Monday 18 May 2015

Transvulcania Mania

This race captivated me from the moment I caught wind of its existence roughly 2 years ago now, but never did I think that within a 24month period I'd be sitting here writing about my experience racing it. La Palma, one of the 7 Canary Islands, is a stunningly beautiful and extraordinarily geographically variable playground that hosts one of the biggest and most badass trail races on the calendar, Transvulcania. Since its inception it has grown in size exponentially, and now annually the whole place erupts (see what I did there) with activity surrounding race day. Shop owners, Taxi Drivers, Hotel Staff, Supermarket attendants, children of age 5 and men and women of 50, they ALL know about Transvulcania and to them, it has a great significance each year when it rolls around.

I was truly stoked to be able to be a part of the event, and at times out on the course I thought that maybe being amongst the sea of screaming people drinking beers and going platanos looked just as fun as running the race itself! I feel like the people of the island are what really make this race what it is, I'm sure there are other events that rival it for enthusiasm, however this was the winner so far for me.

Being a bird.
Earlier I mentioned that there are 7 of the Canary islands, and my trip began by visiting Gran Canaria first.... Accidentally. At midnight. After 28hrs of travel. Oops. Turns out Las Palmas and La Palma are very different places and Transvulcania is only ran on the latter. After a fleeting moment of panic, the wonderfully natured employees in the Gran Canaria airport made sure I got the right flight to the correct island the next morning, after a blissfully comfortable sleep on the chairs at the airport!

Only 8hrs after expected, I made it to Los Llanos and began to delve into the unique culture and vibe of La Palma. I was so thankful and fortunate to be able to spend a week on the island prior to the race, it allowed me to scout out snippets of the course and see some awe-inspiring masterpieces of nature whilst getting a bit more adjusted to the expected heat of race day. Contrary to what most people believe, all of Australia isn't a desert with tonnes of Kangaroos and Koalas bouncing around, so a bit of acclimatization time was great. I also hired an endlessly knowledgeable tour guide called Frosty, she showed me around some amazing places and I'm pretty certain the amount of questions I asked out of nervousness about the course were getting frustrating.

Running the mid-section of the course with El Pilar in the background
Closer to the race, I moved down the coast into the wicked race hotel. It consisted of about 35,000 pools, 10 tonnes of food at the buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, views from a postcard and completely horrible coffee. It was definitely a place for the real hedonist that likes to lounge around and not really do a whole lot, which regularly I wouldn't be into, however coming into a race it was basically the perfect restraint to stop me from doing too much. I had a great time getting to know a lot of the other athletes that were hanging around, a heap of guys and gals had come over from the US along with Salomon team mates from all corners of the world. It's really cool to learn about different peoples stories, where they are from, what they do, why they run and why they were there, there's never two the same and everybody is unique in some awesome way.

This is the view from my room in the uber-dreamy race hotel. Not bad at all.
The racing aspect of all this can be kept quite simple. From the very beginning, the AC/DC on the start line was rad and momentarily took me back home, equally as rad was the job that Depa did as the MC for the whole event, that dude sure can yell and was a huge help to me when not behind the microphone. The countdown at the start was in Spanish however, and embarrassingly I didn't understand, so I just waited for everybody to start running like crazy so I could follow! We took off with haste around the lighthouse and into the sandy trail towards Los Canarios, it was a lot of fun being a part of the serpent like stream of headlights that I'd gazed upon in pictures of previous editions. You are arguably going uphill for the better part of the first 50km in this race, and if one was to only see different sections in pictures, you'd also argue that it wasn't the same course. The variation is mind blowing for an island of only 50x25km! It quickly changes from black sand to pine forest, followed by a Moon-like landscape up high and then onto a picturesque little beach side town below.

Running with Dimitris, Ryan and Landie on the first section of the route.
The up was tough like always, and as with most races, I had some great patches and some lower ones, but utimately it all went pretty well and I stuck with my pre-race plan. I'd hovered behind the ffront guys for the first 5hrs, with only Luis and Zach really pushing the gap out super far. I'd left a bit of gas in the tank in hope to roll it home down the descent and make up some time, as historically the race is decided in the last 23km. This worked a treat and I moved from equal 5th with 2 others at Roque De Los Muchachos up to 3rd by the bottom of the descent in Tazacorte. It beat my legs up good and proper, but that was the plan after all! It felt pretty surreal to move into 3rd and it was certainly the first time i'd allowed myself to think of the podium for the day. I knew I had a few minutes to play with over the last 5km, but it's still scary when you have no idea who could be charging from behind in the pack. I loped along pretty miserably up the last climb but some words of encouragement from the teams crew helped carry me up the last climb! Luckily at the top i'd maintained the few minutes I had to 4th and got a chance to let the goosebumps settle in approaching the finish!

View of Tazacorte from the last descent
There's no way to put into words the feeling of running down the finish chute of Transvulcania, it's exactly as you see in the photos. A beautiful red hue courtesy of the red carpet and the relentless sun beating down, countless orange blow-up battens coupled with hands awaiting high fives no matter your position, and a monstrous amount of noise. I was and still am an indescribably happy young boyish looking Aussie chap to stand on the podium in 3rd at the end of the day. I'd definitely hoped for it but I never expected it! Not having expected it, I didn't practice my champagne cork-popping skills either, so I embarrassingly struggle to open it using my lousy excuses for arms... but I got there in the end. Happier than ever.

