A hellishly hard to run race, deserves an impossible to read behemoth of a race report….
early on…all good
BTU miler (160km odd)
I’d toyed with cancelling this race. I’d entered it, expecting it to be in July in the depths of winter. Of course, due to Covid, it was delayed til October, which in Brisbane gets pretty balmy to be running.
I’d run the BVRT “miler” & the 100km at Glasshouse over winter & the date just sorta crept up on me.
I became aware that the numbers in the 160km race had dwindled from around 30 to only 10 starters, albeit, the runners at the front had very strong pedigree. So felt compelled to go for one reason & another.
This race, in stark contrast to BVRT, has 8,000m of climbing. I was looking at the cutoff thinking that 30 hours may test me. (BVRT is a race that uses an old rail trail, hence is relatively flat)
18 finished last year out of 26 starters.
Only 7 of the field finished under 27 hours, & only 4 finished under 26 hours.
And I believed our conditions were going to be tougher, with the heat & humidity due to the forced date change.
To CP 1 – I had to start somewhere…so I started..there
This section passed without incident. It was always going to be tough running in October in Qld with a predicted temperature of 27 degrees. I missed the start for a start. Had to drop some rubbish to a bin & by the time I’d done that, the race had begun. So, spotted everyone about 300m at the start. I did enjoy running by myself at the beginning though, & felt it helped developing some kind of rhythm & very relaxed pace. The picture above is from this section, so you can see, it is very picturesque from the get go.
There was some climbing early on, but nothing too hectic. I was using poles that I’d bought only 2 weeks ago, but felt that I’d already developed some type of technique that helped. I was surprised how quickly the 110km runners caught me as they’d started 30 minutes behind. They might have passed me 13km in. I was taking my time though, adjusting equipment & making sure everything was set up right.
CP1 was very early one, I’d caught a couple of other milers at this stage, & I pretty much went straight through the aid station.
To CP 2 If you get to a fork in the road, take it
This section passed without incident. Started working fairly solidly & contrasting to my last “miler”(BVRT in July) actually felt pretty good during this section. There was a water stop in here, where Jacky (the leading & only female in the race) was coming back down from a track off to the left. She’d taken a wrong turn & gone 1.5km through apparently hellish terrain, before ringing RD Shona & realising her mistake. Gosh! I wouldn’t want to make a mistake like that! Aye?
Arrived at CP 2 at 44km in fairly good nick, to be met by my crew Mark (nursing a torn calf sadly) who was crewing during the day.
I was weighed here & had lost 2kg. This is already 3% of my body weight, which is a bit too much. I do lose a lot of weight running but this was at the margins. As it was heading into the hotter part of the day, I’d have to be really careful with hydration now after having such a large loss so early. Mark had packed ice which I put into sewn up buffs to try & keep cool. For some reason I asked Mark to mix the Perpetuem stuff with sparkling water rather than normal water.* I dunno why, but it just seemed to taste bloody terrible. I recall Mark saying, “This is a long section. You’ll need hydration”. Inexplicably, after he told me this, I neglected to top up my bladder. I thought it had plenty in it, & there had been water stops in between the check points previously, so I was too blasé about it.
*when I got home I realised** the Perpetuem in the bottle I’d given Mark tasted bloody awful, something had gone awry with it. Surprised it didn’t make me sick, it was crook.
** well I spell it r-e-a-l-i-s-e-d spell check!
To CP 3
This section passed without incident. . I made it to about 52km & completely ran out of water. Battled slowly for the next couple of hours in the heat . Didn’t feel that bad at the time. I kept telling myself how the indigenous people of the world & tribesman & so on would have to have tolerated this kind of stuff to get a feed occasionally. They certainly wouldn’t have had crew, UD gear & some sweet aid stations.
