Saturday, 5 December 2015

Desert Tales - Part 1

Photo: Nick Muzik
Just before daybreak, out on the desert plains of Guazhou, a lone horseman rides to the beat of ancient drums. 

On his approach, the drums reach an urgent crescendo, culminating in his arrival as a tall figure steps up to issue a command. Dale Garland, race director of the iconic Hardrock100 and event director for the inaugural Ultra Trail Gobi Race, flags us off, and thus begins our 400km journey into the Gobi desert.  
Drums at the start
I've never had a burning desire to see a desert close up. I imagine a vast expanse of relentless flatland and it makes me shudder. But I'm a firm believer that there is no such thing as coincidence, and it just happened that the invitation to do the Ultra Trail Gobi Race (UTG) popped into my inbox just as I'd reached the unsatisfactory conclusion of my 450km Anzac Ultra attempt .. unceremoniously aborted at an premature 315km with a torn muscle. Canberra had been freezing, and since desert = searing heat and a chance at 400km of redemption, I said yes. Simple as that.

With my life at full throttle as usual, I only paused to scan necessary details a fortnight before the race .. then realising that it's both self-navigated and self-supported. Ok, I had an inkling of the latter, but navigation? The last time I ran an unmarked course, I forgot which way the red arrow on my compass pointed .. this did not bode well!

Fast forward to departure day and I've got a borrowed GPS with waypoints loaded (thanks William!), a bag full of Tailwind, assorted freeze-dried meals (lucky REI deliver fast!), and almost all my compulsory gear. Inevitably, despite packing the kitchen sink .. I still managed to forget my 2L hydration bladder. Gah! Cue emergency FB post and a slew of helpful and not-so-helpful responses ;) (How on earth would I have time to make a water bottle out of dried gourd!? But the sentiment was appreciated.) 
The days before the race were packed with sightseeing, press conferences and travel. It was great to meet the local running community at Running Cat, and the organisers looked after us like gold dust. Our international posse consisted of some trail running elites, with seriously impressive achievements amongst the lot of them. I was feeling more than a little daunted amongst so much running talent, that's not even accounting for the Chinese runners taking part.

There's a list of them here:

The organisers really pulled out all the stops for this first event, with over 150 volunteers, a sophisticated tracking system, a full-on cultural programme and a dedicated team of bilingual guides like Xiaozhao and Yuan Yuan, who made sure we were well looked after.
Tracking system demo
As details of the event unfolded, the foreign runners had a host of questions, not least due to the translation differences. We all tried to make sure we had everything required on the mandatory kit list, but small changes were made in the last weeks leading up to the race so we did end up scrambling round Beijing looking for 'heart medicine' (nitroglycerine passed kit check!) and 120ml of SPF50 sunblock.
Heart medicine
Photo: Nick Muzik
We have 10 dropbags, spaced about 35-40km apart at the Rest Stations R1 - R10, and I've tried to put a few goodies in each one based on a strategy of Tailwind for the first 150km or so, and more treats after. The mandatory 24,000 calories is spread out over these bags, and I've got some spare kit in each including batteries and wet wipes. Mainly extra supplies, as the bulk of what I need is in my pack.

Super organised!
It's the first time I've heard my Chinese name used so much, and it is all slightly disconcerting. It's always been a reflex to hide whenever my Chinese name is called out, stemming from Chinese class at school where I'd be in trouble or called to answer something I usually couldn't! Despite some things getting lost in translation, we were all off to a good start. Everyone is getting on well with each other and my very rusty Mandarin skills are getting the workout of my life! I'm embarrassed at my primary-school Mandarin - coming from an English-speaking family and having lived in the UK for 12 years wasn't much help either. I'm making a mental note to brush up!

Our flight from Beijing to Dunhuang was hilarious, from being late, losing Erik, the Red Bulletin photographer, getting to the check-in desk with minutes to spare, and Ryoichi's huge bag of assorted food getting us stuck at the airport security check, resulting in a supermarket sweep-style trolley dash from one end of the terminal to our gate. That's the fastest I'd be running for the next 6 days!
Japanese ultra contraband
Made it on the bus with seconds to spare!
At the welcome dinner in Dunhuang, we're all given one half of a Yangling Tiger Tally from the Qin Dynasty. It used by Emperor Qin Shi Huang as his authorisation for military operations, with 12 Chinese characters in two columns on each side reading “甲兵之符,右在皇帝,左在阳陵” (Operation Authorised: emperor holds the right side and the commander in Yangling has the left ). It was issued to the highest field commander deployed in a place called Yangling by Emperor Qin Shi Huang after he conquered other 6 ancient states and merged their territories together to form the protocol of Ancient China for the first time in history. All the runners were issued one side before the race. You get the other side when you finish .. a great incentive to finish!

Obligatory camel selfie
The African Attachment were documenting the event, and watching them work, there's no wonder why the Salomon TV episodes make such great watching.
The African Attachment - their work is never done!
I'm just getting the hang of sightseeing tours, ten-course dinners and hanging out with some great people, when it's time to head to the start. We're meant to camp the night and start early the next morning. Typically, I only realised on the day and nearly let my race kit get despatched to the finish point instead.
Betsy prepping her pack
The camp site is a taste of things to come on the course. Large, heavy duty tents have been set up, dinner is being prepared and everyone is bustling round getting themselves ready for the start tomorrow. The air is clear (especially after the pollution in Beijing) and crisp, and it's the first of many incredible sunsets I get to enjoy.
Photo: Nick Muzik
The last supper
Jim's (left) design - a convertible sleeping bag jacket
After dinner, we're treated to a fireworks display and the Mayor comes by to share mooncakes with everyone in celebration of the coming Mid-Autumn Festival. We're all keen to get some rest, and I try my borrowed sleeping bag out for the first time (merci, Virginie!), having managed to score two sleeping pads for a bit more comfort. Our tent has all the foreign runners, including Janet Ng from Hong Kong, who's just arrived after some serious travel delays, and brought my hydration bladder, yay!