Photo: Jordi Saragossa, featuring a hard to pop champagne bottle.
After a couple more days of rest I was sad to leave, home's always comforting but the adventures La Palma provided were incredible. I could've quite easily written for hours about it but it'd only be for my own self indulgence of the experience and not for the benefit of anybody else! There'll certainly be some more cool things to come later in the year, so once I feel back to 100% i'll kick into some more training. For now though I'm going to enjoy the year that has been so far, because it's better than I ever imagined!

Thanks everybody once again for the help in every area of life, family, friends and my gear and nutrition sponsors, Salomon, Suunto, Shotz Sports Nutrition and Swisseye Eyewear. I love you all!

Friday 17 April 2015

Messed with the Buffalo and didn't get the horns.

A slight flashback to begin with. Despite my blog quietness, I've already raced a few times this year.  Here is a quick debrief on what I have been up to race wise. Firstly in January I raced Two Bays as a substitute for a cancelled Bogong to Hotham. I had a tummy bug that hit me at the 20km mark, so the race turned really crappy (quite literally). My first race of the year and a DNF, not a good start! The next step for 2015 was a trip to Hong Kong, with a fortunate opportunity to be invited to race at the Asian Sky Running Championships. The MSIG Sai Kung 50km was a great experience and Hong Kong is a wicked place. I had a reasonably good run which got me into 4th place on the day. This was a much needed little confidence boost over what was a deceptively hard course!

Onto the most recent of events though, the Buffalo Stampede. Last year I raced the Ultra and as many of you may know, I pushed too hard and found myself sitting in a creek at the bottom of Clearspot unable to walk. I was eager to test myself and didn’t respect the difficulty of the course and my own limitations. It was a real kick in the guts to be 8kms from the finish line in Bright and unable to reach it.  It was a massive learning experience for me!

With my sights on Transvulcania as my goal race for the first half of this year, I decided I would race the marathon as a perfect build up to get some good conditioning into my legs. It would've been nice to do the Ultra and actually finish it this year; however, I felt it would be too much of an effort to recover from. Being such an awesome event I am sure it will be around for many years to come. I look forward to tackling that beast soon! 

After the inaugural event last year, this race has already become a must-do race for die-hard trail runners around the globe. The quaint and beautiful little town of Bright is the perfect host to outdoor and adventure minded individuals. The surrounding terrain harbours some seriously wonderful and wild elements of nature. The social aspect of the weekend is looked forward to almost as much as the run itself. I was incredibly lucky to be sharing a house with the other Salomon athletes, some of which I know well, and others I had just met for the first time. Acting as a chaffeur for Stevie (US athlete) and Michel (French athlete) I had plenty of opportunities to annoy them with my Aussie accent. Unfortunately I failed in my role as ‘tour guide’ for Stevie as I wasn’t able to find her a koala, just some lousy kangaroos.

My weapons of choice.

Now on with the racing! Matt Coops and Lucy were kicking things off and both raced the 32km Sky Race on the Friday, both finishing 5th place on what some say, km for km, is the hardest course of the event. The big show was looming though, as Saturday's event laid claim to countless quads and toenails. Tom Owens was to step out of his comfort zone over the longer distance, whilst Landie was right in her element, traversing the gruelling 75km course, holding over 4500m+. Both endured the suffer fest and went on to take convincing wins. The post-race comments on how steep some sections of the course are was pretty comical, especially Landies descriptions of her crawl up Warner's Wall.

It was my first time following a full race that day, and I genuinely had a blast being able to watch the race unfold. Feeling those nerves as I waited at the checkpoints for Tom and Landie reminded me of how much a true fan I am of this sport, beyond purely racing myself. And what better inspiration than watching 2 friends win the day before your own run, too!

Nerves ensued as I began to prepare for the Sky Marathon the next day. Following the Ultra was a blessing in disguise, as it let my mind wander away from the usual pre-race jitters. I don't really understand why I get so nervous before races. I know it’s just a race and I also know that I had trained and prepared to the best of my ability. Being a very competitive little bastard though, I have a big fear of failure.

Descending Warner's Wall.
Sunday began at 5am, clothes went on, coffee and breakfast in, excess baggage out, and off to the start Stevie, Michel and I jogged. I always love the hive of activity that the race start area provides. There isn't much that can match the energy radiating from the runners, theirs friend and family in the minutes leading up to the gun going off, it's a huge melting pot of emotions. A vast contrast to what the little town of Bright is all about!

The race began fast. Michel, Samir and Marty were the first onto the introductory climb of the day, Mystic. Going up a trail specifically created for downhill mountain biking is generally somewhat painful…. and this was no exception. The pace being set by the front 3 guys was pretty hot, so Scotty Hawker and I just hung back in the distance ever so slightly to see how things would progress. At the Summit, Michel was off and blazing with Marty Dent in tow, Samir had drifted back a little, which saw himself, Scott and I pretty much hit Mick' track as a trio. Ahead there was a trail of dust as Michel gave us a lesson on how to go downhill, watching him descend ahead was completely ridiculous. There was none of this pansy side-to-side movement, it was just a full tilt B-line to the bottom of Micks track!

Beginning our ascent up Clearspot, we'd now caught up to Marty and so there was a train of 4 chasing the big Frenchman up ahead. I was feeling really good and very content with the situation, we had Michel in sight and I was climbing with 3 runners that I knew to be fit and in form. After the quad(?) burning lactic-bath to the summit, I'd moved ever so slightly ahead and was running in 2nd. Again, Michel went ballistic on the downs and I couldn't see him until I got to the top of Warner's Wall where I caught a glimpse of him already at the bottom and beginning his charge into the Buckland Valley.

