I like challenges, and this one was too good to pass up. I didn’t know too much about ANZAC, but I found out soon enough.

My official cheerleaders

Arriving in Canberra Easter Saturday weekend, it was a whirlwind of family (my cousin, Pinghan, and his gorgeous family had offered to take me in and also help crew me for the race), friends, logistics and crazy weather. The race start was at Stromlo Forest Park, where some runners and crew had already set up tents and campervans and our tent was tiny in comparison! I was so lucky to meet Gavin and Jeff from Tailwind (one of the race sponsors) who not only lent us a mallet for the tent pegs (super-hard ground there .. noted for next time!), but also very kindly gave me a bag of Tailwind to get me through the first day as my supplies wouldn’t arrive till Monday night via ‘Buzz Express’! 😉

Race village – ours is the blue one on the left 🙂
No such thing as bad weather …

Lap 1 – Monday 8am, 0km done
The race briefing was as expected, and lovely to see Aussie ultrarunning legend Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory again after far too many years! Almost everyone knew everyone else, and I may have been the only nutter outside of Australia who’d signed up, but certainly grateful for a familiar face.

Supplies tent!
450km or bust!

The forecast was for rain, and it was much colder than I’d expected. Anyway, life goes on and once I’d done my massive grocery shop, unpacked everything from the Iherb delivery and sorted out the squillion things on my race check list, it was Sunday night and time for bed. How on earth do you prepare for a 450km single-stage race? I was so excited I couldn’t sleep properly .. feeling good!

After discussion with Mile 27 coach Andy Dubois, the basic plan was to go as far as possible before collapsing from exhaustion, have a short sleep of 20-60 mins, restock, refuel, and repeat. I meant to average 15h per loop including rests and had a total target of 90 hours to complete. Nutrition was to be Tailwind throughout –  it worked well for me and I had a stack of snacks in case I felt like a treat. Best laid plans and all that.

Unmanned water point at Kambah Pool

There were 20 solo runners and four teams, so a nice little group. It was cold but dry at the start, and we were waved off without much fanfare, steady as you go. Pinghan would start meet me at the end of the first loop with some hot food and Buzz would take over when he arrived that night. I run with a tall chap named Geoff for some of the way, he’s got pink zinc striped across his face and only arrived at 3am this morning from Sydney, after all week in a yacht race, crikey! 23km to Checkpoint 1 at Tuggeranong went by way too fast, I know I should slow down but I’m running as I feel. My enthusiasm will burn off in a 100km or so, but for now lets go with it.

It’s not as flat as I thought it’d be, though. In fact, it’s bloody hilly for a 1000m D+ loop so far. The terrain is ok, hard-packed and not technical at all. There’s a beautiful gorge (Murrumbidgee River, I think) and lots of massive kangaroos along the way. Everyone who’s run past has been lovely and chatted for a bit, and I’ve already showed how sure-footed I am by tripping over nothing at all .. Andy Sewell runs past, amazed he’s found someone clumsier than himself. 😉

Andy running past

The route marking is pretty clear so far, rain started around noon and the second leg (28km) from Tuggeranong to CP2 at Lennox Gardens had a few ‘nice’ climbs. Not the same adjectives on later laps for sure! Feeling great and chugging along, I meet Liz Stephens and Lisa Hussey (and Gonzo!) along Mugga Lane, and am rather envious of Matt Daniels’ welcome convoy compete with customised t-shirts just before we hit CP2.

Liz, Lisa and Andy 🙂

I haven’t taken anything from the CPs so far, still good with water and Tailwind .. I’ll refuel at a water stop later on. I haven’t need to drink much so far due to the cold. I’ve been alone for most of the day (with Tiggs on my shoulder) and going round Lake Burley Griffin is the flattest section (8km), and possibly the most mind-numbing. Nearly get lost trying to find the bridge across to the other side, but it all works out and I’m at Black Mountain Peninsula before I know it. Skeeta (Matt’s crew) and a lovely elderly couple (Cheryl’s parents/crew) are there and I’ve seen Skeeta at so many places along the way so far that I thought he was a volunteer marshall and that they were either triplets or Phil managed to get loads of volunteers who really looked the same! I didn’t twig till later that he was waiting for Matt ..

Gorgeous afternoon by the lake ..

A loop of the peninsula and then towards the Arboretum, it was lovely inside the cork oak plantation, nice and soft underfoot and I couldn’t resist the temptation to poke one of the cork oaks to see if it was really that soft. Just 16kms to finish the first loop, it’s undulating again and I’m looking forward to the hot rice and salmon that’s waiting for me at Stromlo. It’s been a cold and increasingly wet day, but nothing I haven’t done before and time to get ready for Lap 2. It’s just gone dark by the time I get to Stromlo, and I’ve run in with Cheryl, who’s doing a great job so far. The 920XT’s battery gave up the ghost just before I got in, it’s taken me just over 10 hours for this first lap.

Lap 1 done!

Pinghan, Phil, Phoebe and Nellie are all there waiting, Tailwind mixed, chargers ready and jammies on. In the mad rush with kids and kit, the hot food was left behind, so Pinghan scoots back to get it while I try to stay warm. It’s just over an hour before I’m headed out again, had to hide in the ladies changing rooms to stay out of the wind, but all good. It’s raining heavily now and Phil wants to know if I’ll wait a bit? Nah. Might as well just plug on while I can. It’s about 7.30pm, Monday night.

Karen’s crew was well stocked and mobile 😉

Lap 2 – Monday 8pm, 75km done
It’s quite different in the dark. The course markings aren’t very reflective, so I’m glad we got to do the first loop in daylight. My propensity to get lost is always a worry, but at least I get to do take the scenic route! I catch up to Matt not long after, he’s lost the trail and we amble ahead together. It’s nice to have some company at last, more so in the dark. We catch up with Liz a little further on, and she’s got enough energy to power all of us. I’m try to keep up with her powerhouse pace, whilst holding a conversation, answering her phone and generally distracting us from the fact that it’s cold and wet. She’s also carrying everything and the kitchen sink with her, I’m so impressed I think I have a girl crush for the first time in decades. And you should see her guns. I’m hitting the gym when I get back to HK.

Black Mountain in the distance .. Canberra is definitely NOT flat.
Still not flat. 

Somehow Matt drops behind, but we stop periodically to shout out and check he’s still on the trail. The highlight of the night had to be the massive wombat we saw … it was the same size as me if I was wombat-shaped! I was totally stoked to have seen that! Coming up to CP1, I get a message from Buzz to say he’ll be in Canberra soon – he was driving over from Sydney. He’ll meet me just after CP1 for a status check, yay!

Autumn colours enroute

Liz and I get through CP1 and head for McDonalds (I didn’t even know it was there!), hoping to get a hot drink .. we’re soaked through and freezing by now. No luck. The 24h Maccas is only open for drive-in customers and will only serve people in CARS. Not even if you’re freezing, wet and have just run 98km. We get rescued by a lovely chap who drives in and buys us both a hot drink. Bless! xx
Liz heads off with her coffee as she’s got her car parked about 20km away, and she’ll stop there for a sleep. Buzz arrives a few minutes later, swaps my two pairs of wet gloves for a dry set, gives me a hug and sends me on my way. Hot tea coming through!

A much needed hot tea

The next leg to CP2 is awful. I’m getting colder, wetter and slower, and the sleep monster has started his shift early. Once I’m in the bush, I’m bouncing off trees, walking with my eyes shut and suddenly desperate for a sleep. I can’t stop as I know I’ll freeze, so I just keep going. The bush is pretty sparse, so when I see anything big enough to sit on, or lean against, I do so, count to 20, then get going again. Oh, and check for spiders first.

Sunrise at last!

Its taken forever to get to CP2 – 11.5h, longer than my entire first lap! My crew are worried. I’ve been in contact so they know I’m ok, and are waiting for me at Lennox Gardens with a camp bed, dry clothes and hot food. I’m so grateful to see them! Quick refuel, they tuck me in and I’m out like a light for 60 minutes.