It was a tactical error being in the first tent, the nearby camp generators were very noisy and I didn't get much sleep at all. Morning came too quick as usual, and it's not long before all thirty of us are dressed and waiting at the start. It's pretty cold, something I hadn't quite anticipated. Guazhou, where we're starting, is known as the Wind factory of China .. and they're not wrong!
Selfie at the start!
It's still dark and we're running by headlamp for the first couple of hours. It's a new experience not having any course markings, but we're still running in a group for now so I'm not worried. My pack weighs about 7kg, no issue for now, and my legs feel relaxed. It's quiet as we're all embarking on our little adventure, albeit some quicker than others. Massimo the Italian speedster has already taken the lead, with a couple of renowned Chinese runners Bai Bin and Zhao Zhiyu running together.
Photo: Nick Muzik
The field spreads out and I'm in a space of my own, Janet is nearby, as is Ryoichi and another Chinese runner. I start looking at my GPS for the first time as we should be reaching the first checkpoint at 12.8km, trying to figure out which buttons to press and if the big arrow is what I need to follow. Yes, I should have practised, but I didn't, so time to learn on the move!

I notice my arrow is pointing left when runners seem to be headed right, so I ask a nearby runner with a yellow windbreaker what his GPS says. It's pointing right, and I see Janet headed in the same direction. She's just done PTL and should have a good idea of where she's going, so I decide to follow. Not an auspicious omen getting the wrong route so early on!

The checkpoint is not far ahead, water stops and time checks are every 15km or so, and I stop to check my GPS. I randomly press a few more buttons and realise I wasn't even on the saved course earlier. I'll get the hang of this eventually!
First sunrise
New trail friends - Ryoichi and Zhijian
Janet, Ryoichi, Zhijian (yellow windbreaker) and I run together for a bit more. It's easier to find the way when there's a few people to support navigational choices. So far it's been flat, scrubby, hard-packed sand and sun-hardened mini mud valleys.

I'm happy shuffling along with the other 3, but generally I'm not used to running with anyone for long periods of time.  I don't like the pressure of feeling I have to keep up or that I might be slowing them down, and wonder when my pace will eventually be too slow for those around me.
Janet and Zhijian lead the way
Zhijian and I strike up an easy conversation that's slightly limited by my simple Chinese, he's here for the experience (aren't we all!), and the furthest he's run is 100km. I get the impression he's a fast runner, and keep reminding him that he's free to run on if he wants to. Maybe a few things got lost in translation, but he assured me he was happy to run at my pace.

My main aim for this race was to run easy, stave off injury for as long as possible (shin still not feeling 100%), and have a great time. i figured if I could have at least the first 3 days injury free, then I could knuckle out the rest.

R1 (CP3), the first rest stop, comes quickly at 35.5km, and we don't stay long. Just a quick refuel and out again. Janet has trotted along ahead, looking strong as usual and Ryoichi keeps pace with her.

Allan Lee joins us not long after, and our little group makes steady progress. We're all in good spirits and I try to take pictures along the way to remind me of what the journey was like. The aim is to get to R3 (CP9), at 103.6km before we get some sleep.
Tired volunteers
So far we've been following Zhijian's GPS, and using mine as a backup .. I'm glad to see that most of the time my arrow is concurring with his! We navigate some cotton fields, and I've slowed to a brisk walk instead as my pack is starting to feel too heavy to run with.
Passing through a score of cotton fields
Our first sunset is gorgeous, and I find myself bossing Allan and Zhijian around, making sure we put on warm clothes and get our headlamps out before it gets dark. Lucky for me they're both lovely, easy-going souls! Crossing a large highway, we pick up Ryoichi again. He'd gotten very lost, is super tired now and decides to stick with us till R3. The terrain starts to develop significant bumps that make navigation harder and the fatigue that sets in with the night makes progress slow. We end up doing some unnecessary climbing in the dark, and finally find the right track as Allan and Ryoichi are really flagging. R3 seems to take forever to get to, and Allan has an upset stomach that is getting worse.
First sunset

We finally get to R3 at about 3.30am, I'm 2h ahead of my estimated schedule and wishing I'd put more snacks in my drop bag. Zhijian's instant noodles look so tasty! I stick to my Tailwind, and hope I have more exciting things to look forward to at the next rest stop. All that flat terrain was hard work, and given the lack of rest I'd had in the preceding month, my brain wasn't keen to be disciplined about only taking Tailwind. I head off to try and sleep and we agree to reconvene at 7am.

After a restless night, we don't actually leave till about 8am. Ryoichi's already set off, and Allan's stomach troubles are worsening. I give him some Tailwind and tell him to take nothing else. It's similar to oral rehydration formulas and should help keep his energy levels up.
Photo: Nick Muzik
It's hot out today, and loads more flat ground. Poor Allan keeps having to hide behind a bush every 2 minutes .. except that there aren't really any bushes! CP10 is up next at 14km away, and it seems to take an age to get there. We're traversing some vast, pebbly terrain, and pass the time trying to find interesting rocks underfoot. Zhijian has the idea of finding a special rock as a token for someone special, and Allan jokes that we should find a heart-shaped one. We pick up unusual rocks that catch our eye along the way until Zhijian stumbles on the perfect one! It's a flat, heart shaped granite-coloured rock with sparkly flecks .. mission accomplished! While we're in great spirits, Allan's taken a turn for the worse. We persuade him to stay at CP10 (you're allowed an hour) to try and rest and settle his stomach. I know he's strong enough to catch up if he gets better, and he can always follow the slower runners behind us, as we're somewhere in the middle of the field. We leave him reluctantly, but it was of no benefit to any of us to keep going together. They also check our tracking devices and it seems that Zhijian's isn't detecting so we have to stay together for safety.
Zhijian and I trot along, working on a 2 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy to ease the monotony and get my lazy ass into gear. He's easy to run with and we settle into a comfortable silence for the most part. The next 10km is brutally flat, made bearable by camel spotting and trying to take surreptitious camel selfies without scaring them off.