On my way to the 15km checkpoint in Buckland Valley

 At this point although I was happy with how I was moving, I was also very concerned. Why? Well, Mr Dent behind me is an Olympic marathon runner with a PR of 2:12 and we were approaching the fastest section of the course.
My own speed on that specific type of terrain is the best its ever been, only a fool would back themselves against someone like Marty! So I ran like a scared little child through the whole valley in hope that the climbs had dulled his legs a little, and tried not to look behind too many times! I was still feeling great coming into Keating's Ridge and still had Michel in sight, ever so slightly. It was a huge boost that after 20kms of racing I hadn’t been caught by anyone. I tried to take this climb a little easier, as I knew that saving a little bit over that ridge would mean having a little extra in the tank for the Big Walk ascent on Mt Buffalo (I had learnt from last year!).

3 climbs down and 1 to go. The grand daddy of the course was sitting boldly in front of me as I coasted down into the Checkpoint at Eurobin. The huge granite face of the mountain is an imposing figure on a boy-like man with legs that are beginning to get a bit tired. Thankfully I knew the climb, and so there were to be no surprises lying on the trails in front of me. Cowbells and people screaming encouragement could be heard from afar as Michel made his way through the checkpoint. With course knowledge to my advantage I knew this meant Michel sat around 1 minute ahead of me. Generally, I'm not one to work off splits in a race, I always prefer to run to feel rather than be dictated by my watch. However, having ran the route before, I knew roughly what time I was expecting to be at certain points throughout the course, all things going well. My watch as I left the checkpoint read 2:06, which was a bit faster than I'd expected, so I was praying that my legs would hold up heading into the climb! Thankfully, they didn't let me down.

Leaving the Eurobin checkpoint at 25km with my good friend Mick Donges.

After 2 kilometers I could see Michel just ahead of me on the trail, as I clawed back a little time on the steep, lower slopes. Whilst it gave me a good kick of confidence, I couldn't help but be a little doubtful too and started to be concerned that I may have been climbing a little harder than what was sustainable. But I just rolled with it and kept moving forward at a rate that felt comfortable for me. By kilometer 3 I had moved past Michel and into the lead, I let him know that the climb is much easier after the first few km's and that the gradient tapers off for most parts.

With a myriad of runners now behind me, my race had really kicked into gear and I gave myself a kick in the arse. I sat at a tempo I was happy with, and my legs just kept ticking. At this point in the race I didn't expect to feel very good, but it turns out that the skinny little dude who won the 32km Sky Race, and ended up 2nd in the marathon, really knows how to get you fit. With Mr David Byrne as my running coach and receiving strength & conditioning training from Mathieu Dore my legs felt amazing. I had started a lap to track my progress up the climb, and at Mackey's I knew I was moving well. I figured that if I could run the ascent in around 70mins then I would maintain any distance I had on those behind me at the bottom by the time I reached the top, but in these races, you never really know.
 Approaching the top of the penultimate climb, The Big Walk, Mt Buffalo.

 I hit the Chalet in exactly 70mins and still felt like I had some good legs left. Whilst they were hurting, I still had energy to give and my nutrition and hydration was working perfectly. At this point I let myself have the thought of possibly winning the race. I downed a cup of coke (sorry Darryl and Steph) and carried on for the 7km loop at the top of the mountain. Whilst short, and the elevation gain isn't high, the trails up top are fairly technical. With a tired mind they can be a laborious task, especially having to climb through the Chalwell Galleries. For those that aren't aware, you actually climb through this section, and the hole in the rocks isn't very big at all. Even a midget like myself still has a hard time... I'd hate to be the size of Michel! 

Coming through the Galleries I saw fellow Salomon Australia runner and 2nd place in the Ultra, Beth Cardelli and her partner. They were great support out there when the going was tough! As you'd imagine, my legs were becoming pretty shot by this point. With only about 4km to go, and no other runners in sight, I was nervous without knowing how far ahead I was. If they were on the same little loop as me i'd never know, as the bush is dense and the trails are tight. However I knew that if I got off the loop and saw the runners there, that I probably had a big enough gap to hold on until the finish.

With 3 km left to run, I saw a friend out on the course and I  anxiously asked for a time gap to 2nd place, "14 minutes" he said..... Wait, 4 minutes? I replied, thinking that he surely couldn't be right! "No, 14 minutes when you hit the Chalet". My stomach went into knots, as I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. Rounding the next couple of bends, I came across 2nd place and all round good guy, David Byrne. Dave won Friday's 32km Sky Race and was backing up with a ridiculous run on the Sunday. He is a very incredibly fit and race smart individual. He is also the man that has been helping me for the last few months with my training, and it seems to be working well! Next I saw Michel, about 1min behind David, he was in great spirits but unfortunately had some stomach problems on the penultimate climb of the day...

About this point I realized that, barring disaster, I was on for the win. Possibly meeting the prediction of the 1st place runner going under the 4hr mark. I backed it off a bit and tried to relax as much as possible heading back to the finish, my legs were toasted but I had a smile from ear to ear approaching the Chalet for the last time. Emerging from the single track and onto the finishing shoot was the most amazing feeling ever. I probably looked like a bit of a douche because I got so ridiculously excited, but I don't win often, and so for me it was a very special moment. Lots and lots of training goes into being the best we can be in a demanding sport like trail running, and it's indescribable when it all pays off and you can enjoy the fruits of your labour. 
Sweet relief and satisfaction.

