I was on Virgin Atlantic flight VS206 on the weekend from Heathrow to Hong Kong, connecting with CATHAY PACIFIC CX111 from Hong Kong to Sydney. I have had no reply yet from VIRGIN ATLANTIC or CATHAY PACIFIC. Here is the text of the complaint I have sent to them both. In addition to the $AU1700 I had already spent on my fare, by the behaviour of these airlines’ respective staff members I was forced to pay an additional $AU1500 or face not being able to get home. I have never had such an absolutely appalling experience from any airline. Staff member names have been changed for their privacy.
Wednesday August 1st 2018.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN at
CATHAY PACIFIC HONG KONG
CATHAY PACIFIC AUSTRALIA
and associated air travel regulatory bodies
Over the weekend I had the most disempowering, traumatic, baffling, and disgusting air travel experience of my life at the hands of VIRGIN ATLANTIC and CATHAY PACIFIC.
I have travelled the world by air extensively over the last seven years – USA, Chile, Argentina, France, Switzerland, Egypt, China, New Zealand, etc. – and I have never ever been so absolutely mistreated by an air carrier who having been paid for the simple service of transportation instead abandoned me in a foreign country, denied any responsibility for my situation, and forced me to buy a full fare with another carrier in order to make it back home within any reasonable timeframe. Continue reading →
Asking around about how best to prepare for Hardrock some months ago, I’d got a load of helpful advice from some very experienced runners who know the course backwards. My friend Beat gave me great advice, so did Grant Guise, and race legend Karl Meltzer. Karl had been the only one to say that there’s actually a lot of roadway on the course. The descent we were now on was a jeep road. Relative to technical single track, these are superhighways. But relative to ordinary nicely cleared firetrails these are obstacle courses, unevenly littered with potholes and every shape and size of rock that might ever appear on a roadway. I think I need more practise moving quickly on these things, because even once we’d picked up the pace a bit, it just felt like we were walking quickly downhill. I thought about Great North Walk, our favourite 100-miler back home, and wondered how I’d view someone running into the halfway point – whether I’d see them as doing well or pacing badly. On reflection I felt more comfortable with my slow fast walk.
With a bit of delirium creeping in and the witching hour behind us, I tried to make up for my sadass bonking-vomiting-crawling phase, narrating the torches ahead and below us for Hailey.
“Have you seen my cat? He was here a minute ago.”
“Oh shit, where’d I put the keys? Have you seen my wallet? No, that’s a marmot.”
At any rate, we made it to Grouse at about a quarter to 6 just as the first grey light of day had taken shape. I expected that I’d have to twist some arms to get a 20-minute nap but Hailey even felt like 40 minutes would be ok. I spotted Courtney Dauwalter either waiting to pace Howie Stern or just finished as I was heading into the tent. She’s such a badass ultrarunner. Too tired even for a fanboy moment, I punched some food in and after switching into a fresh top grabbed a cot out the back and zoned out until about 6:30. I was never really asleep, aware of the runner chatter around me, but it was a good chance to just calm the body a bit and reset before going again. As I was prepping to get out again Andy Hewat had come in and taken a cot. He was looking and sounding a bit ragged. I didn’t know how he was going to go getting out of Grouse but felt pretty confident that Hailey and Larnie and Jill would get him out if he was capable of still going. Also, he’s a tough bastard.
Leaving Grouse Gulch pic by Jill Homer
Hailey’s pacing during the night had made a big difference I think to a scenario that might have seen me lose focus. I had been awaked enough until a bit before 5 when the Zs finally tried to kick in. Hailey had kept snapping me out of it enough that I didn’t walk off the edge of the trail, even though I’d gone close more than a couple of times.
Now I was on the climb to American Basin and Handie’s Peak, a mountain with spectacularly epic views and also the highest point on the course. Back on my own, having a fresh iPod was gold and I savoured the moment as the first crushing rhythm-driven guitar blasts of Gojira for the entire race tore apart the tiny columns of air in my ear canals. It was simply beautiful in this first moment of being alone in maybe 25 hours to just be overwhelmed by gratitude for close friends supporting the race and for the beauty of the moment and for the depth of the challenge and for my Dad who left this world just over a year ago.