Camel toes ..

Next up, R4 (CP12) at 141km! It's nice to have a dropbag to look forward to, but I can't remember what I packed so I'm just hoping there's some Snickers or sweets in mine! At CP11 we hear the route to R4 isn't so easy to find, and that Massimo got very lost trying to find his way. It's a scorcher today, but the wind keeps our jackets on. There's no shade to speak of and we've adopted a strategy of resting a short while at each CP instead of just charging ahead.

We get to a wide river mouth and it looks like the way forward on our GPS'. There's a small shaded corner that we sit down at for a little respite before moving on .... and bumping into Ryoichi again! The poor man looks spent, and tells us he's been lost for hours. "That mountain .." he gestures behind him, "I climbed it!" It would've been funny if not for the fatigue on his face! Still, he's smiling as usual and gratefully accepts water from us as he's run out. We assure him we're not far from R4 and the rivulet streams have some lovely cold water that helps refresh us a little. We pick up the pace a little when we're suddenly surrounded by a couple of photographers and videographers. They don't say anything to us but chase ahead every hundred meters to get a shot. We must be close!

"That mountain ... I climbed it!"
We lose them after a bit and frustratingly, seem to lose the track again. It feels like it takes forever to find R4, but we get there after searching for far longer than we expected. I'm glad to sit down, it feels like it's been a stressful afternoon and I'm surprised to see Massimo in the back of the tent. He's pulled out of the race and it looks like he's got a badly swollen Achilles. It's a shame to see him injured, but anything can happen in these events. It's a nice change to speak in English again, and we find out that Janet also pulled out with a dodgy knee. Not good!

Rested, refuelled (snickers, coke, fizzy wine gums!), and having traded some local beef jerky bites with Massimo, I'm good to go. Our little trio heads out again and we manage to lose the track less than 100 metres from R4! It's a special talent, really. We get our bearings again and move on. It's grassland that opens out into undulating hard packed sand. Comfortable enough underfoot. With the sunset, we don our warm clothes and strap on the headlamps. 36km to R5 for a short rest and then onwards (44.6km) to R6 for a sleep. Best laid plans and all that ..

We find CP13 (153.2km) without too much difficulty, but it's dark, cold and very windy now. The CP staff bundle us into their personal tents to get out of the wind, and we take the chance to get some calories in as well as put on our down jackets. It's funny watching Ryoichi trying to fold his lanky limbs into the tent, but once we're all squashed in, it's toasty warm and the 5 minutes respite is very welcome. 

Back out into the wind, the grassland gives way to uneven dry riverbed and small creeks, all of which make it more difficult underfoot. We're climbing gently, and it seems to take forever to get to CP14 (165.1km). There's a flashing beacon which we head towards, where our GPS says the CP should be, but it really takes an age to get to, and the gale force winds are relentless. We're knackered by the time we arrive at CP4, and this time we're each bundled into separate tents, where the CP volunteers keep checking to make sure we're ok. Honey roast macadamias, peanut M&Ms and wine gums are my current fuel of choice, a little incentive to get to each CP in the freezing wind. It's taken us over 7h to cover 24km from R4. There's just over 11km to R5, where the promise of shelter and another dropbag with potential goodies is waiting. We decide that we'll probably sleep at R5 instead, and aim to get there in 3h or so, and we set out from CP14 sometime before 1am.

We're advised to keep the river gorge on our left, and follow it till we're meant to cross. Due to the temperature drop and the rising water, an SUV will ferry us across. The earlier runners had to wade across, but we're told not to as it's now too dangerous. The temperature has dropped below freezing, and the wind is biting into us as we make our way forward. Three hours in a relatively straight line, what could possibly go wrong?

I lead the way, and Zhijian is grumpy but I'm not sure why. We're moving forward with the GPS arrow, and everything seems fine till we come to a sharp drop. There's nowhere to go - too steep to go down into the river bed, which is looks a good 300m+ drop into and inky abyss. Zhijian didn't agree with my navigation and hence the grumps. I said he should speak up if he felt there was a problem - no sense in cutting your nose off to spite your face. Ryoichi has resigned himself to following faithfully. He's so tired that I worry he'll fall off the cliff and make sure he stays away from the edge. The wind and cold are sapping our energy and we backtrack to find another way. We end up back at CP14 (having wasted almost an hour), and double check our directions. The CP chief says we should take the inner road, keep the general direction and we should find our way. We can't go the original GPS route as that would take us via the river which is now too dangerous. Great. Here we go again.

I ask Zhijian to take the lead this time, but he's leaving it to me, although he does promise to speak up if he thinks I've got it wrong. I realise he's pretty tired and his usually sunny disposition is has gone into hiding. I'm not tired - the 200ml of Coke from my dropbag in R4 is keeping me wide awake, and I try to take the easiest route possible, given Ryoichi looks like he's about to keel over from fatigue at any time too. 

We're climbing up and scrambling down what seem like endless gravelly hills in the dark - I'm grateful for a decent beam with my Led Lenser H07R, best purchase so far! It allows be to project some light further ahead too, avoiding some dead end climbs. But our hike in the cold and dark is ENDLESS. Everytime I think I've found a track that will take us to the river, it stops short. My frustration is growing and I'm worried for my two tired friends. There's no shelter from the wind, and where we think we should be crossing the river, there's no SUV waiting. All I want to see now is the comforting beam of car headlights.

5.30am - we've been enroute to R5 for nearly 6h now, and according to my GPS, we're just over halfway, only 6km covered. We've been down the same track twice now and it's ended at the river. We're all freezing and I don't know what to do next. My present state of mind has crested past despair and descended into resignation. I can't keep dragging the other two round what seems like a wild goose chase. We decide to call Race HQ, but there's no mobile signal. Zhijian and I make a choice. We activate the SOS on our trackers and try to find a spot out of the wind to wait. There isn't much shelter but the wind buffets a little less just on a slope to the right, so we stop there. I help Ryoichi into his sleeping bag and make sure he's as warm as possible. He doesn't question anything, and is asleep almost immediately. Zhijian and I try our mobiles again, our headlamps on high strobe, and we try to get some sleep as well.

