Coast2Kosci 2016 part 1: Slow beginnings

(taken from pages hosted by Medium – Putting this here now as I’m finally getting the second bit done… similar vibe to Coast2Kosci itself actually)

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.

Highly competitive Coast2Kosci runners don’t associate with each other pre-race

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.

The literally breathtaking beauty of Colorado, which will hopefully survive the truly awful rain of President Joffrie and his council of fascist douchebags. Yes, look it up.

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.

Remember to pack a few crazies and some kickass race shirts.

2012 was about going insanely large and running the arse out of a year that any runner would almost die for.

2014 was about being as highly tuned and well prepped as I’d ever been.

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.

The famous start, inside a brightly lit stadium with cable TV coverage and thousands of wildly screaming fans with those big foam hands that have just the index finger pointing skyward. Definitely what it’s all about. pic by Kieron Blackmore.

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.

24km in, clearly bloodthirsty record-chasing at this point.

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?

Mick Thwaites, bloody legend. Seriously, if you’re not a fan of Team Shmick, you’re doing life wrong.

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.

Part 1 and a bit. Would like it to be otherwise but guessing that quick bit around 100km is when the Garmin went in the car to charge.

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.

Big Jack with Dave in 2014.
Big Jack with Dave in 2016 (pic Rebekah Markey)

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.

Top of Big Jack is a good spot for switching foot weapons. 80km Mafate Speed 2, 160km Clifton 3 this year.

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)

Race directors Paul & Diane with the shy and retiring Sarah-Jane Marshall 🙂

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.

It’s a runner’s paradise as long as you’re feeling good.

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.

Blood glucose levels using the Freestyle Libre show the usual start-of-race spike because of the action of insulin being blocked by adrenalin, then simply race-perfect sugars until about 11pm when slowing legs led to rising sugars. The average for the Friday of the race was 7.5, next day would be 13.7 but by then it was kind of like sunscreen — ‘bugger this, let’s just get there, set controls for the heart of the sun!’

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.

The Dead Tree, 102km. A classic marker in Aussie ultrarunning. Fortunately we didn’t notice the wet patch Trevor Allen had left several hours before.

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!”??

Posted in C2K, diabetes, diabetes and ultramarathon, life without limits, trail running, ultramarathon | Leave a comment

Ultimate Bear Fight: UTMB 2016 part 2, the UTMBening

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

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Ultimate Bear Fight: UTMB 2016 Part 1

The bucket list is an overused way to describe things that people really want to do but just aren’t going to get their shit together to do any time soon. So it’s appropriate to say that UTMB was a bucket list race for me. I’d seen the videos of Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka and Marco Olmo all being handed their asses in various ways by this course, seen Krissy Moehl’s TED talk – essential viewing by the way – have a load of friends who have taken it on with varying degrees of success, and had the very special opportunity last year to go on the Ultra-Trail World Tour’s VIP tour of the course as the race was in progress, thanks to being support staff attached to Ultra-Trail Australia.

So when the unexpected opportunity to enter the world’s biggest 100-miler came along, and all I needed to do was bag the final eligibility points needed for qualification, the renovation of the comfort zone – an almost neverending pet project – stepped up a level.


Yes, this is not a trade show, this is actually a start line.

Part of the appeal of any race is its assurance of difficulty. With a typical completion rate of barely 60%, even with around 2,500 starters, UTMB had already met the necessary probability of struggle. The circus at the starting line would not usually be something I’d seek out, but it’s a special and overwhelming feeling of being one highly charged molecule buzzing and oscillating within a zapping and electrified global forcefield of trailrunners. As the drones and helicopters hover overhead, the emotions are raw and almost overpowering, and I’d expect that the starting line of Kona and the opening ceremony at any Olympics feel very similar.