Hardrock is a race that I first became aware of and intrigued by maybe 7 years ago when iRunFar coverage told of a mountainous 100-miler where Karl Meltzer was dropping the hammer until things got wild with violent lightning storms forcing runners spread around the course to hide in abandoned mine shafts or risk electrocution, at least that’s how I remember it.
So to find myself pinned down in a high mountain range by violent, explosive electrical storms with just under 20km still to go had a bitter sweetness to it. At the time, it felt like looking through a solid glass wall at some place you want to be but might never be able to reach. Afterward, it felt like beautiful effortless poetry, laid down by Norse gods of chaos. I could have probably finished Hardrock an hour earlier, without borderline hypothermia threatening to derail my race as my knees became numb in icy rain that pounded through ozone, but I got the full Hardrock and wouldn’t switch a moment of the experience for a quicker finish. Watching vivid blue and white bolts of galactic energy riff the landscape ahead of us, above us and beneath us on a torrential Saturday evening high in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, knowing that all around us other runners were deeply embedded in this elemental carnival, we were eye to eye with the universe and it was fucking glorious.
Pic by Scott Rokis, Finish Line looking back towards Little Giant and Green Mountain www.scottrokis.com
Running at altitude requires an acclimation period, preferably of about 3 weeks. It’s either that or turn up on the day and hope for the best. Organically though, arriving in the outpost town of Silverton well before the start of the race has much greater benefits than just adaptation to altitude.
The mountains surrounding Silverton are spectacular, the remains of the mining constructions left by the communities that Hardrock celebrates border on alien, the community that congregates for this event is eclectic and wonderful to be part of, and time spent visiting or marking parts of the course is time so well spent as to be almost essential for a better chance of success on game day.
By the time the 10-second countdown started just before 6am on Friday, July 20 2018, I had visited Grant’s Swamp, Handies Peak, and Virginius Pass with experienced Hardrockers and run across the final 20km of the course on my own. Effectively, I’d disarmed the fear associated with some of the nastiest descents, the highest climb, and the section of the course where I’d likely be the most fatigued.
I’d had an unexpected but welcome conversation with mountain legend Joe Grant a few days before the race. Continue reading →
Thank you Andy Hewat, we were battling together even if separated. Thank you Hailey Lauren, without your unwavering get-it-done attitude I think I would have broken. Thank you Dad, more than any other this one was for you.
When people unfamiliar with trail ultramarathon ask what you do and you reply, “I run ultra”, I’m sure they picture a legitimate sport conducted by top end athletes. Maybe they imagine someone that looks a bit like Brendan Davies, Jo Brischetto, Lucy Bartholomew, Ben Duffus or any of the top level badasses we know and admire, tearing effortlessly across impossible terrain, whittling obscene distances down until nothing remains but the finish chute and arms held high in a slow motion solo victory parade.
But that’s not what I’m saying, not at all. When I say “I run ultra” I mean that I walk, hike, shuffle, limp, stagger, and occasionally run (but never jog) stupid distances for silly amounts of time at paces that mathematically seem absurdly easy with a heavy pack on my back, full of food and fluid and preparation for any outcome. I mean that on any given race day our sport will take me into at least the sunrise of a new day, probably through multiple climate zones, and may feature any combination of blisters, vomiting, sleep deprivation, or other bodily failures that just blend into the variable terrain that exists between start and hopefully finish lines.
Early in my latest idiotic endeavor around the principality of Andorra I had some middle of the night epiphany. I realized that the best way to explain ultra would be to describe it as a pursuit where you need to control what you can, manage what you can’t, and adapt to everything that remains. In this way, it becomes a neat simile for life. I felt smugly content with this elucidation.