I doze a little, and open my eyes to find the sun is coming up and snow has fallen. There's a light cover of snow all over, and as always, everything feels a little better with the sunrise. I hear a car beeping it's horn - it must be our rescue! But my amazing new JetScream whistle sounds like a damp squib .. DO NOT, ever, buy a JetScream whistle! The car horn gets further away .. will they come back again? 

It's an agonising wait, maybe 15-20 minutes, before I hear the horn again, this time coming closer! Then the truck is driving past us, still beeping his horn, but he doesn't see us! Tinted windows and the horn going means that he's missed us completely! I'm tripping out of my sleeping bag and running down after it, and screaming like a mad person. It's a relief when he finally stops and sees me behind, and I get a lift back to where Ryoichi and Zhijian are.

We bundle into the truck and take stock. It's 5km to R5 once we're over the river, and Ryoichi decides to call it a day. He looks cold and knackered, plus he's carrying a couple of injuries that will only get worse with 230km still to go. I'm of the same mind. I'm cold and more than ready to throw in the towel, I didn't sign up to freeze my ass off and wander for hours hopelessly lost. Embarrassingly, I also burst into tears. I didn't realise how responsible I'd feel for the other two, and it's a huge relief now that I know we're minutes away from hot food and shelter. Understandably, Zhijian opts to continue. With no injuries and a fresh day ahead, it's a good call. He gets out once we're over the river and makes his way on foot to R5.

Back at R5 (176.9km), there's all sorts going on. Bryon, Betsey and Benoit are all getting ready to head out. They've had a long enforced rest overnight there sheltering from the crazy weather. Good to see some familiar faces and so nice speak in English for a bit. I wrap up in my sleeping bag and try to get warm and get some food in. Bryon gets my hydration bladder filled with hot water .. best idea ever! My new hot water bottle is awesome :) 
Warming up at R5
So many questions, everyone's so concerned knowing we'd activated our SOS, and just want to make sure we're all ok. Zhijian makes it back to R5 and he's looking good. The energy is back and he's got a smile on his face. A part of me wishes I was still in the race so I could keep going with him, and see his adventure to the end, but I'm so tired of being cold that I'm glad I've stopped. Not particularly pleased with having to DNF again, but that's ultras for you. 


That's why there's a Part 2 to this tale ... 😉

Ryoichi in good spirits again at R5. Photo: Nick Muzik

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Time flies when you're having fun

May?? My last post was MAY? Where does the time go!? Anyway stay tuned, there's a slew of stuff coming. I promise ;) The Plague in Cornwall, The Magnificent Merapoh Trail in Pahang, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa in Italy, and the truly EPIC Ultra Trail Gobi Race ..

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Being Free to Run

Some of you may have seen recent my Facebook posts and shared posts lately about finding contacts within China. This is an urgent plea - please take the time to read this and understand what it will mean if you can share or help. As I explain below, a connection with Huawei in particular is urgently needed.

Two girls from Afghanistan, Nelofar (19) and Zainab (25), are planning to join a 250 km race in the Gobi Desert (, with ultrarunner and human rights lawyer Stephanie Case who is based in Gaza, making up the final member of the team.

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman where even walking outside alone puts them at risk. Despite the incredible challenges, these two young women have found a way to train six days a week for the last six months to prepare.

With the girls due to leave next week, Zainab and Nelofar have run into unexpected visa issues. In order to get their visas, they need a sponsorship letter from a company in China, which will enable the China Foreign Affairs to issue a letter of invitation. The company must be a China-registered Government company or very strongly government-affiliated and must have large amounts of business with neighbouring countries, ideally the country from which those seeking the sponsorship letter are coming from (Afghanistan).

The value of getting these two Afghan girls to the Gobi is immeasurable. Quite simply, it is an opportunity of a lifetime that has the potential to not only change their lives for the better, but also the lives of women and men around them. The race provides them with a chance to prove to themselves, their communities, their country and all of us what Afghan women are capable of, and an opportunity to defy limits that have been imposed on them by society. 

They feel a responsibility to their families, to Afghan women and to their country to get to the finish line. They have trained in the face of harassment, Taliban attacks and insecurity. They are potential leaders in their community and this race would give them the opportunity to develop their confidence. Nelofar, who is 19 years old, is hoping to use this experience to start her own running club for other Afghan women in her home town. Zainab wants to keep running for the rest of her life, using it as a vehicle for peace.

Nelofar has never taken an international flight before - this is a huge step. Zainab now feels like she has hope for her future. 

This race is much, much more than a race to them and to other Afghan women. 

Nothing like this has ever been attempted before - it would be groundbreaking.

At present, we are calling for any connections to HUAWEI or possible mining and petroleum companies such as Metallurgical Corporation of China, Jiangxi Copper Corporation and China National Petroleum Corporation, as they have current projects invested in Afghanistan.

If you can help, please contact Samantha Fanshawe (, leave a comment or send a message. Time is running out and I believe we can make this happen if we try hard enough!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

It Ain't Over Till The Fat Lady Sings

... but in my case, it was more like Roxette belting out "These boots were made for walking" with perfectly timed ironic angst.