The start is counted down and for all of the non-elites bunched behind the animal speedsters there’s a walk out across the line while the town and visitors and friends and runners from the other races during the week all line the street, 6-10 deep. For a moment we get to a jog then back to a walk, but for most of us it’s a happy and excited walk. Some runners, most especially the Aldi Antons (not quite the real Antons – beards too scrappy, brands not matched, shirts on, probably not world class athletes either) are impatient to go and push through the bottle neck, but this is an experience to soak up – cheers, applause, whoops of joy, trembling anticipation, kids with hands out for high 5s on a day that will surely be a formative memory as they go on to not turn into couch potatoes.


a random meeting with a Jean-Charles Vauthier, a French type 1 ultra runner on the first road out of town. Nice packs hey? 😀

Having seen the start last year, I knew how crowded the spectators and runners were around the famous arch, but I’d had no idea how long the cheering crowds went on. Maybe half a kilometre along I got a cheer from the French HOKA boys, almost 800 metres along, Paul Charteris, Tarawera Race Director, towered above the crowd with his massive grin and happy voice, even further along, Kaburaki from Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji for another quick high five, and still the streets were packed, with runners up the middle and supporters on the side. It’s just not what you’re used to from trailrunning or ultra.

I’m also not used to running a flat 8km start feeling like we’re already 40km in. This first section was easy, with a late climb and quick descent to the 21km checkpoint and first cutoff (4 hours) of St. Gervais. Even on the relatively flat first part of the climb, my walking heartrate was 170. I partially bought into the data panic, while at the same time telling myself that it was wrong, and that even if it wasn’t wrong it didn’t matter because there was nothing to do about it.


the superb sunset view back up the valley from the first busted oversweating loser sit-down point halfway up the first tiny climb.

St Gervais was smooth enough. Got in about 20 minutes before cutoff and had a quick chat with the compere.

“So, you’re from Australia? It must be winter there right now?”

“Yep, so we’re having 30 degree days just like you guys.”


Would have got out a lot quicker if my newly bought Hydrapak bladder wasn’t an evil piece of crap. Seriously, it’s a plastic sack that water goes in, with a bit that slides to close the top. For some reason, though, somebody thought it would be a good idea to make one that barely slides shut and then refuses to slide open. Even a burly volunteer couldn’t work it. Whatever. Soup, cola, head out with cup and bowl to mouth.

Last year we’d headed out of town chasing the leaders in the pre-dusk flare of daylight to crowds swinging racks of cowbells. I was winding up the hill between the satisfied pavement crowds of diners deciding between coffee and cocktails. But here was a quick highlight – a little tri-colour bull terrier was wedged in amongst the feet of friends and owners. A quick hello, a pat, and the hilariously rowdy British owner suggested I pick him up for a photo, even as his partner told him to leave the runner alone. So of course I picked him up. If you don’t have the energy to cuddle a bull terrier, you’re probably not going to do much better trying to run another 150km.

“Bon appétit” echoed the diners’ possibly sarcastic but definitely friendly calls as we headed away from town, through the French HOKA team and their improvised shoe count, and up into the trails again.


Next stop was Contamine. Here’s a special thing about language – when you grab water from a checkpoint in a town that has a slightly toilety smell and it tastes frickin weird, you begin to think about how Contamine is really close to ‘contaminated’, and add that to the list of things you’re dealing with. That is, at least, until way later when you try the on-course sports hydration and realise it tastes exactly the same as that strange water you stopped drinking…

The first proper climb was a nice long one, topping out near 2500m and spreading 1500m of climb over about 15km. As we wound our way through the 40km mark and toward Croix du Bonhomme, I was still just thinking about the next cutoff.

The plan had simplified radically. It had started out something along the lines of “Get to Courmayeur by 10am Saturday, sort my shit out, feel good, start to make up ground”. In the preceding 6 hours that had been replaced by “Get to the next checkpoint, don’t think about Courmayeur too much just yet, don’t miss the next cutoff, how high does this one go, what time is cutoff, get to the next checkpoint before cutoff”.

Things had got decidedly small picture, but in that way they were actually quite big picture – blow this stage, fail the whole race, feel life suck.

And this is where we should probably talk about the bear.


The bear is real, man. #metaphor

While the months of training leading up to this year’s race had some pretty patchy moments, all the big boxes got ticked. Increasing mileage, training on tired legs, countdown clock being updated weekly, multiple reps of steep things, accumulation of hurty downhills, rarely disappointing coach Andy with a dotball week, and a final loading session in the Victorian Alps putting away about 120km with 7200m over 4 days that left me feeling not just confident of completion a month out, but even beginning to have those finish time fantasies runners can allow themselves when they’ve really decided to not just leave things to luck. I’d even totally nailed down which combination of jocks and shorts would cause zero chafing, rain or shine.