Along this point, before I ran out of water, I was running with Jacky, who was telling me she is a terrible navigator with a laugh. Jacky also told me about an attempt she had at a self supported FKT at BVRT. She ran it self supported, started really strongly but not running it out unfortunately & getting quite ill afterwards. It must take some courage to go out & do this by yourself.
Anyway, I was running strongly, so left Jacky, & battled through after running out of water.
Eventually after a protracted climb, the trail opened out to a road. I did stop & look & it seemed that the flagging tape/witched hats led to the left onto the road. They then continued down the road. I did stop & do a double take to try & make sure, but it seemed clear the course marking went down the road. Unfortunately, for me the aid station was to the right. Thinking back, I recall some people standing around the top of the trail. I wonder if they were inadvertently standing in from of the signage sending me to the aid station. So, I ended up running away from the aid station. Eventually with the help from Mark, who was looking at me via the GPS tracker, he drove to me & directed me back to the check point.
The GPS tracking was an amazing feature of this race. Anyone could sit at home and watch your progress live on their PC or phone. The night before the race I stayed in an Air BNB & there was an Estonian guy there. He was so intrigued by the race that he took the details & tracked my progress over the weekend as he knocked back cans on the lounge. You could have your crew crew you remotely, just about.
Finally got to the aid station, CP 3 at 64km (race distance anyway!)
Drank a litre of coconut water to attempt to address the damage & filled up water. Knew drinking so much water was potentially problematic, but just felt this was the least worst option to address the chronic dehydration I was suffering. There were no scales at CP 3. Hate to think what my weight would have been. Mark was a great help all through this. Him monitoring me on GPS & then alerting me, got me back to the CP and minimised the damage, giving me a chance to finish.
To CP 4 Walk a mile (or 50) in my shoes…”just not those ones, mate”
This section passed without incident. I thanked Mark, said good-bye, left CP 3, knowing that the next bit was going to be challenging. For my body to deal with no water, then gallons was going to be tricky. Early in this stage, started feeling really rotten, especially running the same stretch of road for the third time. Fair dinkum, it was the worst 2km of the course & I ran it 3 times. After a little while though, gradually started feeling better (again) & leading into a protracted downhill started running at a half decent pace. Towards the end of this descent my foot clipped a rock & I stacked it, tumbling forward. Initially I was worried I’d really injured myself, but after 30 seconds realised it was OK. Felt nauseous for a bit, but I understand that is just a blood pressure thing, & that fixes itself pretty quickly. Kind of managed to roll a bit, so impact was to knee & shoulder, but it was more a grazing blow, with a side order of bruising. Mere flesh wounds, if you like.
Thought I was about 3km from CP 4 where I was meeting my pacer Pete. (86Km in)
I’d told Pete the earliest I’d be there conceivably was 4.30pm but likely later. (It was really hard to estimate due to elevation) . But I think it was 6.30pm when I got in eventually.
About 3km from the CP 4, I came across some water bottles at a drop point. I though “what the heck are they doing with water 3km from a check point?” Luckily I filled up as I was completely out. Then proceeded to climb the most hellishly steep & protracted climb I can ever recall doing in my entire life. I’m estimating that it is forever in length & innumerable in height. Bumped into Alun Davies (AAA racing)at the start of the hill, who was re-marking a sign to be clearer. He advised that the track ahead was “undulating”, I believe. Thanks Alun. Nice one!
Every time I crested a rise, I was met by more climbing. It went on longer than this race report. Nearly.
AT CP 4 I was feeling OK, was climbing fine, & having not so many dramas. Sat down & got everything sorted.
Alun (Davies) said as we left “Take care out there”
Susannah Davies had also mentioned that there was a hill coming that was likely as steep as the one I’d just come up, but not as long. I think that was Township Break.
Pete had to walk 2km from the road into this checkpoint because it is somewhat remote (It is called Dundas Bush camp) . He said when he turned up the check point volunteer said
“What are you doing here?”
Pete told her he was pacing me.
She then said to him, “OK, do you want to put your running shoes on so you’re ready?”