Our team of athletes for the weekend consisted of Michel Lanne, Stevie Kremer, Tom Owens, Landie Greyling, Matt Cooper, Gretel Fortman, Mick Donges, Beth Cardelli, Jarad Kohlar, Lucy Bartholomew and myself. Other than those of us running, we all owe a HUGE thank you to those that kept us clothed and fed for the weekend. Everybody at Salomon and Suunto Australia, plus our import for the weekend, Claire from Salomon France!

As always, thank you to all of my friends and family that make even participating in these events possible! Salomon, Suunto, Shotz Sports Nutrition & SwissEye, Mum & Dad, my brother & sister and the rest of the wonderful people that make this sport what it is! I look forward to running this event again as I truly think it will be bigger and better year after year. 

Next stop, La Palma! 
Tom very reluctantly hugging a sweaty, dirty me. 

Left to right, 2nd David Byrne, Myself, 3rd Michel Lanne.

For those of you that are interested in the data my Movescount is:


Wednesday 29 October 2014


When the storm of the Mont Blanc 80 had passed, I was back onto home soil and took a much needed, calm rest from training and racing. It was about 5-6 weeks until  some structured work commenced, and the training involved was a big contrast to that prior to France.

With my goal being the GOW100s, the mountains were no longer my training ground, as being fast at this race is the key to success. Although it harbours 3000m of elevation gain - none of the climbs are long, sustained efforts, so mountain legs aren't conducive to a good time. Throughout the duration of my build I spent plenty of time on flat surfaces, and getting my arse handed to me by the cross country folk here in Geelong. It was a lot of fun to change things up from my regular regime, but I was still training with the mountains in the back of my mind!

I had a couple of little bumps in the road along the way. An angry Soleus niggled at me for a couple of months, but thankfully it never caused me to cease training entirely and I was able to get on top of it before race day came around. I'd also had a little setback finding out that my 'training fatigue' was actually being caused by low iron levels. Upon having my bloods done the results showed that I had iron deficient Anaemia. So I got that sorted too, and was back feeling some vitality again after a few weeks!

I worked my training around these little things and GOW was already here. Definitely a little unsure due to my interrupted training - but I was confident I could have a good run now that I had another year of experience under my belt.

Race day..... Keeping it simple with the plan that pretty much permeates all my Ultra races. Run my own race.

Last year I went a little too hard before the 55km aid station at Johanna - this had me feeling like a bit of a mess and worried I wouldn't even make the finish! Not ideal when you're about to delve into the toughest, but also the most picturesque, section of the breathtaking 100km trail that is the Great Ocean Walk.

About the only section of bitumen for 100km....The morning - as pristine as we could have hoped for. 
Learning from 2013, I tried to keep it in cruise control until 55km. I ran with another local guy, Sam Maffet for the opening km's of the race. However by the time we had reached Blanket Bay at 21km, we'd drifted apart by a minute or two. For the next 30km or so - there's nothing much to comment on! So I won't bore everybody. Just some absolutely mind-boggling trail and lots of wind on the beach to Johanna Campground, a staple in that corner of the world.

I'd kept myself under control and felt great as I rolled into the hills, a hugely positive contrast to last year. It was time to give it some real gusto and make an attempt to gap myself from everybody else. Regarding time gaps, I had no idea where anybody was - but I was in front and I wanted it to stay that way until the finish. I ran hard all the way to Melanesia beach, then backed it off for a few minutes to regain a little composure, before settling back into what felt like a good, solid rhythm.

Upon reaching Moonlight heads I was greeted by some Japanese tourists who'd driven a little too far into quite a large, muddy puddle. They were bogged and asked me if I could help.... I felt kind of bad, but I won't lie. I was exceptionally quick to fill my bottles, decline their request and keep running!

Five more km's in the bank and I was at the Gables. This is the last Aid Station on the course and marks 20km left to run. On a set of fresh legs the winding, undulating single-track awesomeness that follows would be incredibly enjoyable. However on tired legs, it's deceptively tough. The constant short sharp ups and downs coupled with almost non-existent flats make you work for every meter of gain. Even with the ridiculous views of the not-quite 12 Apostles, it's still hard to avert your mind from the hurting in your legs. The thing that was helping me most was that at the Gables, I realized I was in with a good shot of Brendan's time of 2012. Which definitely came as the core of some motivation to push.

Getting to the Visitors Center that marks the finish is like chasing the Magic Dragon, you try and try and try, but you never seem to get any closer. In the dying moments it seems to come from nowhere, a very welcomed and wonderful sight indeed. As I approached with some ginger legs, ducking and weaving through tourists, I could see the finish Gantry reading 9:08, definitely on the right side of the time I'd hoped for. 

20minutes off last year's time and I was a happy little jogger. 
A more relaxed finish this year after I almost got pipped on the line by a bus in 2013. 
Elated and pretty well cooked, my second 100km race was now behind me. Onto Port Campbell I went and what ensued was possibly as gratifying as the run itself. A whoooolllleeee heap of Pizza and sadly, just the one beer. I'd planned for several but my post-ultra appetite wasn't as keen as my post-ultra mind...

A cold water soak with Dan Beard the next morning was golden, as I limped around like a wounded gimp... Followed by 3 breakfasts and presentations, the GOW100s were a wrap for another year! 
A very welcoming place for a leg soak with 100km in the legs!

Thanks to my parents for being endlessly supportive and a flawless crew, Andy Hewat, Brett Saxon and all of the selfless volunteers that make it possible year after year at events like this. And of course, all my fellow runners that are a huge amount of fun to hang out with at every event I attend! 