So it was a very harsh crashing to earth when 4 days of being coughed and sneezed on by contagious Sydney at the City2Surf Expo left me with what felt like Ebola but based on a friend’s diagnosis was more like Swine Flu, now called Influenza A to avoid offending bacon farmers. On the flight over, I felt like Patient Zero. While friends back home wrote of their jealousy at my being in Annecy, the summer capital of French holidaying, I was flat on my back in the final throes of a fever and nearly choking to death on phlegmballs the size of a baby possum. Sunday afternoon, 5 days out, I was staring at a ceiling, feeling as fresh and lively as a used condom, and thinking that this wasn’t even going to be a DNF, but a DNS.

The whole time I was smashing Zinc, ridiculous amounts of vitamin C, spirulina, Berocca, women’s Ulti-Vite, pretty much anything I could get my hands on that might turn the fight around. Some French pharmaceutical MucoMyst with the added bonus of triggering a particular endurance hormone seemed to be the game changer. But I went to the starting line on Friday feeling depleted, and that this 170km run around the base of Europe’s highest summit was going to be a more uphill battle than the 10,000m of ascent could quantify.

So yes, there was going to be a bear fight. UTMB is a challenging route that can’t be disrespected, moreso than most other 100-milers. But a few very close friends and family knew how ragged I was on approach, and that was the bear that I expected to put up a bigger and uglier play for supremacy over the weekend.


What little sense of inevitability I had about Courmayeur, the 78km mark and notional halfway mark of the race, it was already attached to a thought of failure, and thought of failure was rationalised by excuse, and the excuse was that I felt like total crap because of circumstances beyond my control.

No matter how I thought about things or bitesized the challenge I was already getting deeper into, the future felt like doom. So I changed the script. Tramping through the middle of dusty nowhere in a conga line of lycra zombies, I took ownership of my process.

the revenant dicaprio quote

I’ve only just noticed that Hugh Glass is kind of close to Hugh Jass, but this quote still worked for me the whole way through the race.

And this is the beauty of the bear. If you have to fight a bear, it is unlikely that it will be by choice. It might be under deeply unfavourable circumstances. The bear might be a lot bigger than you’d possibly expected. And you sure as hell won’t be able to put off fighting the bear until a day when you’re fully ramped up for a bear fight. When it’s you versus bear, you can fight or fail. There is no other option and all other detail is irrelevant. There was a reason I’d watched The Revenant for the 3rd time on the flight over.

“I don’t know if I’m gonna get through this but who could expect me to, knowing how sick I’ve been and what it’s done to me.”

That unhelpful rationalisation had to go. The alternative?

“Seriously, anyone can do a 100-miler when they’re feeling good. Who cares? But doing a 100-miler when you’re a total trainwreck? That’s solid! This’ll be awesome.”

Sounds perky, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like a half-assed bid at survival.


It was enough, though, to begin a change of mind. Climbing gradually in open higher country through the black tar of night, what seemed like thousands of headtorches zigged and zagged in front of me, a continuous line maybe 3 km long of human-borne incandescence. It looked like a giant shimmering electric snake. It made me think of the Rainbow Serpent, a quintessentially pre-Australian native. Below all of those bright torches, I knew there were hundreds of runners in multi-coloured lycra, which further supported a metaphor that could probably do nothing other than irritate indigenous friends if I suggested it.

Big open air aid station, fresh water, mineral water, Coke, onward and upward. There’s a rhythm to mountain races which a friend clarified to me prior to Tor Des Geants last year.

“The climb will start and it will get steep. Then it will get even steeper. Then it will get really very steep, and then you are at the top.”

As long as you know this is what to expect, you won’t be faced by too many surprises on your way to ultra glory.

Sitting is also permitted. By this point I was breaking every climb with a trailside breather. Ass planted firmly in a rock garden, staring back kilometres toward the aid station with my back to the climb still remaining, I was almost immediately joined by someone worse off than me. An Asian runner spread himself on the ground on all fours and threw up loudly before looking around bewildered, as if wondering how he’d come to be in Hell. In significantly less crowded races, the next runner would have stopped, checked if he was ok or needed help, and then maybe sent for someone. But here, there was no point. There was an endless stream of people going past like a dirt escalator, and what was he going to answer to the question, “Are you ok?”.

