A week has passed since I finished my first 100km ‘run’. I say run, because I have done one 100km event before. Oxfam. Back in 2012 when I first started running me and a few mates decided to do Oxfam, but lack of experience reared its ugly head and we finished in 20 hours 15 minutes. That’s just slower than the average walking speed and was the toughest thing I had done to date.
I had unfinished business with the 100km distance, but I needed to reassess.
So I started with the basics. Short trail runs (The Salomon Trail series) and the odd long run. It was on one of these long runs early in 2012 that I met my now coach and mentor Richard Bowles. Rich was off to run the BNT, from Healesville to Cooktown. And there I was trying to hold on for dear life to day 1 of his adventure… 33kms. It ended with Rich’s partner Vickie jogging from the finish line back to find me in my dehydrated and cramped state with a few kms to go. Turns out I didn’t have any idea about nutrition. 12 months later in TNF100 bad nutrition popped up again.
Back to The North Face.
I flew up on the Friday with my brother, fellow runners Matt and Jamie and our support crew of Pat, Mon, Suze and Ami. Together we made up The Milk Run Crew. We were raising money for The Royal Women’s (specifically premature babies) which gave me so much drive when I didn’t want to train. Honestly, if you’re doing a big run, and want to raise money or awareness for a particular cause, it will give you so much motivation on those days you just don’t want to train.
By the time we checked in to the hostel and grabbed a bite to eat, it was time to head in to registration.
The hype at the fairmont was amazing… amazing if you liked hype. Turns out all the hype wasn’t working to my advantage and by the time i’d spent half an hour standing up in line just to get my race pack I was probably the most agitated i’ve ever been in my life. I was intolerable. My brother had to tell me to pull my head in at one stage but I wasn’t listening to anyone. I needed to just chill… If only someone had a spare valium or Mary J to pass around I might have been more relaxed.
So myself and a few mates that we met up with at the Fairmont went out for dinner. I was craving a meatlovers pizza so that’s what I ordered. A few people have said that a cheese covered meat lovers pizza is NOT ideal food the night before a race. I barely stomached it anyway. I was literally making myself sick with nerves for what the morning would bring.
So I finally got back to my hostel to try and get in the zone. Trying to get in the zone was not easy though with 6 other people in the dorm. I tried taking my mind off it by going over all my gear again, charging lights, watch, etc. Lesson for next time. Don’t stay in a hostel.
4:30am my alarm goes off. A bit of Bob Marley to wake me up… not bad. Downstairs things went pear shaped. I could barely stomach my nutri-grain. Was this a bug? Or was I just worried sick. Literally.
My mate Tegyn talked some sense into me, and I started to chill out as I grabbed my gear, jumped on the bus, and went down to the race briefing.
Back to the hype.
The race briefing was quite amusing, some funny speakers and some people going on about something I still haven’t quite worked out… I think they just wanted us to appreciate what was going on around us (when running). I thought that was a given. A scary part was when the race director stood up and said “There are a thousand of you here, two hundred wont finish”. Turns out he was wrong. Three hundred didn’t.
The race briefing finished, I got a last minute photo with those in the Milk Run, and made my way to the start line. Out of a thousand people I found myself standing with a few mates as the start group 3 took off. This was it. Months and months of training coming down to the next 13… 14… maybe 20 hours?
I spent the first 15kms or so within a few metres of Jamie Smith. One of my first mates in the trail running world and a pretty inspirational bloke. The 18kms to the first checkpoint went well, got my nutrition down, and then refilled pretty quick. Less than 5 mins at the checkpoint. I was 20 minutes behind my sub 14 split but thought it’s a long day, I can make it up.
Twenty minutes later and this was put in to perspective. I was trying to get a bar in when I dry reached. Interesting. Same nutrition I have trained with for the last 2 months and it has never failed me. About half hour later I was on all fours bringing up most of the nutrition i’d put in for the day, and worryingly a fair amount of fluids. A quarter of the way in to the race and I was on all fours. I expected this at maybe the 89km checkpoint. Not this early in the run.
I felt pretty good mentally and still felt strong, so pushed on. At 30kms I was ill again. I decided to call ahead and tell the support crew my nutrition was failing and I needed to pull out the secret weapon. Jam sangas. Whitebread i’d been told was best, and rasberry jam. Winner.
I got through the 38km checkpoint, and just plodded my way to the 54km checkpoint. The only highlights included running a few kms with Adrian Bortignon, a good mate, seeing Tegyn a good 20minutes in front of me on the out and back, and unfortunately seeing Mooney with a bloodied and busted nose from a pretty bad fall. I felt fine walking, but as soon as I jogged for more than a few kms I would be bringing up any nutrition i’d managed to get down. I decided early on to just get water and Hydralyte down, and forget about my bars and gels. They were not working. I’m not sure what’s in Hydralyte Sports but it managed to get me to CP3 and to my support crew.