Coming into CP2 and FREEZING
Time for 40 winks .. I’m under there somewhere.

I’M UP! OK, recharged and ready to go! The sun is out at last, I’m fed and dry with fresh shoes and socks, then Buzz waves me off.  It’s the boring flat loop around the lake, but it’s slow and steady. The 920XT is dead and I’m on the 310XT now, but the readings are all wonky and taking it out of retirement was not the best idea.

Me and Tiggs on the run

The next bit is a bit fuzzy and I can’t remember who I did or didn’t see (not hallucinating yet) but I do know it was a bit of an effort to get back to Stromlo (150km done!) and things are starting to hurt. Both my Achilles are swollen and sore, I have another mystery sore lump on the top of my right foot and I’m completely wet and frozen again. Buzz makes me stand under the hot shower for 10 minutes as he updates me. Several runners were pulled off the course the night before with hypothermia, and it looks like the weather will get worse before it gets better. I’m cold and grumpy and not receiving this news very well. I change, eat, and see if the massage services by Michael Gillan would help. It’s nearly 2pm on Tuesday, and I faff around trying to get some sleep and work out what’s wrong with my Achilles. Laces are loosened on coach Andy’s advice, and hopefully that’ll sort out the pain and swelling on the top of my foot. Buzz and I decide I should head out just before it gets dark and cover as much ground as I can. I plan to do the full loop so it’s hi-vis vest and headlamp on, and out I go into the rain again.

Lap 3 – Tuesday 6pm, 150km done
It doesn’t seem to take long to get to CP1 again. With the exception of a near head-on collision with a large man-sized kangaroo on the trail, it’s pretty uneventful and the pain in my achilles is bearable. The rain got worse, and Buzz met me just after CP1 with a change of plans. I thought I’d try and get a quick 30mins kip and dry off before tackling section 2, but the weather had other plans. We end up sleeping fitfully in the car till daybreak – the rain was so heavy and it snowed at one point in the night .. Buzz took the executive decision to wait it out.

Ready to rock after a night in the car

SO. Wednesday 5am and back on the trail again. I was aiming for a 15h loop, and feeling good after some rest. The sun was out, I was keeping up a pace again and apart from my right ITB complaining a little (I guessed from trying to save my sore achilles) everything felt good.

Not so easy to get through these gates after 225km!

This was my favourite lap so far, everything felt great, mainly because the sun was out, and I was (relatively) flying. Had some company on the boring flat lake loop with superfast Liz, her friend and their dog (sorry, names all forgotten!). Looking forward to dry clothes and hot food waiting at Stromlo, I was having a great time. I think really need to stick to the warm, dry races. I was still on Tailwind and random snacks, looking forward to pot noodles or rice and salmon at the end of each loop. The last 4 km back into Stromlo didn’t quite go as planned, with achilles hurting again and this time my lower left shin feeling pretty wrecked as well.

Kangaroo spotting again
Blue Dog motoring on banana power

I pretty much walked the last bit in, passed by Liz who was powering ahead, Blue Dog, who was on banana power, and I limped into Stromlo just under 16h (minus the giant nanna nap in the car) feeling rather sorry for myself. There was a gorgeous sunset, and just enough warmth in the air to cheer me up a little. Buzz got Danny the medic to come take a look at my legs in the race office where it was warm and dry. Danny made all sorts of disapproving noises, but to be fair, he did his best to keep all of us going for as long as he felt was safe to do so. He thought I might have torn a muscle where my left shin was red, swollen and very sore to touch. At the very least it was some serious shin splints. I haven’t had shin splints for over 20 years! 🙁

Feet up and sunset!

While Danny is sorting me out, Matt and Andy both come in. Matt seems like he’s holding up ok, and is off to rest for the night before going out again the next morning. Andy is hoping to go out again soon, but it looks like he’s got the same problems I have. Danny doses us both up, tells us to rest for the night and play it by ear in the morning. Or at least rest 4 hours or risk bleeding out from the meds. I’ll take the rest if it means I get to carry on, Andy does the same. I can’t face sleeping in the tent or car, so we get to Pinghan’s house and crash out for the night. It feels amazing to have a hot shower and a warm bed, I don’t think I’m going to wake up, and I owe my cousin big time for all his hospitality.

Lap 4 – Thursday 6.30am, 225km done
Amazing what some sleep can do … I’m ready for Lap 4! I start with Lisa (Harvey-Smith), but she’s not having a great time with it and I soon lose her. I asked Buzz to help find me some gaiters and poles, and bless him, he did! I had Sally’s awesome pink gaiters and he’d promised me a set of poles by the time I was done with CP1. What a star. I’m back on track, everything hurts and it’s 2km down the road before I ring Buzz, asking him to meet me enroute with a pair of scissors. We chop off the back of my Hokas, and it’s a world of relief. My sore Achilles hopefully won’t take too long to ease off now. I’m limping along quite happily till I get to the end of Kambah Pool Road. My endorphins seem to hit a black hole, fatigue crashes in and I’m falling into despair. I want to talk to someone but don’t know what to say. I deliberate for ages, still moving forward from force of habit (always useful), and then dial Andy’s (my coach) number. There’s no reply. I try again and then give up, hoping that he might call back. I’ve forgotten he’s at Buffalo Stampede.

Hacked off Hokas
Happy on the start of Lap 4 …
… and then much less happy.

I feel like I’m at the bottom of the barrel and I’ve got nothing left. I’m 240km in, with 210km to go. It feels too far to think about.

Then I remember the emergency ipod. Together with a hand delivery of Gurney Goo (indispensible anti-chafe solution!), John Ellis lent me his ipod with a ‘Jeri The ANZAC’ playlist. I’ve never run with music, in training or in races, but I’d been carrying it in my pack since Monday. Nothing for it. I plug in the earphones and realise I don’t even know how to turn this on .. duh. Tech dinosaur gets the hang of it after a while and I’m good to go.

Cow photobomb .. I think Matty started this 🙂

It’s Fix You by Coldplay. Suddenly I’m crying like a baby and running. Well, running in comparison to my disheartened trudging pace before, anyway. My heart and spirit feel like they’ve been given a huge boost and my brain is completely distracted by the new soundtrack to my epic run. It’s like caffeine but better, and I know the words!

Sun’s out, yay!

“When your legs don’t work like they used to before” from Thinking Out Loud made me giggle, and then Angels by Robbie Williams got me into full on karaoke mode. I scared some kangaroos with my yodelling and was absolutely delighted with drowning out the pain and fatigue with some tunes. New secret weapon!! Plus it was such a surprise to see what the next song would be. I’m eating up the miles, at CP1 in good time and Buzz meets me further along with my new poles. He’s found some Black Diamond foldies, and they’re purple! I KNOW this is going to be a good day.

Pink and purple!

I’m off again, singing, clacking my poles and meeting a few people along the way including Andy and Julie. There are some faster runners now as the 300km runners have started, I do get startled by a couple coming past as I’m in Surround Sound Karaoke Land. ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ takes me up Red Hill,  ‘Mambo No 5’ takes me past Parliament House and ‘Titanium’ takes me into CP2 and 275km. Brilliant! I catch Liz up again and we power walk the second half of the lake, joined by one of her friends. I take off again as I need to move quicker, walking hurts more than running. 

It’s much colder by the time I get to the arboretum, time to layer up. Liz and her friend catch me up there and power on, my shin pain is back big time and I’m back to trudging. No worries, only about 10k to Stromlo! Just then, the magic ipod ran out of battery, and I felt bereft. I was too tired to want to think for myself, so I turned on Ian Corless’ podcasts instead and listened to Sage Canaday blathering on about something instead.
Recharged, refuelled and my shin is looking a bit worse for wear.

Grumpy, cold and finally back at Stromlo, I limp to the race office again for a status check with Danny. My shin is still red and swollen, hurts like a bugger to touch, I feel broken all over and we need a new plan. I’m 300km down, with less than a miler to go, there’s no way I’m giving up yet. Danny’s magic meds are dispensed with the proviso that I get at least 4 hours rest before heading out again, so that’s the plan. Sleep till 5am and then head out. Get another lap in, sleep, and finish the job on Saturday. Worst case I’ll finish Sunday morning. I’m on it.