After covering 315km in four days and finally feeling like I was on the home straight, my attempt at the 450km ANZAC Ultra was finished. I suddenly went from bouncing along the trail to having sharp shooting pains all up my left shin, unable to bear any weight on my left leg. When I saw that the swelling and redness had spread from my lower shin up my leg and around towards the achilles, I switched off the music and turned around on the trail.
Canberra is gorgeous!
Ready to start!
Four days ago, 8am on Easter Monday, a small group of runners set off on an epic challenge that sought to celebrate the centenary of ANZAC Day, and raise funds for Legacy, an ex-service organisation that looks after the welfare of former servicemen and their families. The original route was meant to re-enact the 320 mile Cooee Recruitment March from Gilgandra to Sydney, but red tape and logistical obstacles saw the final route manifest as a 6-laps of a 75km loop on the Canberra Centenary Trail. There'd be teams and runners doing shorter (300/150/75km) runs which started later in the week so ideally it wouldn't get too lonely out there!

450km would be the furthest I'd ever attempted. For those of you who asked why, it's because it was there. I chanced upon the race on one night, and after a few emails exchanged with RD Phil Essam,  I'd signed up. I like challenges, and this one was too good to pass up. I didn't know too much about ANZAC, but I found out soon enough.

My official cheerleaders
Arriving in Canberra Easter Saturday weekend, it was a whirlwind of family (my cousin, Pinghan, and his gorgeous family had offered to take me in and also help crew me for the race), friends, logistics and crazy weather. The race start was at Stromlo Forest Park, where some runners and crew had already set up tents and campervans and our tent was tiny in comparison! I was so lucky to meet Gavin and Jeff from Tailwind (one of the race sponsors) who not only lent us a mallet for the tent pegs (super-hard ground there .. noted for next time!), but also very kindly gave me a bag of Tailwind to get me through the first day as my supplies wouldn't arrive till Monday night via 'Buzz Express'! ;)
Race village - ours is the blue one on the left :)
No such thing as bad weather ...
Lap 1 - Monday 8am, 0km done
The race briefing was as expected, and lovely to see Aussie ultrarunning legend Wayne 'Blue Dog' Gregory again after far too many years! Almost everyone knew everyone else, and I may have been the only nutter outside of Australia who'd signed up, but certainly grateful for a familiar face.
Supplies tent!
450km or bust!
The forecast was for rain, and it was much colder than I'd expected. Anyway, life goes on and once I'd done my massive grocery shop, unpacked everything from the Iherb delivery and sorted out the squillion things on my race check list, it was Sunday night and time for bed. How on earth do you prepare for a 450km single-stage race? I was so excited I couldn't sleep properly .. feeling good!

After discussion with Mile 27 coach Andy Dubois, the basic plan was to go as far as possible before collapsing from exhaustion, have a short sleep of 20-60 mins, restock, refuel, and repeat. I meant to average 15h per loop including rests and had a total target of 90 hours to complete. Nutrition was to be Tailwind throughout -  it worked well for me and I had a stack of snacks in case I felt like a treat. Best laid plans and all that.
Unmanned water point at Kambah Pool
There were 20 solo runners and four teams, so a nice little group. It was cold but dry at the start, and we were waved off without much fanfare, steady as you go. Pinghan would start meet me at the end of the first loop with some hot food and Buzz would take over when he arrived that night. I run with a tall chap named Geoff for some of the way, he's got pink zinc striped across his face and only arrived at 3am this morning from Sydney, after all week in a yacht race, crikey! 23km to Checkpoint 1 at Tuggeranong went by way too fast, I know I should slow down but I'm running as I feel. My enthusiasm will burn off in a 100km or so, but for now lets go with it.

It's not as flat as I thought it'd be, though. In fact, it's bloody hilly for a 1000m D+ loop so far. The terrain is ok, hard-packed and not technical at all. There's a beautiful gorge (Murrumbidgee River, I think) and lots of massive kangaroos along the way. Everyone who's run past has been lovely and chatted for a bit, and I've already showed how sure-footed I am by tripping over nothing at all .. Andy Sewell runs past, amazed he's found someone clumsier than himself. ;)
Andy running past
The route marking is pretty clear so far, rain started around noon and the second leg (28km) from Tuggeranong to CP2 at Lennox Gardens had a few 'nice' climbs. Not the same adjectives on later laps for sure! Feeling great and chugging along, I meet Liz Stephens and Lisa Hussey (and Gonzo!) along Mugga Lane, and am rather envious of Matt Daniels' welcome convoy compete with customised t-shirts just before we hit CP2.
Liz, Lisa and Andy :)
I haven't taken anything from the CPs so far, still good with water and Tailwind .. I'll refuel at a water stop later on. I haven't need to drink much so far due to the cold. I've been alone for most of the day (with Tiggs on my shoulder) and going round Lake Burley Griffin is the flattest section (8km), and possibly the most mind-numbing. Nearly get lost trying to find the bridge across to the other side, but it all works out and I'm at Black Mountain Peninsula before I know it. Skeeta (Matt's crew) and a lovely elderly couple (Cheryl's parents/crew) are there and I've seen Skeeta at so many places along the way so far that I thought he was a volunteer marshall and that they were either triplets or Phil managed to get loads of volunteers who really looked the same! I didn't twig till later that he was waiting for Matt ..
Gorgeous afternoon by the lake ..
A loop of the peninsula and then towards the Arboretum, it was lovely inside the cork oak plantation, nice and soft underfoot and I couldn't resist the temptation to poke one of the cork oaks to see if it was really that soft. Just 16kms to finish the first loop, it's undulating again and I'm looking forward to the hot rice and salmon that's waiting for me at Stromlo. It's been a cold and increasingly wet day, but nothing I haven't done before and time to get ready for Lap 2. It's just gone dark by the time I get to Stromlo, and I've run in with Cheryl, who's doing a great job so far. The 920XT's battery gave up the ghost just before I got in, it's taken me just over 10 hours for this first lap.
Lap 1 done!
Pinghan, Phil, Phoebe and Nellie are all there waiting, Tailwind mixed, chargers ready and jammies on. In the mad rush with kids and kit, the hot food was left behind, so Pinghan scoots back to get it while I try to stay warm. It's just over an hour before I'm headed out again, had to hide in the ladies changing rooms to stay out of the wind, but all good. It's raining heavily now and Phil wants to know if I'll wait a bit? Nah. Might as well just plug on while I can. It's about 7.30pm, Monday night.