“No. No, not ok.”

“Well what’s wrong?”

“Hot, dehydrated, feel awful, 40km down, 130km to go, still got to get over this hill, it’s my playtime.”

Throwing up a lung or a kidney – now THAT would be an emergency warranting greater attention. This was just someone loosing their biscuits before we’d even made it to marathon distance, and there was going to be a lot more of that before this was over.

I got up and rejoined the zombie horde.


The next descent turned back upward at Les Chapieux, 49km so a nice psychological line in the sand. 1554m above sea level and the gateway to another climb to 2500m, it was a place to begin the next helpful pattern of thinking. This was just a Kedumba, our sustained hill of choice back in Sydney’s Blue Mountains. Strictly speaking, Kedumba is a 1,000m climb over 10km, topping out at about 1,100m. So this wasn’t exactly a Kedumba, but that wasn’t really the point. The body had to get this done, and it was going to be a lot harder with unhappy passengers complaining about the likely effects of altitude.

The 30km to Courmayeur was also still too long to think about, but now there were two mountain tops each within a 15km stretch to simply get through. Bonus points go to the reader who can remember what glacial valley I was in when I threw up just after sunrise. Everything was very sound of music, green, lush, or made entirely of wood. Heading across a suspended valley toward an ice crossing, a coughing fit escalated until it took all my fluids from the last hour with it. Leaning on my poles, dry heaving, it was actually comforting that nobody stopped to ask anything. As previously discussed, what is there to say? 110km to go.


Mountains are awesome. Deal with it.

At least the next climb would lead to the Courmayeur descent. This was going to potentially be a great relief. While 800m within 4km is a brutal gradient, at least it was downhill, so the thinking went. Of course the adventure wasn’t all regurgitation, dust and pain. Clouds boiling off the valley around summits below us made for a spectacular sunrise. Descending into Lac Combal with razor jagged and impossibly steep ridgelines in every direction was invigorating. The sense that we were like some deranged but happy mass pilgrimage was real and reassuring. But by the time I began the sharp rolldown to Courmayeur, I just could not give a shit for all this beauty, because my world was crumbling.

This was going to be the one place that I would connect with my dropbag, the major halfway point where I’d figured I’d be coming in 2-3 hours under cutoff and therefore have some time to rest if it felt needed. But with my guts now feeling like heavily malleted hamburger meat, I was descending at about the same pace as I would hike flat ground, and there was nothing to do about picking up the pace. Any ugly attempt at a trot or jog was immediately punished with a kick to the stomach. As what felt like every other runner either overtook me or sat on my shoulder until I pulled even further to one side so they could go past, I just felt time turning to cement.

Andy was echoing in my head, “If you can’t run the downhills, it’s going to be a long day.” Thanks Obi Wan, loud and clear bro.


Instead of getting into Courmayeur with an hour and a half or even half an hour to spare, I arrived at the sports centre at ten minutes to one, 25 minutes to doom and still not fully halfway through. The weight of what was going on really hit me. I had had the idea that getting to Courmayeur would be some kind of achievement, that I could fail here with some dignity still intact if it came to that, but there’s no shine to a DNF at all. Even if you break bones on a run, getting to the finish line is always going to be a more joyous outcome if it’s on feet rather than in a friend’s car.

Friends, family, work, my own expectations – massive disappointment was brewing. There was nothing salvageable at this point. Everything turned to shit and there was no sprinkling gold dust on it. Shit is shit is shit.

As we were funnelled into the alleyway where the dropbags hung in multiple rows, volunteers called out our numbers so that other helpers down the line could pull them out and have them ready for us. I had my sunglasses on, visor pulled down, and stared hard at the ground with one foot barely in front of the other. This felt like death. My bag felt like cruel weight. Rounding the corner toward the front entrance of the checkpoint I completely choked, I couldn’t inhale, I just made mouth motions like a fish thrown on land. The furthest each breath could travel was perhaps halfway down my neck and nowhere near my chest.

You could almost see the kids still lining the entry chute decide not to offer high 5s. This was the walking dead. Cheers for a corpse are a waste of effort.