Not good.
Buzz sets up the camp bed in the ladies changing room again and I crash out there. Except I can’t sleep. I want to go on. I’ve had some hot food, and a bit of banter with some of the other walking wounded – Andy, Matt and Liz all checked in, and now with an hour’s sleep I wanted to go again. I made myself rest a bit longer .. and I give up. I pull on the rest of my warm layers and head out, it’s still dark out but I can’t twiddle my thumbs till sunrise.
Lap 5 – Friday 4.30am, 300km done
I’m off in the dark, but it feels good to be making some progress. It’s slow to start, I’m cold and will need to ease into this. And everything still hurts. I pass Gavin, Jeff and Karen on the way out, and Gav gives me a big hug. His run is over, and I’m gutted for him. 
Just as it’s getting light, Matt comes bouncing past, looking great and we have a quick chat before he heads off again. It’s daylight now and I start taking some layers off, and get passed by Kristy and Colin from the 300km looking nice and strong together. I get new resolve seeing these guys go past, and now I’m stripped down to my skirt, top, poles and ipod. Off we go!
Canberra cloud formations are beautiful!

I love how the light of a new day and some music can make such a difference. Life is good again, the pain is forgotten and I’m clacking past Kristy and Colin, and then past Matt as he stops to refuel with his crew. So lovely to see everyone and I get the feeling I’ve nailed this.

The long stretch down Kambah Pool Road is happy enough, at this pace another 15h loop shouldn’t be an issue. Skeeta and Leigh (Matt’s crew) pass me on the road and stop at the trailhead to wait for Matt. 
I’m bouncing along, about a kilometre in on the trail, when there are shooting pains up my shin and I can’t support my weight. I would’ve fallen if not for the poles. Another 50m of hopping and I know what this means. it’s a different sort of pain. The kind that says ‘Sorry, this is serious.” But I don’t want to accept it. It can’t end like this, not when I’ve broken the back of it, the sun is shining and my ipod is fully charged!
But I can’t even walk. I look down and see the redness and swelling have much further up and around, something Danny told me to look out for. Matt comes by, and offers to call Skeeta to pick me up. I decline and say I’ll get my crew. No sense holding them up, I need to get this looked at first, no telling how long that will take. He gives me a hug and says he’ll finish for me. Everyone I’ve met, runners, crew and volunteers alike have been amazing like that. 
I’m hobbling backwards on the trail and it feels so wrong. It’s always been about moving forward, surely I could make it to CP1? That’s another 12km. No chance. Kristy and Colin pass and offer their sympathies, and so does Valastik.
In the end, Matt called his crew anyway. Leigh and Skeeta found me on the trail and drove me back to Stromlo. Such lovely, generous people I’ve had the privilege of meeting!
Pinghan and Buzz are at Stromlo, and Danny comes in to take a look, and pronounces the end of my run. My crew concurs. 315km and I’m finished, live to race another day.
Gav, Brick and Jeff

Despite the failure of my ANZAC Ultra attempt, seeing the dogged determination of everyone else out there on the course, the supportive marshalls and volunteers smiling no matter what time of day or night, and the generosity of both runners and crew all along the way have really made this an experience to remember. Matt, Blue Dog and Liz all promising to finish for me, Andy gutting it out in spite of an eventual stress fracture, Sam nailing the race with a torn VMO, and Brick finishing in second place despite some very impressive blisters.

No more running
Amazing ladies and 450km finishers!

Huge huge thanks to Buzz, Pinghan, Aimee, Phil and the gorgeous kids for all their help and hospitality, couldn’t have done it without you! xx Coach Andy for all the prep and advice leading up to this and putting up with my constantly changing schedule. So, so glad to have met Bek, Julie, Skeeta, Leigh, Phil, Sally, Cathie, Anya and everyone else I’ve forgotten to mention!

With Andy, Danny and Liz

Big hugs to everyone who sent messages on FB, whatsapp and text .. I got them all and even though I couldn’t reply, your thoughts and strength were very much appreciated xx

War historian C.E.W. Bean defined the spirit of ANZAC to have 
‘stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat.’ 

The hardy souls I met at the ANZAC Ultra certainly embodied these qualities, runner, crew and volunteers alike. Despite the challenges from the weather, cold, a lack of resources or unexpected obstacles, everyone did their best. That’s all that mattered.

This was the only edition to be held so there isn’t a chance to do this again, but there’s more challenges round every corner so I’ll just sort out my shin and get back on the trail. My race report was very much a personal account, but with these events, it’s all about pushing your own limits. I don’t think it’s ever really a race against anyone but yourself unless you’re at the very pointy end of the field. It was quite a lonely journey for the most part .. I had sections with great company, but mostly very long periods by myself.

Danny the medic was an absolute trooper, going well beyond the call of duty. I don’t think he ever slept and he must have boosted the local pharmacy sale a hundredfold with the amount of magic pills he dispensed. But you shouldn’t go round telling ladies they have cellulite! (For the record, he said cellulitis, which is completely different.)

There’s a great account by Rob Sharpe, Gav’s long-suffering crew, here: http://250tosydney.blogspot.hk/2015/04/prologue-theanzac-ultra-was-to-be-one.html

Sam Weir’s race report here:
http://sammyweir-ultra.tumblr.com/post/116959678573/anzac-ultra-2015-lone-pine-450-km

Pics of the event here: (I don’t seem to be in any of them!) https://www.facebook.com/AnzacUltra/photos_stream

And for those who asked, my equipment list is here: (I did wear everything at the same time when it was cold, plus a few borrowed layers from Buzz and Pinghan!)
Cap – Raidlight
or Visor (daytime only) – Salomon
Buff (for warmth, wiping off Tailwind messes, and emergency boob tube services)
Sunglasses – Oakley zero
Base 1 – Arcteryx Phase SL crew
Base 2 – North Face FlashDry long sleeved base layer
Base 3 – Long sleeve ski thermal top
Armsleeves – Compressport
Mid-base – Marmot ThermalClime Pro 1/2 zip Long sleeve
Waterproof jacket – Marmot Nano and Marmot PreCip 

Gloves – Kalenji liner gloves and Dynafit thernal gloves
Skirt – Salomon Anna Frost Special Edition
Tights – North Face FlashDry
Rainpants – Patagonia H2No Rain pants
Pack –  Salomon S-Lab 5litre
Socks – Drymax crew or Under Armour
Shoes – Hoka Huaka
Anti-Chafe – Gurney Goo
Headlamp – Black Diamond Storm
Nutrition: Tailwind as main base, supplemented with snacks and a hot meal after each lap. I find on the longer events, I use treats as an incentive. They aren’t necessary but I like them so I reduce the amount of Tailwind to compensate.
Tailwind – (approx 1 scoop and hour with 250-500ml water)

Snacks: usually a nibble of something every couple of hours, I didn’t always carry everything, but restocked with what I felt like at each lap.
Clif Kids Organic Zfruit ropes
Salted/honey roasted nuts (macadamia, cashew, almond)
Gluten-free pretzels
Gluten-free shortbread cookies
Bak kwa
Plain salted crisps
Dried fruit – mango and peach
Ginger chews

My toes looked like this after 315km – should’ve gotten a gel pedi! But Gurney Goo was amazing 🙂
These are Brick’s feet … I did give him a tube of Goo for next time! 🙂

Look Ma, I’m on TV!

Had a blast doing the running scenes, but definitely way out of my comfort zone with everything else. I much prefer being behind the camera, or calling the shots, but it was an insight to how tough a model/actor’s job can be!

Huge thanks to Dave and the super talented FOX TV team for making this happen, I’ll enjoy my 30 seconds in the spotlight while it lasts!*

*(Also totally open to any other endorsement offers .. luxury 4WD cars notwithstanding!)