Karen's crew was well stocked and mobile ;)

Lap 2 - Monday 8pm, 75km done
It's quite different in the dark. The course markings aren't very reflective, so I'm glad we got to do the first loop in daylight. My propensity to get lost is always a worry, but at least I get to do take the scenic route! I catch up to Matt not long after, he's lost the trail and we amble ahead together. It's nice to have some company at last, more so in the dark. We catch up with Liz a little further on, and she's got enough energy to power all of us. I'm try to keep up with her powerhouse pace, whilst holding a conversation, answering her phone and generally distracting us from the fact that it's cold and wet. She's also carrying everything and the kitchen sink with her, I'm so impressed I think I have a girl crush for the first time in decades. And you should see her guns. I'm hitting the gym when I get back to HK.
Black Mountain in the distance .. Canberra is definitely NOT flat.
Still not flat. 
Somehow Matt drops behind, but we stop periodically to shout out and check he's still on the trail. The highlight of the night had to be the massive wombat we saw ... it was the same size as me if I was wombat-shaped! I was totally stoked to have seen that! Coming up to CP1, I get a message from Buzz to say he'll be in Canberra soon - he was driving over from Sydney. He'll meet me just after CP1 for a status check, yay!
Autumn colours enroute
Liz and I get through CP1 and head for McDonalds (I didn't even know it was there!), hoping to get a hot drink .. we're soaked through and freezing by now. No luck. The 24h Maccas is only open for drive-in customers and will only serve people in CARS. Not even if you're freezing, wet and have just run 98km. We get rescued by a lovely chap who drives in and buys us both a hot drink. Bless! xx
Liz heads off with her coffee as she's got her car parked about 20km away, and she'll stop there for a sleep. Buzz arrives a few minutes later, swaps my two pairs of wet gloves for a dry set, gives me a hug and sends me on my way. Hot tea coming through!
A much needed hot tea
The next leg to CP2 is awful. I'm getting colder, wetter and slower, and the sleep monster has started his shift early. Once I'm in the bush, I'm bouncing off trees, walking with my eyes shut and suddenly desperate for a sleep. I can't stop as I know I'll freeze, so I just keep going. The bush is pretty sparse, so when I see anything big enough to sit on, or lean against, I do so, count to 20, then get going again. Oh, and check for spiders first.

Sunrise at last!
Its taken forever to get to CP2 - 11.5h, longer than my entire first lap! My crew are worried. I've been in contact so they know I'm ok, and are waiting for me at Lennox Gardens with a camp bed, dry clothes and hot food. I'm so grateful to see them! Quick refuel, they tuck me in and I'm out like a light for 60 minutes.
Coming into CP2 and FREEZING
Time for 40 winks .. I'm under there somewhere.
I'M UP! OK, recharged and ready to go! The sun is out at last, I'm fed and dry with fresh shoes and socks, then Buzz waves me off.  It's the boring flat loop around the lake, but it's slow and steady. The 920XT is dead and I'm on the 310XT now, but the readings are all wonky and taking it out of retirement was not the best idea.
Me and Tiggs on the run
The next bit is a bit fuzzy and I can't remember who I did or didn't see (not hallucinating yet) but I do know it was a bit of an effort to get back to Stromlo (150km done!) and things are starting to hurt. Both my Achilles are swollen and sore, I have another mystery sore lump on the top of my right foot and I'm completely wet and frozen again. Buzz makes me stand under the hot shower for 10 minutes as he updates me. Several runners were pulled off the course the night before with hypothermia, and it looks like the weather will get worse before it gets better. I'm cold and grumpy and not receiving this news very well. I change, eat, and see if the massage services by Michael Gillan would help. It's nearly 2pm on Tuesday, and I faff around trying to get some sleep and work out what's wrong with my Achilles. Laces are loosened on coach Andy's advice, and hopefully that'll sort out the pain and swelling on the top of my foot. Buzz and I decide I should head out just before it gets dark and cover as much ground as I can. I plan to do the full loop so it's hi-vis vest and headlamp on, and out I go into the rain again.

Lap 3 - Tuesday 6pm, 150km done
It doesn't seem to take long to get to CP1 again. With the exception of a near head-on collision with a large man-sized kangaroo on the trail, it's pretty uneventful and the pain in my achilles is bearable. The rain got worse, and Buzz met me just after CP1 with a change of plans. I thought I'd try and get a quick 30mins kip and dry off before tackling section 2, but the weather had other plans. We end up sleeping fitfully in the car till daybreak - the rain was so heavy and it snowed at one point in the night .. Buzz took the executive decision to wait it out.
Ready to rock after a night in the car
SO. Wednesday 5am and back on the trail again. I was aiming for a 15h loop, and feeling good after some rest. The sun was out, I was keeping up a pace again and apart from my right ITB complaining a little (I guessed from trying to save my sore achilles) everything felt good.

Not so easy to get through these gates after 225km!