On a side note, as I finish writing this I realized that it's been nearly bang-on 2 years since I began my ventures into trail running..... How time flies and what a fulfilling journey it's been so far! I'm immensely looking forward to the next 2 (and the rest)!

My race kit;

Watch - Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
Top - Salomon Exo Tank
Shorts - Salomon S-lab 
Socks - Salomon S-lab
Shoes - Salomon Sense Ultra Softground 3's
Pack - Salomon Advanced Skin Hydro 12 with Salomon Soft Flasks. 
Sunglasses - Swisseye Novena. 
Nutrition - Shotz Sports Nutrition Gels and Electrolyte Tablets. 

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Fresh Baguettes, Tasty Cheese and a Green and Gold Surprise.

It's currently 6:01am as I'm writing this in my hometown of Geelong and I've been awake since a lovely 2:30am. This is my first proper encounter with dreaded Desynchronosis, though it's a necessary evil and a microscopic price to pay given the utterly life-changing, eye-opening adventure I've just endured. Losing my European virginity I finally got my chance to traverse numerous time zones all the way to a land I'd most thoroughly examined mainly through watching the Tour de France in the wee hours of the morning. Rather than cycling around the French mountains though, I was there to run and to explore the vast wilderness that is right on Chamonix's doorstep. As well as the spectacular little town itself. Nestled at the foot of  Mont Blanc, it is arguably the world's mecha for trail running and numerous other mountain sports. The trails, views and sheer beauty is absolutely endless and hours of playing on the trails seemingly whips by in seconds.
Techy terrain and cracking views

Bursting with enthusiasm it was no easy task to stay off the mountains leading into the Mont Blanc 80km. Even after a couple of 4hr runs, one of which was with some of the most celebrated trail runners in the world, I still didn't feel my mountain hunger was satiated.... Good thing i'd soon be going for a cheeky 86km jaunt taking in 4 unique and beautiful climbs, totaling a hefty 6000m of vertical ascent, and in turn, descent, too! This race was set to be a true quad tester! 

Too much race preparation information and detail I find gets a bit old, so i'll do my best to keep it prompt. What i'd really like to unleash on my keyboard about is just how much more the whole experience has helped me grow, and just how much it's opened my eyes to a completely new culture, and a whole new level of running in the mountains. But for everyone else, that will probably also get a bit old, so I won't delve too far into that, either.

My expectations for this run? I didn't know what to expect! I'd seen the course and knew it was a beast. I knew that it was likely to be at least an hour longer than any race i'd done and in completing the course i'd be covering 2000m+/- more ascent/descent than any race i'd done prior. I knew that it was going to be a hell of a lot of fun and that I couldn't wait to depart Chamonix at 4am on the 27th of June! What I didn't know was how fast, or slow I could cover the course, how my legs would feel and if my race plan would fall into place as i'd hoped. It's in these few unknowns, plus many more, which is where the beauty of these races truly lies.

Solitaire had become my good companion as race day drew nearer, having no internet connection at our accommodation coupled with wanting to save my legs by not travelling to town, I forced myself to sit back and relax without the distractions social media provides. I played pretty flat out for the few days leading in - yet my skills remained pretty darn shit if i'm being honest! I was certainly hoping I'd run better than I matched cards!

After some days filled with tourist-like activities, followed by some good rest, the 2:30AM alarm for race day was ringing in my ears. I felt pretty bad waking Jo and Lucy whom were racing the marathon, they had no need to be awake at the stupid-o'clock time necessary for Jacinta and I. Being the great, selfless friends they are though, they'd go on to crew for me throughout the day and did a truly awesome job!

As the thousand headlights buzzed around the Chamonix town-center like fireflies in the night, I was surprisingly relaxed and was still struggling to fully grasp the situation i'd been graced with. The aim was to take it out conservatively, and to remain that way until I was in the latter parts of the race and see how my body was shaping up. Afterall, I didn't want a repeat of Buffalo, where Ben ended up face down in a muddy wall and I was sitting cooked in a creek bed, both unable to finish!

Checking out the Col du Terrace (2640m) with Anna and Matt

I was lined up nice and close to the front hoping to avoid any congestion once we began our ascent on some beautiful winding singetrack. I felt a little out of place standing alongside the likes of Francois D'haene and Luis Alberto Hernando, but hey, I knew for certain that those guys wouldn't be getting caught out down the back. The gun sounded and for me, pretty much the whole first hour was an ascent fueled by adrenaline. Easily the biggest event i'd run in, my senses were tingling and we seemingly floated to the top of the first climb to La Brevent, topping out at 2500m. Greeted by an amazing sunrise shining on Mont Blanc at the summit, Caine Warburton and I traversed some undulating rocky trail heaven together having a great old yarn, as the race made its way up the valley towards the gnarly loop lying on the back of the course. This loop also contains the highest point on the course, reaching over 2600m.... a lil bit bigger than Bogong!

My body and mind were feeling great. 26km had passed with everything going exactly how i'd hoped! A bit of a stock up from my meticulously organised crew (Lucy) and the second climb of the day was looming. In training i'd covered this climb with the likes of (prep for the epic name drop) Francois, Frosty, Coops and Tom Owens, they all made it look super easy whilst I really suffered that day... My taper had done its job perfectly though, and the climb that I had been a little worried about seemed to breeze by flawlessly. This was truly an exhilarating feeling. As I neared the back of the loop, I still felt fresh. A quick glance at my watch showed that I'd covered the loop much quicker than I did in training, also with a heck of a lot more ease. This was nice. This was really, really nice!