Getting into the front entrance there was a mass of bodies in every direction. A volunteer asked if I had support. No. Solo runners needed to go upstairs she told me. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I felt like I was about to fold completely. And then she had a conversation with someone else for what felt like forever. I turned away to go find these awesome stairs. Such a great idea, stairs. And so glad that people were coming downstairs on the side that I was trying to go up. That’s cool though, I’ll just lean against the wall here like a stain.

Getting into the main hall wasn’t much more clarifying. The cluster on the far side around the food prep area looked like a nightmare, so I just headed for an empty seat at one of the dozens of large round tables that filled the room and collapsed into it. Clearly the death was visible because a volunteer intercepted me along the way and asked if I needed any help. I probably spoke in babelfish but she sent someone else over and together we decided I should have tomato pasta and Coke. The only other person sitting at the table looked at me quizzically, as if wondering what I was doing, now with less than 15 minutes to cutoff. I just spooned pasta and sipped Coke and rummaged aimlessly in my dropbag.

I didn’t grab the spare torch batteries for another night. I didn’t put on the sunscreen for reduced damage on the battlefield. I didn’t grab clean dry socks. I almost didn’t even grab extra soft flasks of Tailwind. But I did grab a snaplok bag of spirulina and vitamins because I figured there might be some point I could think about putting it down without throwing up.

The huge room was mostly emptying. Some runners looked shellshocked, as though they knew this was it for them. But one guy in particular grabbed my attention. A little Italian runner had clearly decided to pull. With his socks and shoes off, he sat happily smashing his second bowl of pasta, oblivious to the dismay around him. He was happy, his pain was ended. So I latched on to that, and I viewed it as cowardly, and I rejected it. A very helpful volunteer came over to my shoulder again to see if I needed anything and to remind me that cutoff was less than ten minutes away.

“What do you think you will do?” she asked in English that was still a lot smoother than most of my French.

“I’m not going to kill myself here, you guys are going to have to come kill me out there.”

She smiled and said, “This is good idea you have, I like your idea.”

Feeling slightly less devastated than barely 20 minutes before I headed out of the hall with my dropbag, wondering what to do with it. I passed the table where runners were officially quitting, their race bibs being taken off and the chips being cut from their bags. Devastation. I handed mine on to the guy outside who was handling things for continuing runners and went down the ramp and back into battle. This life seemed almost over but at least I wasn’t quitting.

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The Ultra Easy 100km and its gleeful crushing of the ignorant: a race report

You’ve done a 200km mountain run in September, you’ve knocked out a 240km road run in December, there’s a 100km mountain run in New Zealand this weekend and it’s almost February already – what could possibly go wrong? Let’s just call the previous seven weeks of not running a committed recovery phase.

Seriously, it was Wednesday. I needed 3 more points to lock in a place for UTMB. March 19 for Northburn wasn’t looking good with two other reasons to be in Australia that weekend. The next and final option would be the Ultra-Trail Australia weekend in May, also problematic for work and travel reasons. Nice first world problems to have, but they meant that if I was going to do this I’d better do it ASAP. Only finding out that there was a 3-point opportunity in New Zealand with 3 days to go, at least training wouldn’t be the problem.

Grant Guise had temporarily hijacked The Ultra Easy’s facebook page – I didn’t mention that this was possibly the most cunningly named mountain race ever? How did that slip my mind? The sales pitch was equally deft: ‘Pick you up from the airport then?’

Continue reading

Posted in diabetes and ultramarathon, Medtronic Global Heroes, trail running, type 1, ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tor Des Géants 2015 – part 2 of 3 by Roger Hanney

continued from Part 1 of 3

The room emptied in a quick if not fully sober fashion into the side alley and once again we were on the run, or hike. With an acute awareness that this might take another 100+ hours to get done, nobody was springing out of the blocks hard on cold legs. Even just a few minutes from where we’d spent the uncertain early hours of morning, we could look back and see the white-dusted mountains we had climbed and descended through the night before. In the first light of a blue-sky day, their calm beauty spoke little of the chaos and jeopardy just hours before.

The pass that nearly ate us.

The pass that nearly ate us.

Heading uphill once again it was time to stop and readjust layers, in the usual cycle of too cold to move – get moving – heat up too much – stop to shed layers – feel cold again – stuff it all in pack – get moving again. And of course the other cycle of stop another 80 metres up the track – dig around in bag – find lube – apply to chafed bits – stuff it back in bag – readjust to the left – get moving again.