Heading into the night stage (obviously a stage measured by light that started in different places for everyone – if, for example, you’re Andrew Tuckey, the night stage might not start until you’re back at your hotel reflecting on a new course record and the quantum anomalies you created folding space on Biloka Range) I had planned to be feeling good enough to maintain rhythm at the very least, and hopefully reinforce it with some good running in the cool of darkness.
Every edition of Coast2Kosci has a different meaning for every person. For some it’s redemption, for others it’s a target time, it’s a big end to a big year, or a way to put a line under the past.
For me, this year’s race was a natural follow-through from UTMB — a way to forever marry one brutal and amazing running experience to another, just like the first time I ran Coast2Kosci as a way for Ron Schwebel and I to both round out an insanely epic 4 Deserts Grand Slam.
Every period of preparation for a massive experience like C2K can put strain on other time priorities, and sometimes they push back. The fortnight when I should have been hitting my highest weekly mileage was spent in America for time with friends in the beautiful mountains of Colorado and the meeting halls of Santa Barbara. Nothing to complain about really, but in the same timeframe leading up to UTMB I’d put in a 3-day block in Bright with about 120km for 8,000m. In the US, I averaged about 60km per week with too much hiking.
This isn’t a sook, it’s one side to a coin. It’s a counterpoint to the week leading up to Coast2Kosci when my workmates rallied around me and effectively banned me from one of our major conferences for the year, so that I could spend some time with family and get my head (and ass) together for the race to come. Something was probably going to give, and if the boys hadn’t taken a commercial bullet for me then I might well have buckled this time — so thank you Steady, Ian, Brent and HOKA ONE ONE Australia for the love when it was needed most. I probably couldn’t have asked for it so I’m glad you told me to just take it.
With an extra few days before the event, not being spread so thin and instead being able to face the incoming challenge, it was infinitely easier to process what had gone into previous editions and what might be to come.
2015 was about a giant end-of-year blowout after Tor Des Géants had been shut down by weather.
2016 was always going to be ugly but how soon and how ugly were questions I wasn’t rushing to answer.
When we all lined up on that special beach in Eden I had everything I needed.
– a super crew, with my friends Gavin & Rebekah from Tailwind, David Clear who I’d either crewed alongside or been supported by at 3 previous C2Ks (including Jess’ course record and my PB) and of course Jess, the ringer, who would be arriving after work late on Friday.
– probably enough physical and mental experience of not being completely ready, to be completely ready
– the will to get it done
I’d had an hilarious conversation with my mate Shane the week before the race. I asked what his plan was, and it was more or less, “Yeah I’m not going to worry about the time, I’m just going to take it easy to start, not going to go out too hard, just try to look after myself and run it sensibly”. This is more or less what every ultrarunner plans/says/never does. But genuinely questioning how prepared I actually was for this one, I didn’t have any hesitation actually starting steady, even slow.
By the time we got to the first crew point at 24km in, running with Hailey (next year you will crush this, Hailey), Adam, and Jane we’d already covered most of the politically safe topics of conversation that we could — the weather, race regulation, Trump, retrospective abortion, poo, chafed nipples and the performance benefits of swearing. Didn’t leave much to talk about for the next 215km…. or did it?
Grabbing a quick water from my crew I got my walk on up the hill, thus ending the social part of the day. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it was a matter of practise. Earlier in the year at Canberra 48-hour, I’d been in awe of Mick Thwaites’ performance and a very visible part of the work he put in was his fast walking. Running over in Perth with Shaun Kaesler, I’d also been regaled with stories of Mick’s insane walking speed. One thing that my coach Andy Dubois always emphasizes is that training should be as race-appropriate as possible. Having done Coast2Kosci enough times to know that there is a bunch of walking, whether you like it or not, I’d contacted Mick to ask about the technique he used. He’d been super helpful, sending me some tips of his own as well as a basic video of race-walking instruction.
I’d probably walked more in my training than I was really happy with but as the day shaped up, and especially the second day, this was going to be a really useful tool.