Runtrex goes beta!


Ever wanted to know more about a race than what the official website can tell you? If you haven’t already heard then consider this an essential public service announcement!

Check out http://www.runtrex.com/, a project by my speedy friend Timo Meyer, that aims to collate race reviews from runners all around the world. 

Timo celebrating a scorching 6th place finish at the Ultra Mallorca Serra De Tramuntana. Photo: Timo Meyer

What I love about this is that we get to contribute too, and this is what the community is about – sharing information to make each event a better experience for everyone else. 

Go check it out, and add your feedback! http://www.runtrex.com/

Borneo TMBT Ultra Trail Running Forum

As usual it’s been a pretty exciting few weeks, with the Anzac Ultra come and gone (race report soon!), followed by a quick visit to Kota Kinabalu for the Borneo TMBT Ultra Trail Running Forum.

I couldn’t take part in the inaugural Terian Trail Challenge due to injury, but it’ll be one for the calendar next year for sure!

I was invited to speak at the forum together with Aussie speedster Vlad Ixel, and hope I managed to share tips and advice that our audience of budding ultrarunners found useful.

It was great to see some familiar faces and make more new friends, now I just have to try and work the TMBT 100km into my schedule for this year!

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Tor des Geants Section 7 – Ollomont to Courmayeur (49.08km)


Are we there yet??
It’s Friday afternoon at 4.45pm and I’ve just left the Ollomont life base. I’ve now completed 283.5km and have been on the go (more or less) for about 126 hours. Apart from sore feet, a loose toenail, sore knees and the random hallucination, I’m feeling just fine. Nothing else is actually bothering me and when I take stock I realise that I’m actually feeling pretty good.
I happily wave goodbye to Steve and trundle off into the sunset. It’s pretty cold out despite the sunny afternoon but it’s a decent climb ahead to warm me up. It’s steep going up to Col Champillon (2709m), and I am passed by a group of Italians in good spirits. It’s the last section to Courmayeur, less than 50km to the finish, and for a lot of us the finish now looks like a real possibility. I stop at Rifugio Champillon for some warm soup and it’s full of runners who stopped for a meal. I see Harald again, and he heads off to find a bed for a few hours, and Kazuko is there too, filling her plate and having a great conversation with the Italians. Runners seem to have lots of supporters at this rifugio, and the atmosphere is quite upbeat. I put on all my warm layers and head out with Kazuko, but not before the Italians promise to meet us in Courmayeur for a beer. Nearly there!
It’s more steep ascent to the Col and I’m looking forward to running down the other side. The downhills seem to be better for me than the climbing although my knees are starting to complain about the pounding they get. Going over the top, I start running down, and the terrain is a bit more moor-like again, with narrow trails worn into the mountain shrubbery. I’m not far down when I realise I’m in trouble. My feet HURT. The pain gets so bad that Kazuko in her hoppity Hokas just bounces past me, and disappears down the mountain.
I try to run on the grassy bits instead, but this doesn’t really offer much respite. My mood’s swung from anticipation of the finish (perhaps a little premature!) to a despair that I’ll probably need to endure this pain for the next 15-20 hours that it’ll take me to finish. Gaaaaah!!
I’m caught by a group of older men, two of whom are racing and the others have opted to escort their friends for the last stretch to Courmayeur. I try to stay with them as it gets dark, and get in line at te back of their little group. The chap in front of me has Hokas on and my headlamp is focused on them all through the descent as I try and fight the pain in my feet. I’ve never wanted a descent to end more than that one. I was nearly in tears when we finally got to the bottom. I have no idea where I am, but the group seems to so I just do my best to stick with them. One of the escorts was helping out at a previous checkpoint and remembers me. As the trail flattens out, we talk about all sorts in a mix of French, Italian and English, and I’m grateful for the distraction. We reach a checkpoint (Pointelle Desot) and everyone goes inside to take stock and get warm. Kazuko’s in there warming up by a fire, together with a few other runners. One of them remembers me from along the trail, but sadly he’s pulling out there due to knee problems. This stop definitely calls for cheese. Sitting down gives my feet some respite and by the time the guys are ready to go again, I’m feeling in better spirits. 
It’s 10km to the next checkpoint and according to the guys, it’s flat. Yeah right. They’re not wrong though. It’s very gently undulating on the next stretch, but despite that I’m having serious problems. My feet hurt to a point where I can’t even keep up with the guys. They try to encourage me but it’s no use. I’m getting slower and slower as each step really is agony. I don’t understand why I’m in so much pain now. The trail is a lot like the pebbled reflexology paths we see along the park connectors, maybe not quite as severe. But it feels like I’m walking barefoot on sharp rocks .. I can’t do the reflexology path even at the best of times!
Try walking on this barefoot! Photo: Amanda Wright

What I thought would be a steady 50km to the finish is turning out to be a nightmare exercise in pain management and endurance. Another friendly escort turns up (I’ve forgotten all their names!), and he’s taken on the task of helping me along. Turns out he owns a climbing equipment shop and is a very nice chap. we find Kazuko on the way (she’s weaving all over the trail and looks desperately in need of some sleep). She’s added to the drawn out group, as is Tamura Satoshi, a deaf runner from Japan. All I remember about the next bit is that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish. How could I do 300km and not be able to finish the last 30?! That’s just cruel. I was just about crying from the pain, each step felt like my feet were on fire and I was so tired that I was ready to on the trail. Climber guy assured us we were nearly at St-Rhemy-en-Bosses, the next rest stop. We finally got out ont a big road and could see the town lights, but it was a genuine case of “Are we there yet!”. It seemed to take forever and then some to get to the checkpoint, and I am truly grateful for Steve coming out at ungodly hours to meet me along the way. Once again Steve miraculously appears to lift my spirits. Doesn’t do much for the pain in my feet, but it somehow cheers me up a little seeing a familiar face. I’m at utter rock bottom now, and we herd Kazuko in front of us as our little trio reaches the St-Rhemy checkpoint. (Climber guy went ahead at the road to find his friends.) There’s a crowd at the checkpoint, all waiting to cheer friends and family on this last section. Steve guides me to the food tent where I have some hot soup and a slice of pizza. At this point I’m so tired and miserable that I need a little comfort, gluten-intolerance be damned.

Hot soup and pizza at St-Rhemy. Photo: Steve Organ

I’m desperate for sleep now. Kazuko and I are ushered to a building and beds on the first floor. I’m in agony climbing up the stairs, but try not to think about any more than getting some rest. I ask to be woken in an hour, and Steve promises to double check that they do. What a star.

When I lay down on the bed, my feet were throbbing so hard that it really started to worry me. But fatigue won out in the end and it was probably the deepest sleep I’ve had since TDG started, and an hour feels like nothing. But given the state I’m in I need all the time I can get if I’m going to hobble to the finish. I make sure I’ve got every possible item of clothing on, it’s freezing outside. Literally. I have 3 pairs of gloves on and I’m extremely reluctant to move out. The memory of the pain from the previous 10km is still fresh in my mind. For the first time ever, in any race that I’ve ever done, I take painkillers. I ask Steve what he thought .. ibuprofen or Panadol? I took both, just to be on the safe side. The picture below sums it up. I really did not want to go out there!

Heading out of St-Rhemy. Photo: Steve Organ

I think it’s about 2am now, and this is the last major climb ahead to Col Malatra (2936m). Nothing for it, just keep moving forward! I’m off and out, and feeling much better after the short sleep. My feet are still sore, but I suspect the rest has allowed my brain to power up again, enough to deal with the pain a little better. I’m climbing and alone, no other headlamps to be seen at all. It’s a while before I realise my feet don’t hurt too much anymore, the painkillers have finally kicked in and this is AWESOME. Ok, here we go.