Pete looked down at his loyal & weary Asics road runners and inquired “What do you mean?”
To CP 5 Gingerale Afternoon (OK this is a Flaming Lips reference, do I have to explain everything?)
This section passed without incident. We left the checkpoint on an innocuous track with me finding it hard to imagine this enormous climb ahead. Anyway at some point, not too far down the track we started another monstrous descent, followed by a outrageous climb. The organisers had laid illuminated rope on the down climb, it was so steep as well as smooth. These were really helpful. The rope ran out some way down the descent. Both of us slipped & fell our way down the slope.
Then we had to climb our way out of it. Normally in a trail race you refer to climbing as going uphill, & should I run or hike this “climb”. This was really much closer to literal climbing than that. It was the steepest thing I can recall climbing. Once or twice I half lost balance backwards & had to rebalance. If you fell back down the hill, which would have been easy to do, it would have been super dangerous & hectic. You wouldn’t stop for quite a while unless you could get to the edge.
Halfway up the hill I placed my pole on the ground in front & it just gave way. The poles had been a great help to this stage, I think & snapping one was a real bugger. Over a period of time & problem solving I used some tape Pete had & taped the pole up & used it in a shortened “wizards wand” technique which helped a bit. Whilst this equipment fail was not ideal & was a substantial sacrifice, the pole actually gained character (& a name – Stumpy) because of this
We made it up the steepest climb OK. At this stage we caught up to the sole female competitor Jacqi Bell. She had a pacer as well, who Pete knew & chatted to for a bit. We went past them, but shortly thereafter Jacki passed me & I started slowing quite abruptly. We were on a relatively gentle uphill (it was still plenty uphill but nothing compared to Township Break) & I was starting to slow precipitously. I was setting myself to get to CP 5. We were only about 1km from the it & I had to stop. I put my hands on my knees & closed my eyes & stayed there for a while. I felt nauseous, my head was spinning & I felt weak. Pete was great, he asked me one or two things, but just let me have the time to physically collect myself & figure out what I could do. Not sure how long I stayed like this for. In the end, I grabbed a single crystallised ginger piece & ate that. Not long after that, felt I could move up the hill & get to the check point & assess things from there.
We got to CP5. My watch was reading 125km at this point. I (only) knew the early CP distances, & it was measuring these accurately early on, so I had assumed this distance was correct. In my head we had only 35km to go. CP5 was supposed to be unmanned, but there were two guys there who had driven out to help. They were very cheerful & upbeat & a lot of fun, throwing a heap of smack talk my way. I laid down on a hill for a bit. I was concerned about getting stuck in between check points given what had just happened so I asked how far it was to the next one. One of the guys said it was about 10km, “but the terrain is nothing like what you have just been through. There are hills sure, but nothing like that”. So I thought 10km that’s OK, I can do that, get to CP 6, & be further down the course when I retire from the race.
I thought CP 6 was a reasonable spot to pull out, as opposed to CP 5 which is barely past halfway. Kept eating the gingers which seemed to help a lot. Started moving steadily & eventually got to CP 6.
To CP 6 The million dollar miracle $1.98 Suimon noodles
This section passed without incident. I hadn’t eaten anything since oats for brekkie 24 hours earlier, relying on perpetuem for calories. Pete was in my ear about eating some real food, so I relented & took up the aid stations offer of some 2 minute noodles.
They were so good.
Had another one of them, then went for a convenience stop in the water closet.
Felt SO good afterwards.
I asked Susannah how far to next aid station. She said 20km.
I knew it was then another 20km to the finish.
My watch said something like 135km, so I had thought we were much further into the race than we were. I kind of knew this was the case, but it was till deflating to be placed backwards on the course. In my head anyway
I looked at my watch and realised it was 3am. Cutoff was at 11am, so we only had 8 hours to finish. I was actually 1 hour outside cutoff at this aid point. I pointed this out to Susannah, who was now there & she said, “just keep going til they pull you off course.” I thought, “if we’re going to go, we’ve just got to go now, & keep going, there was no time for rest, or sleep, til we’re done”
To CP 7 another wind, how many is that now?