In the front half of the course, though, the fast walking was really just a way to stay focused on staying focused. It was almost a novelty, and probably not anything that I was going to be putting total faith in — at least that’s what I was thinking while I was still feeling good.
With time to think, there’s also always some kind of realization about how this race works, or running generally. For me this year, there was the epiphany that the race is about remaining calm. Do your miles calmly, eat calmly, drink calmly. Otherwise you get stuck in your head and even though you might feel like you’ve done 13 hours well, you’ve simply set yourself up to fail for the next 20 or 30. Trouble is, you won’t realise that you’re not being calm while you’re not being calm, it will only be a retrospective realisation once you start paying for your misjudgment.
Ticking the miles over we were through 50km in an average pace of about 8km/h. This was ideal and not totally deliberate. This was roughly the pace we’d moved at since the start and walking at around 6–7km/h it meant the run was smooth and not too taxing. When we got to the bottom of Big Jack — actually, a quick aside first.
If you’re reading this because you’re thinking of doing Coast2Kosci or you’re already signed up for the race, Big Jack is not that big. Big Jack is a noticeable climb because
1. You’ve already got 60km in your legs
2. It’s a tricky bastard with a bunch of false peaks, so if you’re new to it you will keep getting sucked in. Well guess what, no, we’re not there yet.
Dave Clear and I have made a habit of going up Big Jack together. David’s a strong runner with solid finishes at C2K and GNW miler to his name, and simply because his running has been a bit patchy in the last couple of years, he and I love to share this climb because it’s always a hike. The views are awesome, the company’s great, the conversation turns from body, to race strategy, to life in general, and back to race gear, and then we’re at the top and it wasn’t that big a deal. Turns out we’d done the 7km in 70 minutes which doesn’t sound that fast but was totally better than the 90 minutes to 2 hours we’d expected.
Soup break with Bek n Gav, anti-fatigue caps (Hammer’s best product), wind jacket (because it was a gusting gale on top of the range), switch from my trail-loving Mafate Speed 2 to the plush baby-Bondi-like Clifton 3, quick chat with Milov (an absolute champion behind the scenes and a frickin lovely dude), bonus hug with RDs Paul and Diane and back into the fray.
(This video of Pete Kostelnick’s Trans-American Record is what happens in my head every time I put on my Clifton 3s to run long. Seriously)
I was well and truly on Vitamin M by now, so with Brazilian death metal crunching away from my iPod I was enjoying everything. I’d had some tight niggles since early in the day but they seemed to be softening and spreading themselves more evenly throughout. Roland Hassall was running along with me at about the same pace so we HOKA’d him up with a wind jacket too. Hey Roland, shame it didn’t match your shoes bro 🙂 Next year buddy!
Dave had crewed Roland the year before, and we’d actually run together at about this same spot the year before, except that I remembered Roland throwing up 3 or 4 times and pushing on, even if neither of us was thinking about this right now. It’s not the kind of thing you need to think about on a really long run because if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen anyway.
The wind was hitting us from the left pretty hard now. Good thing we were going to hit the road soon….and turn left. As gnarly as the wind felt at times on Friday, making running headfirst into it sometimes feel completely not worth the effort, the weather conditions were awesome. If you had to pick 3 conditions to run in, wind plus flies plus 16 degrees all day would really be the best ultra combination the course would ever offer. It certainly beat rain plus wind plus cold and 40 degrees plus dust plus suffer, both combinations being significantly more typical of different sections of the race, even on the same weekend.
Passing through Cathcart, Gavin and David were in front the famous little shop where cold drinks and pies could be bought before disappearing back off the grid. Dave was offering me a Coke Zero which I’d completely forgotten asking for. Waving it away, I realised we’d entered The Shithead Zone, where the runner will ask for something and within 2km completely change their mind or forget they’d even wanted it in the first place. Sorry guys, gonna be a long weekend for you hey?