The trail is crazy in the dark, some bits are where the fauna have eaten, chewed or trampled the markers so they’re few and far between. There’s tiny trails that criss-cross everywhere and it’s not so simple in the dark. I’ve suddenly caught up with some Spaniards (maybe .. for some reason I thought they were speaking Spanish) and follow them for a short while before I realise that they’re all a bit lost too. I take the lead as they all are really fatigued and desperate for the next checkpoint to rest. I trying hard to keep a good pace so that we can all make it there sooner, but they end up falling behind. I move ahead and stop periodically to check their headlamps are still following, particularly at a river crossing that edges a very sharp drop off to one side. After what seems like hours of hiking, Rifugio Frassati finally comes into view. Once again, a truly welcome sight. There’s little dots of headlamp lights all around, some entering, some leaving the rifugio, and others having made their way ahead.  It’s nearly 6am on Saturday and the closing cut-off at Frassati is 8am. It’s lovely and warm inside, and I decide to rest up till sunrise, not far off. It’ll be a huge boost and I’m so tired that I have a 10 minute power nap on the bench. There’s lost of people coming and going, some really hanging on with all they have, but there’s a current of hope and anticipation because we can almost reach out and touch the finish now. Familiar faces everywhere, tired smiles and determined grimaces.

I see Harald again at Frassati, he’s surprised to see me but we wait for the sunrise together and head out towards Col Malatra. This is Harald’s second TDG, he finished the 2012 edition but the last bit over Malatra to Courmayeur got snowed out so they cut it short by 30km. That’s why he’s back this year, to get a proper finish.  Same story with Matt M. Go through all that just to climb one more mountain and finish in Courmayeur? There’s no WAY you’d catch me doing that .. famous last words though! 😉

The sun is up and the climb to Malatra is stunning. It’s still freezing as the sun hasn’t quite reached us, and I finally feel lucid enough to get the camera out for some reminders of this crazy race.

Harald and I halfway up to Col Malatra.
The end is near!
I thought they were Spanish …
The valley behind us, that’s where we came through during the night.

It’s a steep climb up the last part of Malatra, with ropes to help .. difficult when you have poles in your hands, but it doesn’t last long so thank goodness for that!

Onward to Malatra – the peak is at the far left of the pic.
Up to the peak of Col Malatra – steeper than it looks! (Note the ropes ..)
MADE IT!!!!
View from the top with Mont Blanc in the background
The other side of Malatra – downhill, but the sun hasn’t quite reached it yet!

Going down the other side was out of the sun and 5.5km downhill to Rifugio Bonatti. The painkillers are starting to wear off and I can feel my feet and knees complaining as I run the descent. The finish is 12km from Bonatti – I can do this! I have to stop along the way and start peeling layers off as I warm up from my run, and when I look back there’s no one around. Everyone I met at the top of Malatra is having issues running downhill, but that’s not much of surprise given what we’ve been through. I’m so caught up in my daydreams of finishing that I get slightly lost and have to backtrack quite a bit to find Bonatti. The very lovely Valentina is there, helping her parents with manning the checkpoint. I met Valentina at the Courmayeur checkpoint for UTMB the week before, where she was patiently helping race crews track their runners.  I’d seen her early along the course and her cheerful greeting just added to my anticipated excitement of finishing. She made sure I left with a handful of mocetta, the delicious cured beef of the Aosta region, and the I was off again on my own.

It’s 9.30am with 12km to go, and it felt unbelievable that my mad journey was coming down to single digit figures! 6.5 hours to race cutoff, the finish was mine unless my legs fell off.

After a sharp descent from Bonatti, the trail profile looks pretty flat .. but the squiggles were back with a vengeance! I resign my self to trying to keep a reasonable pace and meet some friends along the way .. donkeys are bigger up close than I thought!

My TDG wildlife encounters 😉
I run up a large hill where there’s a few people sat waiting for runners to come past, and I’m hoping that’s close to Bertone (the next checkpoint), but no such luck. One of the spectators gets up and starts shouting, then starts running along with me as I crest the hill. It’s Li Jia, one of the photographers from the China Technica team. He’s been kitted out in Salomon everytime I’ve seen him and is signed up for an ultra in HK soon. Further along I understand why he was shouting. Wang Bo, another videographer/photographer is lying on the side of the trail trying to get a video and some pictures. I wave to him as I run past, and I hear him yelling that he’s got some nice shots. They’ve been great company along the way too, I’ve seen them at almost every major stop and they always ask how I am. Hats off to all the race crews and supporters, it’s not an easy job! 
Photo credits: Wang Bo.
Rifugio Bertone is much further than I thought it would be, but I ran the last bit in my first days at Courmayeur, and I was really looking forward to the 4.5km downhill from Bertone to Courmayeur. I catch up with a few guys as I reach Rifugio Bertone, and I don’t stop apart from a swig of Coke. The sun is shining, I don’t care what hurts, it’s (almost) a hop, skip and a jump to the finish! ALLEZ! 
Coming up the other way is the old chap I keep meeting. He’s been hiking backwards to find his wife (the French lady I met along the way to Rifugio Sogne in Section 3) all along the course, and we’ve seen each other often enough now to exchange greetings with a smile and a wave.
It feels like I’m flying on the last bit, hurtling down the trail. My poles are invaluable at helping me vault over stuff and I’m running high on adrenalin now. I pass a few runners along the way and hikers and supporters coming the other way. There was a small (probably inevitable) crash given my fatigues, the terrain, and the ‘speed’ I was going, but nothing I’m not used to! Finally getting back onto the road and off the trail just got me so exciting I was literally sprinting towards the town center. I pull out a Singapore flag and attach it to my poles, and I’m waving it enthusiastically at everyone. If anyone missed me coming in, there’s no way they would miss this crazy person waving a flag a meter above her head .. I was slightly worried that I might have it upside down or back to front, hence once I’d put it up, that’s where it was staying!
I see Steve waiting by the park and it’s a close call as to whose got the bigger grin. He’s trying to take pics and running with me at the same time, I’m just so delighted to see him, and that I’m going to FINISH! Running through the town, down the red carpet (flag waving the whole time), and it was a truly satisfying feeling crossing the line. 145 hours, 38 minutes and 29 seconds of rollercoaster emotions, sleep deprivation and some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. Done.
Photos: Lawrence Daly
Signing the finish poster
Signing the tribute poster in memory of Yang Yuan
Photo credits: Steve Organ

There were no tears, as I thought there might be, but I was so hyped on endorphins and the fact that I’d finished that I was grinning from ear to ear for the next 3 days. Steve hands me a bottle of champagne, apparently it was Andre Blumberg’s suggestion .. thanks Andre! Matt turn up – he finished well in 64th place nearly 2 days earlier than I did, what a star! He was walking a bit funny from having decided to use brand new Hokas (bought the day before and having never run in Hokas) for the race though! I knew there was something about those shoes! 😉

Photo: Steve Organ
Bottoms up! Photo: Pietro Celesia
Gelati at the finish! photo: Steve Organ
Andrea, my companion on the first night.
We all have some gelati to celebrate, which went perfectly with the champers 🙂 I hobble off back to the flat, get showered, changed and head back to the finish line to see the last few coming in. Andrea makes it back, as does Barry and Shuwen, and I must have missed Kazuko, but I see her at prize giving the next day. I feel battered but surprisingly good, and HUNGRY. I know from experience that the post-ultra furnace allows me to eat just about anything without the normal side-effects so pizza and cheese are on the menu! I do my best to scoff everything in sight, just a shame that the pain in my feet make getting around far slower than I’d like. The last two finishers come in to a hugely cheering crowd, it’s the French lady and some other guy! So glad she made it through 🙂
Barry from Hong Kong

The next day at prize giving, it’s raining. I’m all swollen from head to toe and barely managed to get my calf compression on the night before. Looks like a lot of people are the same, and the sports hall is a mass of smiling, limping, people with puffy faces.

With Kazuko, an amazing lady!
Harald, delighted with his second finish.
Iker had to have a pic with me 😉 Nice trophy!
Li Jia, photographer, videographer, runner and cheerleader for the China Technica team
Dottore – he fixed my feet and I owe him a beer!

Akemi – it was her second TDG finish!

They call out our names inidividually, starting from the last finisher, and present us each with our finisher fleece. Perfect for the weather outside!