Descending to Valorcine, the French fellow I was running with informed me that we were in 7th and 8th place... I had absolutely no idea at the time but shit, what a nice surprise that was! Probably about on par with the surprise I got when I heard a voice hurling down the descent behind me. Upon turning around it just so happened to be Kilian with his backpack and Camera yelling encouragement. This day could not get any better at this point!

A scenic loop in the quaint little town of Valorcine, some further refuelling and things were shaping up well. Legs still great, energy and morale still high, I was keen to begin the 3rd climb of the day to Col des Possettes at 1997m. My legs just kept ticking away and I was feeling like I always had more to give. By the summit i'd moved myself from 8th to 6th, this was where I saw Ben coming up behind, prior to this I actually thought Ben was up ahead! He was looking as fresh as a daisy and came cruising on through.

A few trail companions

I was intent to still remain a little conservative at this point and not push too hard to the base of the last climb. I'd also covered it in training, and knew very well that a slow ascent there could mean a catastrophic time loss heading to the finish. Ben, Philip Reiter and I all ended up within about a minute or so heading to the last fully catered checkpoint of the day. I was becoming a bit tired here, though that's to be expected with almost 5000m+ and 60+ km in my legs, and even so, I still felt my legs had plenty more to give for the last ascent of the day and I was ready to really have a crack. 

Having moved to 5th, Philip was just behind and Ben just ahead, excitement was coarsing through me for the last 15-20km! There was something else less-welcome to also be coarsing through me though. I'd been managing a tummy bug for the week leading into the race. As a just-in-case-measure i'd stuffed in my hydration vest a pack of wet wipes, hoping to not see them again until after the finish. Well, I did see them before the finish as the bug came back to bite me only a kilometre or so prior to the last checkpoint. Having pitted momentarily off the side of the trail, Philip came back past me and my stomach certainly wasn't very happy at this point. I was grateful for how long it had been nice to me, now it was just time for it to hold on to the finish! 
An above average place to run - Col des Possettes above the town of Le Tour

My body no longer receptive to food at this point, so Coke it would be for the last stretch back to Chamonix! Never a great sustained energy drink, my energy was up and down like a yo-yo as i'd skull a cup or two at each check from there to the finish... Less than ideal, yes, BUT, it would eventually get me to the finish, and that was the most important thing! It was a tough and slow slog over the last climb and I lost a lot of time to those around me. It was quite frustrating as my legs still felt strong, but the energy just wasn't there to turn them fast enough! Forward movement remained though so my positivity held strong!

Amidst this suffering it was all still a ridiculous amount of fun. All I needed to do was look around and remember how lucky I was to be running in the mountains over what was easily the most breathtaking terrain i'd ever witnessed. The sun was shining and I was doing what I love... Things were still pretty damn good! 

Plan d'Aiguille hut (2200m) would see the beginning of the last descent to the finish in Chamonix. I was elated, euphoric and having minor spine tingles to be in the position that I was. At 4am I never once had a thought of being in 6th place, nor did I think I would likely be on track for a definite sub 12hr time, barring disaster in the last 6km. But it was happening. It was definitely happening. The monumental amounts of happiness within me made the descent fly by, following this with a smooth paved run into town, tunneling through streets packed with crazed french fans all cheering merrily as they sipped their espressos and engulfed their baguettes. It was by far the most effortless km i'd run in the past few hours. Maybe even for the entire day. 

Man, what a sick day. 

In 11:14:xx, crossing the line it was a feeling of relief combined with too many other things to list. Put simply, it was fricking awesome. I worked hard towards this race and it had paid off. Almost all going to plan it was a day that I will certainly never forget. Nor will I ever forget all of the generosity sent my way from too many amazing individuals to name, along with all of my incredible sponsors. Especially my biggest sponsors of all, my parents, for it's their complete and utter selflessness, supporting me in every single way they possibly can, not only in my running but in all of my past and current life endeavours, that allows me to live the incredibly fortunate life I do. They're awesome. 

So it's rest time now. It's been a big 12 months for me trying to find my feet in the Ultra trail scene and it will certainly be nice to give my body some time to recuperate fully without any hard workouts and to reflect a bit on the adventures I've had.  It's been a damn nice ride so far and I can't wait to see what lies ahead as I progress further on my journey....And yep I lied, there was definitely a bit too much of your regular "race report" happening here!

Thanks again to every last person for the countless ways in which you've all helped. 


Merci beaucoup pour la lecture! Et au revoir!

My Gear List; 
Watch: Suunto Ambit 2
Top: Salomon S-lab Tank & Salomon Cap
Bottom: Salomon Exo Compression Shorts & Salomon Exo Calf Sleeves
Shoes & Socks: Salomon Sense Ultra Softground 3 & S-Lab Sock
Hydration vest: Salomon Hydro Skin 12 with 2 x 500ml soft flasks.
Eyewear: Swisseye Novena
Nutrition: Shotz Sports Nutrition. Effervescent Electrolyte tablets, gels and bars.


Tuesday 3 June 2014

Small mountains to help climb bigger ones

The first half of the year is pretty close to its conclusion already, but for me the best of it is still to come. I've been fortunate enough to have an incredibly cool start to my year, involving several wicked races and just some simply mind blowing trails here home in Australia and across the ditch in New Zealand.