This section passed without incident. We got up & started moving. Was starting to move OK again during this section. Every stick at night looked like a snake which made me jumpy, but during this section we actually saw a little brown snake on the trail. This was close to the trail where we would join the 30km race. At some point during this penultimate section it got light & we moved solidly the whole time. Pete did it all fairly easily & had a clear head to do the navigation. He patiently got his phone out each time we came to a turn or if I got paranoid we were going the wrong direction at certain points. We could see where Jacki was going ahead of us, but I didn’t have confidence to just follow her, & thought we needed to still be doing our own navigation.
We joined the 30 km course & a steady stream of runners, started passing us.
Got to the last aid station at JC Slaughter Falls, had a little rest, something to eat, & was ready to go. Would have gone some more noodles, but they only had beef flavour left at this late stage so just ate fruit cup which again tasted exquisite.
To the End
This section passed without incident. We rejoined the race looking forward to another 10km of trail, then 10km in the streets of Brisbane.
The hills were quite mild during this section, & Pete & I occasionally when we crested a hilly climb would exclaim to each other something like “Is that it?” with a smile.
I was surprised not to be more tired, but no problems there. I’d been knocking back a fair bit of coke, so that likely helped.
We emptied out into the streets, said good bye to the forest & prepared to run the last bit.
I’d cycled the last 10km of the course before the race as I was worried the directional signage may have been down.
This helped knowing the course & turns for this last bit.
Ran a downhill fairly hard at one po
int & it really felt afterwards that my legs might collapse, so slowed down a bit after that.
During these la
st bits, there were people to talk to from the 30km race as eventually we were around people about the same pace as me. So it was nice having that energy around at the end as well.
The last bit was relatively easy. I struggled on the flat and exposed (to the sun) bikeway section, which for some reason was not appealing to me.
Pete backed off & encouraged me to cross the finish line separately. I thought we should cross together, but wasn’t too bothered.
We had a hug, then was sat down on a chair & given a thorough medical assessment.
The duty of care was very high.
I finished in
I was 6th (& last) finisher out of 10 starters.
This event would normally be held in July in more moderate conditions. We had 6 hours of 27 degrees temperature towards the beginning.
For me this was a qualitative experience, not a quantitative one.
I could see that the time looks super slow.
There is (I believe) 8000m of climbing.
I feel like this races reputation will come.
Each race has it’s own challenges, but compare it to Leadville which has 3,400m of climbing (Leadville is at much higher elevation though to compensate for this)
In my opinion this is a high end race. If you’re going to do one miler or 110km in your life, I would say do this one. However it the distance is going to be at the absolute limit for you, chose something else. It is sehr tough, with the climbing.
Thanks so much for Petr Mikeska for helping me & doing such a great job pacing.
Pete had worked Sat morning, been driven up to remote Dundas bush camp by his partner, then jogged the 2km in to meet me at about 85km & subsequently run through the night & into the next day. He was in the same boat as me sleep wise, whilst being charged with navigation & general safety issues. (Keeping my from patting brown snakes at 5am)
Thanks for Mark for crewing for me as well. Mark set me right very quickly when I ran off course, & probably saved the day at that point.
For me, this race is a bit of a paradox. It is shiny & exciting, well promoted, on the outside.
But once you get out the back into that forest it is wild, wild, wild territory.
Race Website: https://www.brisbanetrailultra.earth/
Finish Time: 28h 30m 40 sec
Overall Place: 6th
Gender Place: 5th
Age Group Place: 2nd (also second in Sean category, damn your superior navigational skills Sean Hurley!)
GPS Activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/4152732300/overview.
Date : please note, this event was on Oct 3 & 4, 2020