The lovely Valentina
Giovanni and Stefano, whom I kept meeting all along the way

He STILL has his pack on!!
Fat feet!
Wang Bo, another photographer extraordinare 🙂
Wang Da Qing
Hiroko Suzuki, from the Japan Salomon Team
Nerea was really nice and helped me hold my trophy 😉
We’re all GIANTS!

In hindsight? I have a lot of people to thank.
Matt Coops for his calm coaching, visualisation and breathing techniques, they were invaluable during the event with none of the mental fallout I had after UTMB.
My sponsors Hammer Nutrition Singapore and Salomon Singapore for all the nutrition and kit I needed, I am always grateful for their support.
The crew, organisers, volunteers and runners I met all along the way. Everyone was doing their best at all times, and it showed.
Anders The Beast and family and friends from all over who sent messages of support and encouragement, you don’t realise how much one your messages lifted my spirits and pushed me on. I know my family were praying for me to be safe, and there were a lot of times when I was too!
An ultra is a spiritual experience, and my faith is always strengthened when I emerge from these trials unscathed. God did keep me safe, there’s no doubt.
And Steve, who was an absolute angel. Being at every life base and some checkpoints in between, Steve managed to singlehandedly cheer me up, sort me out and keep me going for whole of TDG. And he hadn’t even planned on being there. I’d never planned on having any race support, but I’m so glad he decided to stay. You’re a star, Steve! x

For those who’d consider doing this crazy race, here’s some advice:
1. Arrive a little earlier if you can to acclimatise and get used to the altitude. my 10 days before to catch UTMB was perfect.
2. Stay in the Courmayeur town centre unless you’ve got someone to help with driving and other things. There’s no guarantees you’ll be fit for much after the race!
3. The tourist info office in town by the bus station has some decent maps and info.
4. The tap water is perfectly drinkable and is the best I’ve had anywhere in the world so far!
5. Don’t forget your poles.
6. Don’t underestimate the weather. Bring more than you need as you never know how it’ll all turn out.
7. I took a SAVDA bus from Chamonix to Courmayeur (booked online) but you can also get buses/trains direct from Geneva or Milan.
8. If I did this again I’d plan it like a stage race, so I have enough sleep and will know to bring shower gel and other stuff!
9. The checkpoints have standard European fare – dried apricots, oranges, dark chocolate and biscuits. Some have salami, cheese, pasta and soup. Drinks are usually water (still & sparkling) , tea, coffee and coke. Hot food (potatoes, rice salad, pasta) are available at life bases and some of the larger checkpoints, and it’s all real food – no gels or electrolyte drinks.
10. make sure you have decent waterproof kit including your headlamps (at least 100 lumens recommended), gloves and spare socks.
11. I’m really glad I brought a camera with me even though I was too tired/grumpy/lazy to get may camera out all the time. I bought the waterproof Sony TX30 in metallic fuchsia (stealth is not my middle name) and it was great. Light, easy to use (not so easy with 3 pairs of gloves on) and didn’t need any special attention. Except I attached it to a bungee cord tied to my pack (worried I’d drop it down the side of a cliff) and that meant I could only take selfies and landscape shots .. next time I’ll use a carabiner to attach so I can remove it and ask someone to help me take a decent pic.
12. Have fun!

I’ve learnt so much, had such an amazing time, and realised that it really is all in your head. I’m even thinking about doing it again .. maybe! 😉

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TDG Tappa 6 – Valtournenche to Ollomont (47.2km)

I’m feeling good and hiking up to Barmasse (2175m) at a good speed. Passing a few runners on the way up, the temperature is beginning to drop at the sun starts to set. And I realise I left my spare thermal top in my life base bag … uh oh.
Rifugio Barmasse is further than I’d expected, but I get there in less than 2 hrs so it’s still perfectly light out despite the increasing cold. I’m not sure what to do. It’s too bright out for me to feel tired yet, but the next possible place to sleep is over 11km away (Reboulaz). That’ll take me the better part of 4 hrs at least .. and I didn’t want to be in the cold and dark stumbling ahead trying to stay awake. Plus it’d be a night at over 2500m for the next 25 km or so .. make that VERY cold and dark, then.
There’s a couple of guys in the refreshment room at Barmasse, a nice warm respite from the cold outside. I pour myself some tea and ask for advice. Should I carry on, or get some sleep first? Does anyone know how far the next stop really is?
The German guy sat in the corner reckons I’m better off going as far as I can while it’s still light, and a couple of others agree. Harald (the German guy) looks pretty experienced and all kitted out in thermals and waterproofs. Plus he did TDG last year. Ok. I ask if I could tag along with him and try to keep pace, I’d much rather have some company in the night, and trying to move faster might keep me awake longer. I put all the rest of my layers on, silently berating myself for leaving the thermal top behind, and soon we’re back out into the cold.
Harald proves to be a great companion, he works with an online sports magazine (soq.de), and his English is good enough to keep me sane. We make our way along the trails with a couple of other runners – two guys who look pretty determined. From the profile, I didn’t think that this section would be too bad – no huge climbs – but once again, Mother Nature gives me a kick up the proverbial.
With Harald and the other two guys for company, we’re making good time and as it gets dark, we’ve cleared the first dip and head up towards Fenetre de Tzan (2783m) about 10km from Barmasse. Those tiny squiggles on the profile translate into a strength-sapping series of short, sharp climbs and descents. It’s properly dark now, and my eyes are starting to close. I’m grateful for Harald behind me, and try to concentrate on the guys in front, keeping a steady pace. Just when I’m despairing that I really can’t go on any longer, and have to sleep on the trail, there’s a hut ahead. Surely this is too soon for Tsan? We can’t have been going that quick.
It’s Vareton (2352m). There’s a fire outside and food, and I’m grateful for a cup of hot tea. I hopefully ask about beds, but they’re full for at least another hour. Bugger. I really don’t think I can go on till I get some sleep, I’m SO tired. I tell Harald I’ll probably stop here and wait for a bed, and he says he’ll push on as we’re making good time and he wants to make the most of it while it lasts. He advises me to have some food and see if it revives me to carry on. I’m reluctant to leave the comfort of the group so I do as I’m told. A few minutes later they’re ready to leave again and I follow suit. I’m not any less tired, but would prefer to navigate the trails with company rather than alone. I warn Harald that I’m on the brink of sleep-walking and he promises to look out for me.
Bivacco Reboulaz in the day. Photo: http://bivaccolucareboulaz.weebly.com/foto.html
What follows is forever etched in my memory as The Night From Hell. The 6kms to Bivacco Luca Reboulaz are a blur of ascents and sharp descents on narrow trail, with sheer drops to one side and slippery rocks waiting to trip you up. I’m starting to hallucinate more with the fatigue, and rocks morph into owls that wink at me or grow arms and squeaky voices that shout ‘hi!’ as I stumble past. Harald isn’t faring that much better and we push on till we finally see the lights of Reboulaz. The tiny refuge is chock full of tired runners, and the handful of staff are doing their best to cope. There’s a waiting list on the door for beds on a 2-hour rotation, so I sign us up for a couple of beds. It’s close to midnight now at looks like some beds will be free soon. I really don’t care because I simply cannot keep awake any longer. Together with the biting cold and my missing thermal layer, it really is an exercise in endurance tonight. Falling into a bed, I doze off almost immediately. 
Someone gently taps my foot and I’m reluctantly awake again. Harald, who’s next to me, is trying to get up as well. We both squeeze back into the tiny, crowded main room and take stock. We’re squashed in a corner and it looks like a trauma room with tired faces and broken bodies. Harald and I take our time to refuel on hot soup with salami (me) and cheese (Harald). I’m worried about going out into the cold again and dig in my pack in the hopes I have another warm layer stashed somewhere. At this point I could quite happily give up and go back to sleep. The lovely ladies helping out by the stove in the corner flash me big smiles and tell me to hang in there. At this point I’ve decided that desperate times call for desperate measures. I stand on a bench (there’s no room anywhere else), take off my jacket and fleece, and step into a buff. I have 3 on me so I figure I can use one as a body warmer. The women are amused and intrigued. “A buff??” One looks at the buff around her neck and laughs in disbelief. Good thing I’m small, they say. Okay. Ready or not, we’re off again. 
This time it’s just Harald and I. Biv. Reboulaz is by a small lake and in the dark we cross over on the wet, slippery rocks and into the night. Rifugio Cuney (2656m) is about 5km away, should be achievable in 2hrs or so I thought. Remember those map squiggles? Back with a vengeance. This 5km goes on forever, and some of the trail we’re on is pretty hairy stuff to do in the dark with so much fatigue. I remember tripping over my own feet countless times (thank goodness for poles) with a strong sense of deja vu. Didn’t we already do this bit? Or was that at UTMB? This is really soul-destroying terrain, and whilst I’m trying not to see too much of the sheer drops to my side, Harald’s super powerful headlamp behind me is making sweeping checks of the terrain, which means I get to see all the evil rocks and more waiting to cushion my fall if I decide to fall. We climb for a bit, then start on a steep descent that goes on forever. It’s slippery, sandy switchbacks that seem endless with a ridiculous gradient. The reflective markers show we have miles to go and the refuge is nowhere in sight. It’s all I can do to just keep moving forward, but my despair is building. I dread to think what would happen if anyone fell or got injured here. Who on earth would be able to come get you? My feet are sore and my knees are starting to complain as well, but nothing that is a legitimate reason to stop. Damn.
Behind me, Harald remarks “This is the place that God forgot.” That just summed it up. It felt like we’d been forgotten too. Desolation all around, not even the promise of the refuge lights ahead, and miles to go before we sleep. Then we see them. The lights of Refugio Cuney. It’s not even uplifting at this point because there’s a whole valley to descend and climb before we can get there. One step at a time, nothing for it. 
It’s a quick refuel at Cuney and out again. The 4.5km to Bivacco Clermont is more of the same hell. Along the way, Harald and I both manage to fall into a stream, which seems to lighten my mood a little. I remember this place somehow. The feeling of deja vu is so strong, like I’d struggled through the same despair and desolation in the worst parts of my 2011 UTMB, but maybe this is how my hallucinations are manifesting. I don’t know what is keeping me going, and I’m very grateful for Harald’s company. There are some points when I was really worried I wouldn’t make it out in one piece – my fatigue and propensity for accidents did not make a promising combination. I was stressed about potentially falling off the side of a cliff, but stopping in the cold would’ve been of no use or relief. This night has tested my resolve to breaking point and by the time we reach Bivacco Clermont (2705m), I just squeeze in to the end of the tiny table and hunch over. I don’t want to eat or drink, I’m just relieved to be in a safe place with other people. Harald pats me on the shoulder and says “Thanks.” And I promptly burst into tears. He nods in sympathy. “It was a tough night, huh.”
This should be nothing compared to the night I just had.