This was my favourite lap so far, everything felt great, mainly because the sun was out, and I was (relatively) flying. Had some company on the boring flat lake loop with superfast Liz, her friend and their dog (sorry, names all forgotten!). Looking forward to dry clothes and hot food waiting at Stromlo, I was having a great time. I think really need to stick to the warm, dry races. I was still on Tailwind and random snacks, looking forward to pot noodles or rice and salmon at the end of each loop. The last 4 km back into Stromlo didn't quite go as planned, with achilles hurting again and this time my lower left shin feeling pretty wrecked as well.
Kangaroo spotting again
Blue Dog motoring on banana power
I pretty much walked the last bit in, passed by Liz who was powering ahead, Blue Dog, who was on banana power, and I limped into Stromlo just under 16h (minus the giant nanna nap in the car) feeling rather sorry for myself. There was a gorgeous sunset, and just enough warmth in the air to cheer me up a little. Buzz got Danny the medic to come take a look at my legs in the race office where it was warm and dry. Danny made all sorts of disapproving noises, but to be fair, he did his best to keep all of us going for as long as he felt was safe to do so. He thought I might have torn a muscle where my left shin was red, swollen and very sore to touch. At the very least it was some serious shin splints. I haven't had shin splints for over 20 years! :(
Feet up and sunset!
While Danny is sorting me out, Matt and Andy both come in. Matt seems like he's holding up ok, and is off to rest for the night before going out again the next morning. Andy is hoping to go out again soon, but it looks like he's got the same problems I have. Danny doses us both up, tells us to rest for the night and play it by ear in the morning. Or at least rest 4 hours or risk bleeding out from the meds. I'll take the rest if it means I get to carry on, Andy does the same. I can't face sleeping in the tent or car, so we get to Pinghan's house and crash out for the night. It feels amazing to have a hot shower and a warm bed, I don't think I'm going to wake up, and I owe my cousin big time for all his hospitality.

Lap 4 - Thursday 6.30am, 225km done
Amazing what some sleep can do ... I'm ready for Lap 4! I start with Lisa (Harvey-Smith), but she's not having a great time with it and I soon lose her. I asked Buzz to help find me some gaiters and poles, and bless him, he did! I had Sally's awesome pink gaiters and he'd promised me a set of poles by the time I was done with CP1. What a star. I'm back on track, everything hurts and it's 2km down the road before I ring Buzz, asking him to meet me enroute with a pair of scissors. We chop off the back of my Hokas, and it's a world of relief. My sore Achilles hopefully won't take too long to ease off now. I'm limping along quite happily till I get to the end of Kambah Pool Road. My endorphins seem to hit a black hole, fatigue crashes in and I'm falling into despair. I want to talk to someone but don't know what to say. I deliberate for ages, still moving forward from force of habit (always useful), and then dial Andy's (my coach) number. There's no reply. I try again and then give up, hoping that he might call back. I've forgotten he's at Buffalo Stampede.
Hacked off Hokas
Happy on the start of Lap 4 ...
... and then much less happy.
I feel like I'm at the bottom of the barrel and I've got nothing left. I'm 240km in, with 210km to go. It feels too far to think about.

Then I remember the emergency ipod. Together with a hand delivery of Gurney Goo (indispensible anti-chafe solution!), John Ellis lent me his ipod with a 'Jeri The ANZAC' playlist. I've never run with music, in training or in races, but I'd been carrying it in my pack since Monday. Nothing for it. I plug in the earphones and realise I don't even know how to turn this on .. duh. Tech dinosaur gets the hang of it after a while and I'm good to go.
Cow photobomb .. I think Matty started this :)
It's Fix You by Coldplay. Suddenly I'm crying like a baby and running. Well, running in comparison to my disheartened trudging pace before, anyway. My heart and spirit feel like they've been given a huge boost and my brain is completely distracted by the new soundtrack to my epic run. It's like caffeine but better, and I know the words!
Sun's out, yay!
"When your legs don't work like they used to before" from Thinking Out Loud made me giggle, and then Angels by Robbie Williams got me into full on karaoke mode. I scared some kangaroos with my yodelling and was absolutely delighted with drowning out the pain and fatigue with some tunes. New secret weapon!! Plus it was such a surprise to see what the next song would be. I'm eating up the miles, at CP1 in good time and Buzz meets me further along with my new poles. He's found some Black Diamond foldies, and they're purple! I KNOW this is going to be a good day.
Pink and purple!
I'm off again, singing, clacking my poles and meeting a few people along the way including Andy and Julie. There are some faster runners now as the 300km runners have started, I do get startled by a couple coming past as I'm in Surround Sound Karaoke Land. 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' takes me up Red Hill,  'Mambo No 5' takes me past Parliament House and 'Titanium' takes me into CP2 and 275km. Brilliant! I catch Liz up again and we power walk the second half of the lake, joined by one of her friends. I take off again as I need to move quicker, walking hurts more than running. 

It's much colder by the time I get to the arboretum, time to layer up. Liz and her friend catch me up there and power on, my shin pain is back big time and I'm back to trudging. No worries, only about 10k to Stromlo! Just then, the magic ipod ran out of battery, and I felt bereft. I was too tired to want to think for myself, so I turned on Ian Corless' podcasts instead and listened to Sage Canaday blathering on about something instead.
Recharged, refuelled and my shin is looking a bit worse for wear.
Grumpy, cold and finally back at Stromlo, I limp to the race office again for a status check with Danny. My shin is still red and swollen, hurts like a bugger to touch, I feel broken all over and we need a new plan. I'm 300km down, with less than a miler to go, there's no way I'm giving up yet. Danny's magic meds are dispensed with the proviso that I get at least 4 hours rest before heading out again, so that's the plan. Sleep till 5am and then head out. Get another lap in, sleep, and finish the job on Saturday. Worst case I'll finish Sunday morning. I'm on it.
Not good.
Buzz sets up the camp bed in the ladies changing room again and I crash out there. Except I can't sleep. I want to go on. I've had some hot food, and a bit of banter with some of the other walking wounded - Andy, Matt and Liz all checked in, and now with an hour's sleep I wanted to go again. I made myself rest a bit longer .. and I give up. I pull on the rest of my warm layers and head out, it's still dark out but I can't twiddle my thumbs till sunrise.

Lap 5 - Friday 4.30am, 300km done
I'm off in the dark, but it feels good to be making some progress. It's slow to start, I'm cold and will need to ease into this. And everything still hurts. I pass Gavin, Jeff and Karen on the way out, and Gav gives me a big hug. His run is over, and I'm gutted for him. 