With the Bogong to Hotham, Shotover Moonlight Mountain marathon, Baw Baw trail Festival, and the Buffalo Stampede all behind me, I'm looking forward to my most exciting and undoubtedly toughest race yet. My plan for the middle of this year had been to lay low and rest a little from the longer races before building again for the latter part of the year. That was, until I was given the opportunity to race the Mont Blanc 80km with the rest of the Aus/NZ contingent! Talk about excited! 

I had a good rest after a big learning curve at Buffalo, and then it was pretty quickly back to the mountains. I've been doing some bigger training than I ever have previously, which is only fitting giving the monster of a course i'll be playing on around Mont Blanc/Chamonix in a few short weeks... 

A little spill in training a fortnight ago saw me with 8 sutures in my knee, but fortunately enough this only meant 3 days away from running. The location of the wound meant I got the best of a bad bargain, so I am very grateful for that! 

My adventuring on the trails around the Vic Alps has since resumed, with less than 3 weeks left until I'm on that start line in Chamonix... It's coming around exceptionally fast, so i'll continue to put some more vertical in the bag out training, as my excited nervousness grows with every day that passes! 

My 'run' this morning actually saw me scrambling around a trail-less hillside, after I took a wrong spur and bush bashed for 3hrs. Whilst not a huge amount of fun at the time, I'm sitting down happily to a coffee now and can laugh at what was yet another experience I can learn from on the trail to the true mountains...

I'm more excited than I can even begin to express in a blog post.... My departure on the 15th is drawing nearer and everyday my thoughts become more obsessive about the amazing mountain trails that lie in front of me! 

I've also been doing a little Uni work here and there, but the pages seem to be getting filled with pictures of mountains more than revision notes..... 

My next post will likely be from Chamonix if I can pull myself off the mountains, but there are no guarantees of that! 

jusqu'à la prochaine fois!!!

Monday 14 April 2014

When you mess with the Buffalo, you get the horns….

Before the racing had begun this weekend was already going great guns and the vibe surrounding the race was electric. The Athlete’s forum, gear checks and start line were all a hive of excited, nervous energy, people were smiling and ready to run, whilst quietly I think a little s*#t scared of what was ahead, too. As I would discover late in the race, this fear was valid. Being Australia and New Zealand’s first fully sanctioned SkyRunning event, the field was stacked with names that were possible contenders to stand on the podium after traversing the brutal 75km course that Mr Greenhill of Mountain Sports had put in front of us. The simple point to point marathon is tough in itself, letalone wrapping your head around the sufferfest that awaits when you begin the journey back to Bright for the ultra…

I came into this race feeling pretty good, although I hadn’t simply smashed hill after hill for the months leading in, I was really happy with the foundations I’d laid down and the balanced approach my coach Matt Cooper had set out, starting with the training I did prior to the Bogong to Hotham. A Couple of Mountain Marathons in the form of New Zealand’s Shotover Moonlight Marathon and the  Mt Baw Baw Trail Festival, I felt had put me in a good place and my legs and head were ready to go.

Race morning rolled around and so did the nerves, as I knew they would. Gladly though, I had some great people alongside me and they helped calm the jitters! Not having had experience on a course like this, I’d taken some advice on board from a few more experienced folk in my coach Coops, Frosty and Wighty on how to approach the race, all three of them had pretty much said the exact same thing, “be patient”. (I'm not that good at being patient)

As we took off in the dark, I never had any intention of trying to race with Dakota, just so that’s clear. I was under no grandeur of thought that I would be running alongside him, I was just out there to race myself and the other Oceanic lads. My objective was to have a tonne of fun whilst running off my own energy and ultimately wait to begin 'racing' on the return leg home. I was happy with how proceedings went, Mystic was a cruisy climb for the front of the field and some friendly banter was exchanged all the way to the summit. At this point I was tapping away with Mick Donges having a great old time as the Kokoda Spirit boys in Moritz, Caine and Ben moved on ahead by a minute or two.

Ascending on the wall that is Clearspot, I kept it pretty calm as Dakota came hiking past me like I was barely moving, he then went on to round up all of the Kokoda boys before the top of the climb… it was pretty damn impressive to watch! At the summit I still felt great and tried to momentarily enjoy the amazing view through the cloud shrouded valleys all around me before descending the other side. It wasn’t long before I was alongside Moritz and we continued to run together until the Buckland Aid station - This was the first time i'd seen 'Warner's Wall'.... Yeeeeaahhh it's a bit steep, coming home? ouch. 

Nearing Keating's Ridge, I could see Caine Warburton, the eventual highest placed Aussie/New Zealander and knew that I was slowly gaining back time. Just ahead of him I could also see Ben and Dakota motoring along at a pretty damn swift rate together! I knew it wouldn't be an easy task to catch any of those fellas.

Having passed Caine on Keatings, I’d reached the Eurobin aid station in 2:20 and 3rd place, this was also the first chance to get a bit of assistance from my Super crew the Coopers… They did an absolutely incredible job all day (especially Harlow) and I can’t thank them enough for the awesome help they gave me. Especially when I was buckled and sitting in a creek bed in Bakers Gully, but we’ll get to that later.

                                                  My Super Crew Harlow And Matt

Beginning the ascent on the Big Walk I felt good, I settled into a rhythm early and pretty much held it the whole way to the Chalet.  I ran with Ben for a short period heading up before he again gapped me nearer to the top, but I remained happy to be so close and the views from Buffalo were breathtaking. It was happy days!  