It’s very cosy in Biv. Clermont!

Col Vessonaz after the night from hell.

I end up having cheese and coke. The first piece of cheese I’ve had since I started the TDG – I didn’t want to have anything that would make me feel ill (I’m lactose intolerant), but last night was enough of a near miss to make me feel like some cheese was in order. I NEVER want to to this again. There’s no mobile signal so I can’t let Anders or Steve know how I’m doing. Never mind, more cheese will help.

Harald and I drag ourselves out at sunrise, and it feels like a different world. Col Vessonaz (2788m) is 400m out and it should be mostly downhill to Oyace, the next checkpoint. I reach the peak first, suddenly fuelled by all the stress and frustration of the night before. I wait for Harald to get to the top, snap a pic and head down. Harald’s having some issues with his knees so I go on ahead with his blessing.

Harald on Col Vessonaz

It’s turning out to be a glorious day and all the despair of the night before is lost on a gleeful descent. It’s great to get some speed and I pass familiar faces along the way including Kazuko and Franco. The 9.7km to Oyace goes reasonably fast and the small climb to the aid station isn’t too bad. It’s nice to see Steve just I get into the town, and he walks in with me to the checkpoint.

It’s 9.30am and I try to make it a quick turnaround. The Chinese camera crew quiz me again and I manage to fuel up and head out in record time. It’s 12.5km to Ollomont, the next life base, and I’m using that as incentive to push me on. Just over 6km to the top of Col Bruson (2492M) and then it’s down the valley into Ollomont.

Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Coming into Oyace Photo: Steve Organ
Crisps at Oyace. Photo: Steve Organ

I don’t remember much about Oyace to Ollomont, only that it was warm and I’d finished my last packet of Haribo Dragibus. Oh, and I felt my left toenail pop off during one of the descents. That actually took a lot of pressure off my toe, so all good.

Photo: Steve Organ

Coming into Ollomont felt good. It’s 2.25pm and I’m 283.5km into the event. The sunshine’s perked me up and for the first time, it feels like I can think about the reality of finishing. But first I need to get my feet sorted. The doc takes one look at me and tells me to go shower first.

Photo: Steve Organ

Once I’m clean, I’m in the queue to get medical attention – everyone in the line is getting their feet seen to, doesn’t seem to be any other complaints. Dottore finally patches up my feet, straps on two ice packs to my swollen knees and pats me on the back. “See you in Courmayeur.” With 49km to go, this is the home stretch.

Getting my feet seen to. Photo: Sho Fujimaki
Patched up! Photo: Steve Organ
Signing out. Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ
Photo: Steve Organ

As usual, Steve is an absolute star, and patiently makes sure I have everything I need and more. After two plates of food, a shower, lots of Betadine and surgical tape, two new sets of headlamp batteries and all my warm clothes, I’m ready to head out again. I’ve spent 2h 20 mins in the life base .. could’ve been worse, I guess. And off we go. Next stop, Courmayeur!

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Tor Des Geants Section 5 – Gressoney to Valtournenche (36km)

Right then. It’s midnight going into Thursday 12th September, and I’ve been on the go for the better part of 86 hours. Leaving the Gressoney life base, it’s reasonably flat and I’m moving at a determined jog towards Rifugio Alpenzu where I’m planning to get some sleep. My hamstring seems to have eased off and my feet still hurt, but that’s old news now. I’m feeling energised from the earlier stop, and march through relatively flat roads and through a town. 7km to Alpenzu, shouldn’t take long. I make good progress, even up the short, steep incline, and arrive at the refuge freezing and desperate for some shut-eye. I’m ushered to a dorm with one other person already in there. The man tells me that the cut-off at Gressoney was at 1am, and whilst I wanted to have 2 hours sleep, I may only be allowed 1 hour if the place fills up from the stragglers at Gressoney. Whatever. Just give me a bed please.

Buff over my eyes, I’m sleeping lightly till a tap on my shoulder. “Time to get up.”

WHAT?? My watch says it’s been an hour. I feel indignantly bereft, especially seeing no one new has entered the dorm since I got there. I haven’t got the energy to argue in a different language, so I trudge back downstairs in a grump. it’s nearly 3am. I see Barry and Shuwen downstairs, hunched over tables trying to sleep. I find a chair, pull down my buff and try to reclaim my lost sleep for another hour.

I wake after 30 mins or so and start getting my head in order. I know it’s freezing outside but I really need to get a move on. A quick check of the map profile shows the only way is up. It’s no surprise by now, and I suit up and head out. It’s about 5km to the summit, Col Pinter at 2776m. It’s REALLY cold outside and darker than I’ve experienced so far. The climb is crazy steep and at first I’m quite happy focusing on being a moderate hiker with a rucksack, but after an hour or so it starts to get a little eerie .. super quiet in the freezing cold with no other headlamps in sight. Ok, not so much fun anymore .. where is the top? Just keep moving forward, just keep moving forward …

Finally I get to the summit, and whilst it’s still dark, the sun should be making an appearance soon and that helps with the cold and fatigue. The descent is very steep and very technical, slippy in most places from ice that’s formed overnight. I’m descending with caution given my track record for misadventure, and am caught by a runner near the end of the descent. His name is Emanuele, recently moved to Aosta and a veritable font of information on the area. I did listen, but it was hard to take it all in with my tired brain although I did enjoy his company. We made a stop at Rifugio L’Aroula, where the restaurant had opened specially for TDG runners and was serving lovely hot food and drink. (Think this was part 1 of Matt Meckenstock’s legendary double-lunch day in TDG 2012!)