I got some jam sangas off the crew, re-filled my bladder and bottles, and got ready to head out. Ami pointed out that even though I thought I was getting water in, she hardly needed to refill the pack. Ok, consciously need to drink more water. I also muttered something about the silver buckle no longer being possible. This was where I got a good wake up call. Simon, a mate and fellow trail runner, told me to forget about times, and just enjoy the run. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was along those lines, and it completely changed my outlook on the day.
As I left the checkpoint I thought about what Simon said. Just enjoy the experience. I then thought about Simon’s situation. TNF100 was meant to be his A race for the year, but a injury weeks out from the race saw him supporting from the sidelines in a moonboot. Here I was complaining about not reaching my dream time, but hell I was still out here running! Simon, I think that those words changed a DNF into a bronze buckle mate.
This high lasted all the way to the stairs leading out of Nellies Glen. I don’t know what these stairs are called. But i’ll call them ‘shit’. Because that’s what they were. They broke me. I ended up bringing up my jam sanga half way up the stairs, and nearly fell over a few times through the dizzy spells i’d started getting. Not to mention the fact my organs felt like they were splitting open by the time I got to the top. As I made my way towards the 65km mark I came out of the bush and saw familiar faces in Dave Eadie and Nikki Wynd.
“C’mon Eastham keep it going”
As I made my way over to their car I don’t know if I said I felt like death warmed up but I know they said I looked like crap. True friends. Dave told me to not wait the few minutes to go to the checkpoint to get some warmer clothes on, I needed to warm up now. Twenty minutes could be too late. On a positive, Nikki had come 3rd in the womens 50km race and my brother in his first ultra had placed 38th! Legend!
I will admit it. I had tears going in to CP4. Not necessarily emotional tears, but I had the worst pains in my stomach. The only way to explain the feeling was each organ was splitting open a centimetre more with every step. Or maybe they were tears because I thought my race was over. Or I was happy for my brother? I don’t know.
I stopped and broke my race rules at CP4, I sat down. Not for long, but I needed to stomach some food. I managed to get some hot noodles in, some fruit buns, and after 15 minutes was ready to go. No need to change the Injinji Trail 2.0s I was running in. They were dry, and still felt bloody awesome. I did put my tights on though, and thermals and jacket. It was going to get chilly.
Two mates who I look up to for their determination on the trails (AB and Daniele) were also at this checkpoint. Seeing familiar faces was such a boost, and we left the checkpoint together. I’m not sure what happened at the 65km mark, but I started feeling better and better with each km. By the 70km mark I had my lights on, music in (first time for everything) and I was flying. I think I strung together 6kms of good solid running before I needed to wind things back a little. But geez it felt good!
I was joined on the 9km climb up to CP5 by a fellow runner who’s lights had failed him. This answered a debate I had between a mate about ay-ups and the brand of light this guy had. Needless to say my lights were still lighting up the road for both of us…. His, not so much.
At the 89km mark (checkpoint 5) I came in flying. My brother was there, and geez I nearly teared up seeing him. But what was looking like a sub 18 time at 65kms was now showing potential for a sub 16. I needed a quick refill and to power on out of there.
I’m not sure if it was seeing my brother, my support crew or knowing that all my other mates were still out there, but I left the last checkpoint like I was possessed. A lot of it was technical trail too which is my passion, and I made up a lot of time here. I caught up to Daniele 3kms from the finish line, joined him for a minute or 2 and then powered on. I wont say I demolished the last section, it still took me nearly 1h50 to cover 11kms, but I came in under 16 hours. After 15 hours and 24 minutes I ran through the finish line, as happy as anyone could have been that day.
Turns out Adrian came in minutes before me, and Daniele was only minutes behind me. Over 100kms having 3 mates finish within 5 mins of each other was pretty special.
That’s what I love about this running game…. The person who finishes last could have the biggest sense of achievement. It’s about facing the challenges that pop up in the months leading in to the event, the issues that get thrown up on the day (no pun intended), and the demons that you face when you’re at the lowest of the lows.
These are all matched by an amazing high.
I’m so grateful that I had about 10 friends at the finish line, including my best mate who happens to be my brother. In the one day we had both achieved our dreams, and in doing that set new ones.
Thanks to everyone who has helped me achieve this first 100. And I wish I had a buckle to give you for sticking through this ultra marathon of a first blog. I think it’s appropriate though.