The top loop through the galleries was pretty wicked, it mixed things up nicely and was great fun to see all the other runners as you came back past. It was a bit scary too when I saw who was chasing me! I'd managed to make contact with Ben on the Big walk Eurobin-bound, right before I got caught out taking in the amazing views and slipped on one of the Granite Slabs, hitting the deck like an absolute muppet who’d never run in their lives! A few brief moments of pain and embarrassment passed though and my lovely friend adrenaline kicked my ass back into gear, let's try that again. Ben can attest to the countless time checks to Dakota we got on our way down, all of which were different, but we were assured they were all correct, ha.  As nice as it was, I had no intentions of trying to run down Mr Jones out front, who was showing me a thing or two about how to run mountains.

Coming through Eurobin for the second time, this time with Ben, and the quads were starting to feel it a bit. With 50km+ and some serious ascending and descending already in the legs it was time to tough it out and begin the race home. All of this talk and advice about being  patient? Well, I felt that I’d been patient and paced myself well up until this point, and it was about time I really “put my balls in the vice” as Mr Matt Bixley might put it. I began to make more of a push here and really committed to running my Softground’s off the whole way back to Bright, I knew the course was punishing, but I was stupidly eager enough to try anyway. Ben wasn’t far behind me on Keating’s not to mention the likes of Guise, Tuckey, Warburton, Davies and McClymont all chasing a little further back. My motivation was a combination of running scared from those guys, and that I really, really wanted to be the first Aussie/New Zealander home!

The Buckland Aid station was in sight once again - I could no longer see anyone behind me and I tried to put my speed work to good use on the flatter road section. It’s fair to say that Flat roads hurt a lot when they’re in-between mountains… And Warner’s wall was looking ominous as the final two climbs were about to stamp their authority. I knew these ones would sting like a bitch – but it wasn’t far home once I’d gotten over Clearspot for the second time, right?

That climb was tough, It was hot, my quads, calves, back, arms and lungs all burnt as I really started to dig into my reserves. Rather than my hands being on my quads I found myself digging them in the mud to haul myself to the top, this wasn't what i'd anticipated! In moments like these you can often doubt things, and often it's nutrition, but for me on the day that had all gone well and i'd consistently eaten and drank enough. I was backing myself to be able to maintain my effort until I was back in Bright, I was incorrect. I kept marching to the summit, not always in a straight line, and my quads were feeling pretty darn trashed, but my motivation was still as high as ever. Everything was hurting by this point, and the course was hard as hell, but I could smell the barbecue and see the smiling faces at the finish! 

After briefly enjoying the Clearspot view again, the descent was gnarly, my muscles had gone into unchartered territory covering this much ascent/descent, and they were letting me know about it. I ran down this hill like a rag doll, it was far from impressive but at least I didn't fall... Nope, I was saving that. Getting back into Baker’s Gully was a huge relief, knowing I had just one more ascent towards town had me excited amongst all the agony. This is where it got ugly. Approaching the aid station I was feeling rough, and I knew I’d really turned the screws on myself to move quickly, but I was convinced I had just enough in me and I was ready to tackle Mystic. My body on the other hand, had other ideas not remotely close to the ones in my head. 

Just like that, shit hit the fan, really, really fast. I was out if it, from nowhere I’d been reduced to a heap sitting in a deckchair unable to stand. From there I was moved to a creek to keep cool, and from there to lying flat on my back under some trees, eventually with a blood pressure gauge wrapped around my arm, a blood glucose monitor at my fingertip and a temperature gauge in my ear.

                                                  Not quite going to make it over Mystic....

My Day was done. Just like that, over. 68.2km and that was all I had. I’d taken my body to the edge and it was telling me in no uncertain manner it'd had enough punishment for the day. I'd been my own worst enemy really and the Buffalo course made me pay and beat me into submission... It was obviously a bit disappointing, to come so close to my goal and to literally fall at the last hurdle. But it’s also what is so beautiful about this sport. You can plan what you deem is perfectly for an ultra, but something nearly always goes wrong. Nutrition, hydration, or pacing, take your pick. It's a very hard art to master. 

I'd wanted to run really well at this race, to have some cracking fun and hoped to get a good result. And, well, that didn't quite work out. I still feel that I ran well, I just didn't give the absolute beast of a course enough respect on the day,  a bit of youthful exuberance and inexperience came back to bite me in the end, but it’s an experience that I’m glad to have had. Of course I wish it had gone differently and I’d ran with a bit more brains (maybe even exercised some more patience?) but it was a hell of a fun day on the trails, and I’m still extremely happy with the way everything turned out, I sure as hell won't die wondering what could have been. 

I got to enjoy some absolutely awesome mountain running against some world class athletes, and once some vitality had been regained I downed several Pizzas, beers and coffees with some incredible new and old friends over the course of the weekend, so what more could I ask for!? It's not all about where you finish in these races, results are nice, but the people you get to be around will ensure the smile never leaves your face. Mine certainly didn't. 

I’ll be back in 2015 to give it another shot, and I fully intend on going 7km further!

A Special thanks to Matt, Leeah and Harlow Cooper for being my awesome crew all day, and for looking after me when I was utterly trashed, I’m extremely grateful! Also to Mick Donges and Steve for my wicked Accommodation. Sorry I couldn't bring it home for "Team Smoko".

Gear List;
-          Top and shorts: Salomon S-lab Sense Tank & S-lab Sense short
-          Shoes & Socks: Salomon Sense Ultra Softground 3’s & Salomon Sense S-lab socks
-          Pack: Salomon Advanced Skin Hydro 12 set w/ Salomon Soft Flasks
-          Watch: Suunto Ambit 2
   Nutrition: Shotz Gels (15) and Electrolyte Tablets (8-10)