Moving on, a quick stop at Rifugio Crest to refill and we’re off again. It’s 8.30am now and looking like it’s going to be a gorgeous day. This time Makoto (the Japanese sherpa with the massive bag) and Miyuki, another Japanese runner, catch up to us before long. I’m feeling the fatigue and everyone else seems strong on the climbs, and even better on the descents. I’ve got Hoka envy again! Everyone powers on ahead and I’m trailing behind, getting grumpier as it gets hotter and they get further away.  Grrr. My feet are super sore again too.

I reach the time checkpoint at St Jacques at 10.37am. I faff around for too long taking layers off in preparation for the climb ahead. Somehow everyone catches up at the same time and we take an ‘Asia contingent’ photo for the record.

Team Asia – Shuwen, me, Barry, Akemi (kneeling), unidentified Japanese runner, Makoto, Miyuki. Photo: Wang Bo

And then we’re off again and somehow I’m one of the last to leave. Emanuele catches up – he’d had an earlier pit-stop where his wife and friend met him along the descent with some supplies and a fresh pair of shoes (Emanuele now has Hokas!). He tells me to try and stick with them – his wife and friend (ski instructor and strong climber) and hiking up to Grand Tournalin (2535m) with us and I do my best. They’re all wearing Hokas and I’m focusing on keeping pace with all three pairs of those damn marshmallow shoes. Not long after, I find my own pace and move ahead. I meet Wang Bo, one of the Chinese photographers, on the way up and we reach the stop at Grand Tournalin together.

Above photos: Wang Bo
There’s a young man outside the refuge ringing another massive set of bells – I didn’t get a picture because I was freezing and just wanted to get inside out of the cold. There’s a table of Japanese and a table of Chinese runners, then Emanuele and his supporters turn up as well. We’re all tucking in to the spread that’s laid out, and the fresh fruit salad here is a welcome change to all the bars and salami I’ve had so far. Fed, watered and warm everyone heads out and I’m a little behind trying to get more wam clothes on. There’s a bit more climbing to Col di Nana (2770m) (saying that makes me giggle everytime!), a smaller climb to Col des Fontaines and then downhill to Valtournenche, the next life base. About 6km, which is a very welcome thought.
I’m fired up after the rest at Grand Tournalin, and want to catch the Asian runners ahead. I’m climbing like a mountain goat on a mission, well, that’s what I felt it was like .. in reality it probably looked like granny’s day out. But still. I felt good, and I was passing everyone in sight. Yay! Once at the top, I started jogging down and then decided to let fly. I must’ve had too much coke at Grand Tournalin because I was giggling like a pixie and running the descent like it was the finish line ahead. By now I’ve passed another 6 or so people including all the Asian runners, some of whom tell me to be careful, others try to follow. It feels so good to get some speed on, I’m flying over rocks and trail, only half aware that it could go very wrong if I had a mis-step. As the descent evened out, I stopped to take some pictures and savour the moment. It was nice to feel like I could cruise for a bit, my brain has been working overtime since we started. And very grateful to my poles for keeping me upright all this way.
Franco descends towards Col di Fontaines 
Quick pic while I’m feeling good going down from Col di Nana
Looking back on Col di Nana (hee hee)
China, Hong Kong, Italy, Singapore and Japan, represent. (and Franco in the corner taking a breather)

The trail gets much more technical further down, and I slow a little for caution’s sake and let the others catch up .. it’d be nice to enjoy the company while I can, even if it means I have to practice my Mandarin. The sun is shining, I don’t care how much my feet and knees hurt, and I’m into Valtournenche at 3.30pm, bonus. The time cutoff there is 9pm, so I just have to focus and not waste too much time. Steve met me at about 1km out, and it was such a boost to anticipate when I’d see him. It also gave me a chance to stop talking to myself and talk to a real person in English without having to simplify anything to get over the language barriers. Hello Steve!! 🙂

Steve hiked up from Valtournenche on the trail, this is where we ran down. Photo credit: Steve Organ
Through the cobbled streets to the life base. Photo credit: Steve Organ

Photo credit: Steve Organ
happy to be here! Photo credit: Steve Organ
Inside the life base food tent. Photo credit: Steve Organ

I’m in really good spirits now and eat a pile of food while Steve refills my pack with water, crisps, Snickers and batteries. He’s even dried off my wet clothes (I’d washed them at Donnas) and so I have clean clothes!! (Note to self – it’s a good idea to bring lots of spares .. two tops isn’t going to last a 6-day race) I wander off to have a shower in the sports hall behind, and decide to get my feet re-taped. I’m seen to by both the doctor and the podiatrist, who roll their eyes and do their best. I get sent on my way nearly an hour later with blisters drained, taped feet, and my extra special ice-pack knee pads.

Showered, taped, iced and ready for action! Photo credit: Steve Organ
Yup, freeflow beer and wine at all life bases and most water points! Photo credit: Steve Organ
I get back to Steve who’s now chilling with a beer (envious!) and try to get my act together to head out. To my credit, I only take 2h 20 mins this time to get out of the life base .. not fast but better than before!

Checking out. Photo credit: Steve Organ
Wang Bo, one of the photographer/videographers with the China Technica team .. Photo credit: Steve Organ

The sun’s still shining, it’s a 5km climb to Rifugio Barmasse, and I’m feeling good. I leave valtournenche at 5.45pm, guessing it’ll take me 2 hours to get to Barmasse, maybe a good time for a quick kip if it’s dark. Onward!

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Squeeze me, please!

A while ago I posted a piece on compression garments, mainly calf, quad and arm sleeves.

It’s been over a year since, and there’s been a veritable explosion of compression apparel in the market, trail running in particular. Salomon’s trademark honeycomb design has been applied to tops and shorts, with others following suit. Wille from The Runner’s Gait asked me to trial the Compressport Trail Running Shirt Tank, but since I’m a Salomon ambassador, it fell to The Beast to put it through it’s paces instead instead.

Winning RTP Sahara 2010. Photo credit: RTP
Winning RTP Atacama 2011. Photo credit: RTP

For those who don’t already know, The Beast is Anders Jensen, desert running champion turned trail-beast. he’s had to sit out racing for the last year or so due to injury, but watch this space.

He’s been using the trail Tank for the last 3 months and in a nutshell, he loves it. Anders is a Salomon fan, and has been wearing their compression tops for years, and is no stranger to the concept.

Here’s what he said:
“It’s really light, you hardly notice you’re wearing anything. It fits well and is extremely comfortable, important to get the right size though.”

That’d be the seamless, ultralight microfibre torso and Ergofit construction (knitted to fit the contours of the human body). So far, so good.


“It does keep me relatively dry despite the humidity in Singapore, but ventilation and wicking effect is more noticeable in cooler / dryer climates.”

So the Ultra Ventilation Mesh, proprietary Thermoregulation 6.6 weave and Hydrophobe water repellent fibres get the thumbs up too.

“The compression effect is subtle but effective, they should make a long sleeve version for recovery!”

That means the D-Stress Zone (the short collar without stretch knit doesn’t make it feel like you’re being choked and puts no added tension on neck and shoulders), Hemless finish and patented Massaging Fibres all do the job.

His only complaint was that the top had a tendency to ride up after 20 mins of running, but he did think this might be due to the material of his shorts once they got sweat-soaked.

The Compressport team  at Craze Ultra 2013, nice kit! Photo credit: EuGene

Final verdict? “Great piece of compression, pressure in all the right places and you hardly know it’s there. I’ve noticed less fatigue in my back and neck too.” Thumbs up, then! 🙂