Just as it's getting light, Matt comes bouncing past, looking great and we have a quick chat before he heads off again. It's daylight now and I start taking some layers off, and get passed by Kristy and Colin from the 300km looking nice and strong together. I get new resolve seeing these guys go past, and now I'm stripped down to my skirt, top, poles and ipod. Off we go!
Canberra cloud formations are beautiful!
I love how the light of a new day and some music can make such a difference. Life is good again, the pain is forgotten and I'm clacking past Kristy and Colin, and then past Matt as he stops to refuel with his crew. So lovely to see everyone and I get the feeling I've nailed this.

The long stretch down Kambah Pool Road is happy enough, at this pace another 15h loop shouldn't be an issue. Skeeta and Leigh (Matt's crew) pass me on the road and stop at the trailhead to wait for Matt. 

I'm bouncing along, about a kilometre in on the trail, when there are shooting pains up my shin and I can't support my weight. I would've fallen if not for the poles. Another 50m of hopping and I know what this means. it's a different sort of pain. The kind that says 'Sorry, this is serious." But I don't want to accept it. It can't end like this, not when I've broken the back of it, the sun is shining and my ipod is fully charged!

But I can't even walk. I look down and see the redness and swelling have much further up and around, something Danny told me to look out for. Matt comes by, and offers to call Skeeta to pick me up. I decline and say I'll get my crew. No sense holding them up, I need to get this looked at first, no telling how long that will take. He gives me a hug and says he'll finish for me. Everyone I've met, runners, crew and volunteers alike have been amazing like that. 

I'm hobbling backwards on the trail and it feels so wrong. It's always been about moving forward, surely I could make it to CP1? That's another 12km. No chance. Kristy and Colin pass and offer their sympathies, and so does Valastik.

In the end, Matt called his crew anyway. Leigh and Skeeta found me on the trail and drove me back to Stromlo. Such lovely, generous people I've had the privilege of meeting!

Pinghan and Buzz are at Stromlo, and Danny comes in to take a look, and pronounces the end of my run. My crew concurs. 315km and I'm finished, live to race another day.

Gav, Brick and Jeff
Despite the failure of my ANZAC Ultra attempt, seeing the dogged determination of everyone else out there on the course, the supportive marshalls and volunteers smiling no matter what time of day or night, and the generosity of both runners and crew all along the way have really made this an experience to remember. Matt, Blue Dog and Liz all promising to finish for me, Andy gutting it out in spite of an eventual stress fracture, Sam nailing the race with a torn VMO, and Brick finishing in second place despite some very impressive blisters.
No more running
Amazing ladies and 450km finishers!
Huge huge thanks to Buzz, Pinghan, Aimee, Phil and the gorgeous kids for all their help and hospitality, couldn't have done it without you! xx Coach Andy for all the prep and advice leading up to this and putting up with my constantly changing schedule. So, so glad to have met Bek, Julie, Skeeta, Leigh, Phil, Sally, Cathie, Anya and everyone else I've forgotten to mention!
With Andy, Danny and Liz
Big hugs to everyone who sent messages on FB, whatsapp and text .. I got them all and even though I couldn't reply, your thoughts and strength were very much appreciated xx

War historian C.E.W. Bean defined the spirit of ANZAC to have 
'stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat.' 

The hardy souls I met at the ANZAC Ultra certainly embodied these qualities, runner, crew and volunteers alike. Despite the challenges from the weather, cold, a lack of resources or unexpected obstacles, everyone did their best. That's all that mattered.

This was the only edition to be held so there isn't a chance to do this again, but there's more challenges round every corner so I'll just sort out my shin and get back on the trail. My race report was very much a personal account, but with these events, it's all about pushing your own limits. I don't think it's ever really a race against anyone but yourself unless you're at the very pointy end of the field. It was quite a lonely journey for the most part .. I had sections with great company, but mostly very long periods by myself.

Danny the medic was an absolute trooper, going well beyond the call of duty. I don't think he ever slept and he must have boosted the local pharmacy sale a hundredfold with the amount of magic pills he dispensed. But you shouldn't go round telling ladies they have cellulite! (For the record, he said cellulitis, which is completely different.)

There's a great account by Rob Sharpe, Gav's long-suffering crew, here:

Sam Weir's race report here:

Pics of the event here: (I don't seem to be in any of them!)

And for those who asked, my equipment list is here: (I did wear everything at the same time when it was cold, plus a few borrowed layers from Buzz and Pinghan!)
Cap - Raidlight
or Visor (daytime only) - Salomon
Buff (for warmth, wiping off Tailwind messes, and emergency boob tube services)
Sunglasses - Oakley zero
Base 1 - Arcteryx Phase SL crew
Base 2 - North Face FlashDry long sleeved base layer
Base 3 - Long sleeve ski thermal top
Armsleeves - Compressport
Mid-base - Marmot ThermalClime Pro 1/2 zip Long sleeve
Waterproof jacket - Marmot Nano and Marmot PreCip 
Gloves - Kalenji liner gloves and Dynafit thernal gloves
Skirt - Salomon Anna Frost Special Edition
Tights - North Face FlashDry
Rainpants - Patagonia H2No Rain pants
Pack -  Salomon S-Lab 5litre
Socks - Drymax crew or Under Armour
Shoes - Hoka Huaka
Anti-Chafe - Gurney Goo
Headlamp - Black Diamond Storm

Nutrition: Tailwind as main base, supplemented with snacks and a hot meal after each lap. I find on the longer events, I use treats as an incentive. They aren't necessary but I like them so I reduce the amount of Tailwind to compensate.
Tailwind - (approx 1 scoop and hour with 250-500ml water)

Snacks: usually a nibble of something every couple of hours, I didn't always carry everything, but restocked with what I felt like at each lap.
Clif Kids Organic Zfruit ropes
Salted/honey roasted nuts (macadamia, cashew, almond)
Gluten-free pretzels
Gluten-free shortbread cookies
Bak kwa
Plain salted crisps
Dried fruit - mango and peach
Ginger chews

My toes looked like this after 315km - should've gotten a gel pedi! But Gurney Goo was amazing :)
These are Brick's feet ... I did give him a tube of Goo for next time! :)
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