Even at this early stage, a couple of entrants could be seen coming back down the track, looking like they’d forgotten something. Making eye contact to query what was up, their reply was just a shrug without slowing as they headed back to the checkpoint. To see people pulling out this early at the simple thought of a hill, or perhaps at the memory of rockfalls the night before, was a mixed moment. Yes, this is only going to get harder. There’s more of who-knows-what to come, and it’s a shame you’re not going to be there for it. But, then again, I’ve outlasted you. And even that gutless little coward of a voice, ‘do you wanna pull out?’. The reply was still pretty easy, ‘don’t be a dick, let’s go.’

As we came into a mountain-ringed valley there was some quick photo-taking. This was a stunningly beautiful morning. There was snow behind us, snow and two big climbs ahead of us, but we were here laughing in the sun after a night that exceeded expectations of ferocity, and it felt great.

Only once we hit this valley and turned left would we see what was ahead of us.

Only once we hit this valley and turned left would we see what was ahead of us.

We were a conga line, runners stretched ahead and behind as the power hike revved its engine. Moving up a gentle slope contrary to the flow of the crystal river beside us, we tended left as the next valley revealed the joys it had in store for the morning. Col du Entrelor, a 3030m barrel of laughs we as yet had little idea about rose up in front of us, as similarly stunning snow-covered ridges moved behind us. Trudging a series of switchbacks, the day felt cold again as the wind steadily picked up and grey clouds moved in over the range behind us, soon to block the sun. Continue reading

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Tor Des Géants 2015 – part 1 of 3 by Roger Hanney

Tor Des Géants is a single-stage mountain run easily reduced to numbers – 330km, 24,000m D+, 200 miles, 80,000 feet, 850 starters, 6 life bases, time – but that is not the story of the Tor at all. It is a beautiful adventure, composed of a number of steep climbs, high passes, and sharp descents that will all quite happily break you if you’re not in The Zone.

With a field that at some points must have been spread across 150km, everyone’s experience must be sharply different, however much there may also be in common. With finishers being spread from 200km right to the finish line when this year’s race was ultimately shut down on the morning of the 4th day because of weather hazards, a 2015 ‘finish’ will mean different things for different people. For me, the 205km mark was not deep enough in at all, and I hope to return in 2016 for the full 200 miles.

Even with the premature closure of the race, it was still my longest time on feet and at 15,000m D+ it was also the greatest amount of climbing and descending I have yet done. But I wish we’d been able to finish what we started. Most of us were utterly psyched for it.

This is where it all started, the weekend in Utah in 2011 when I met Beat and he ruined my illusions that you could become a total badass by running just 100 miles, by telling me about the 200-miler he’d just done. Damn it.

I first heard about the TDG in 2011 when I met Swiss-American Beat Jegerlehner (pronounced ‘Dingle Manhammer’). A mutual friend put us together on a hire car booking from Salt Lake City to the Slick Rock Ultra a few hours away in the Moab Desert, as we were hitting the same airport just 5 minutes apart. Back then, as I prepared for my first 100-miler, the idea that people were running 200-milers filled me with awe and some envy. With such a focus on the distance I didn’t even tune into the elevation gain – a whopping 24,000 metres for an average gradient of 14% across the entire course – until finally entering the run of a lifetime earlier this year.

now THAT's an elevation profile.

now THAT’s an elevation profile.

Since then, it has meant training based entirely in the pursuit of increasingly longer steep bits, repeated.  Continue reading

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A Great Weekend in California

I’ve been thinking about getting this blogging thing going again. On the one hand, friends who write well inspire you to get back into the practise. On the other, when they’re doing it so well, it’s good enough reason to share theirs instead 🙂

To be fair, on top of being a great host and a good friend (who I’ve now actually hung out with – yay!) Jill’s a published author whose books Be Brave, Be Strong, Ghost Trails, and 8,000 Miles Across Alaska are all quality reads for fans of adventure and extreme endurance.

So here’s Jill’s latest post from Jill Outside. She sums our weekend up nicely – except for the unsatisfied bit. To run again with my friend Beat, to finally meet Jill off the internet, to get sweaty biking then sweaty running, even with the race being cancelled on the Sunday with short notice – I had a blast. Thanks guys!

Jill tells it better here.

Fun was had

Fun was had

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