Coming through this section last year, the wheels had started to fall off. Testing blood from my fingers I’d read a high blood sugar and given insulin which turned out to be unnecessary as my meter had been contaminated by carbohydrate from mine or someone else’s fingers. I’d then got into the passenger side of the car and smashed heaps of food before getting back out on to the road feeling like crap, from a mix of fast eating, cortisol in response to hypo, messy energy levels and aching hips and quads way too soon in the game. It was a nice contrast this year to leave the crew in my wake and motor on past Roland as he smashed a pie. Things were working out so far.
One of the key tools for any diabetic athlete is a new handheld device that scans the sugar from a sensor inserted into the arm. There is no blood, there is no sting, there is no need to protect anything from spilt sugars or sweat, and there is no 5-second delay. It also shows a graph of all that is going on over time, rather than single measures in isolation from each other. My sugars so far, about 9 hours in, were ridiculous. They looked like the fantasy graph that every type 1 would like but that nobody ever achieves in real life. This was great for peace of mind, physical performance and feel generally, as well as a sharp contrast to the year before.
As we headed back into the rolling hills and dirt roads, I was aware of my tightnesses and limitations but pretty happy to be holding together at a steady groove.
My friend Graham is an excellent bodyworker. He’s very experienced working with runners on and off the course and also knows me well. Seeing him just a few days out before the race he’d done the usual check-in, asked how I was feeling, what I was expecting from the run, and then gave me some really useful advice that I played with from start to finish. To paraphrase badly, after checking how my mind was and getting his own sense of how my body was doing, he suggested that they work together for a change, rather than in conflict or competition with one another.
Running for 40 hours, there’s plenty of opportunity to experiment with such radical tactics. Dropping tensions as they arose and feeling like I could just let my hips and legs work away at the distance to be covered, rather than arguing with them over how they were doing things, definitely made for smoother progression toward the 100km mark. The Dead Tree came around later than it should have, thanks to an unplanned soup and Le Snak stop. Even with a fairly even second 50km, there were signs already that the night might not be the smooth ride it was intended to be. Key hinge muscles felt a bit compacted, the stomach felt a bit ordinary, and even with a good stretch of blacktop to come — how nice it was to hit the road again before sunset — it didn’t feel like any kind of acceleration was going to happen easily.
And when the hell are you ever in a race with 100km in your legs and thinking “sweet, only 140km to go!”??
Heading out of Courmayeur, the feelings I had were a turbulent mix of elation and despair. On the one hand, I was still in the game. I just had to keep getting to the next checkpoint, the next summit, the next valley, but on the other hand there was still 90km to go and the first 80 had been a pretty intense way to warm up. A quick shot of white wine from the town crier and an extended plunge in the oversized and chilly watering trough outside one of the town’s hotels were final highlights before getting back into The Zone and climbing our way out of town and still seemingly ever closer to the Sun.
Every climb now, people were turning around and heading back. I wasn’t feeling their despair, though. I was starting to begin like we were vaulting the fallen – just barely, just enough.
The conversations internally pushing me on now were these:
There’s no pizza for a DNF. (seriously)
Nobody enjoys a fail story, unless it’s utterly spectacular – and I’m talking bones going through other bones, or a start line blood sugar so low it leads to immediate coma.
We’re not doing this again – meaning that to fail now would mean having to come back and suck it all up again.
And of course the obvious consideration of my support team – family, friends, and HOKA ONE ONE AUSTRALIA, as well as Ultra-Trail Australia – who had all tucked in behind me and made sacrifices of their own in addition to just putting up with my training-addled time management and my general demandingness to get here, to this point where I now felt failure was still in hot, though slow, pursuit.
Saturday mornings should look something like this all the time…
Speaking of heat – how good was the first river crossing before the climb to the refuges? Still in the full sun and heat of the day, most runners had stopped to fill up water but some of us also lay in cold melt waters to cool off. This was a vital 3 or 4 minutes well spent. Cooling the head and torso was like taking an engine out of the red zone just before the gaskets crack or the radiator explodes. Being able to lie in cool running water 4 or 5 inches deep, I could actually feel my deeper tissues regain some kind of normality. Continue reading →