Andrew’s 100 km run

My colleague Andrew took part in 100km race in May this year, not for the first time. He kindly took up my offer to contribute to my blog with his story in exchange for a coffee. Bargain!

Andrew talks about what drives him to partake in such a gruelling event, the impact it has on his family and on his outlook. At time of publishing this post Andrew has returned from New York where he hoped to partake in the annual marathon. That didn’t take place due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

The 100km race was sponsored by North Face 100

1. How did you become involved with North Face 100?

The first time that I became involved with The North Face 100 was in 2009 – the first time I entered and completed the race. I must have been crazy enough, or had forgotten the pain each time to endure the distance again in 2010 (completed), 2011 (pulled out of the race at 54kms) and 2012 (completed).

This stemmed from my previous running adventures and the desire to see how far I could test my limits of endurance (or my mind).

2. Please provide an outline of distance running in your life –

When you started:

Throughout my 20s and 30s I had dabbled in a run every now and then. A Clovelly to Bondi and back run, or a run around Botany or the Central Coast suburb of Empire Bay – both of where I was living at separate times, but nothing consistent or serious.

In the first week of November 2005 whilst living in Kirrawee, for no particular reason I was again going for a run and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had been running regularly for a couple of weeks prior. This didn’t go unnoticed to my wife, Vicki, who asked the simple question “Why are you running so much lately?”

Both surprised and amused at the question, it also came the day after I saw some footage on TV of the New York City Marathon.

One of my brothers was living in New York at the time and without even thinking, my reply to Vicki was a joke along the lines of – I’ve decided that I’m going to run the New York Marathon next year and we’ll all (Vicki, our two children Jonathon and Isabella and I) go over and visit Darren and his wife Keira and son Jackson.

Vicki’s reaction was exactly what mine would have been to her had the situation been reversed. She broke into hysterical laughter.

You see, at the time I was 35 years old and a full time musician. Not exactly the ideal make up of a Marathon runner. To add to this I had never entered in a fun run or any other race. My history of running may have extended to a maximum of around 12kms.

To my own amazement, Vicki’s reaction somewhat fuelled me to carrying out my joke to reality.

But my quest to run the New York City Marathon is another story, although one that I’ll let you know that I accomplished in 2006, returned to complete again in 2007 and am now lining up to do all over again in 2012.

What influenced you to compete?

After completing my second New York Marathon in 2007, you could say that I was somewhat hooked on running. I wasn’t particularly fast. I was never going to win or be a runner up in a race. I was usually in the top 1/3 of finishers. It was my outlet and led to the urge of wanting a bigger challenge.

The bigger challenge came in the form of the 6 Foot Track 45km Ultra Marathon (an ultra marathon is any distance greater than the 42.2km marathon distance) in the New South Wales Blue Mountains. After hearing about the gruelling race somewhere I decided to look into entering and because of my previous NYC Marathons and also two completed Sydney Marathons, I had the entry criteria.

In 2008 after completing my first 6 Foot Track, the urge to push my limits further again resulted in me stumbling across The North Face 100, a 100km race also staged throughout the Blue Mountains. The thought of running 100kms had never been on my radar before, let alone 100kms of trail running – significantly harder than a road race – in the Blue Mountains in mid-May. There I was though, signed up and eager to take on the challenge.

So in May 2009 I stood near the start line of the race farewelling my Support Crew – my wife Vicki, eldest son Jonathon and friend David, not really knowing what lay ahead within the next 100kms.

16 hours and 25 minutes later, much to the relief of my Support Crew – who could not believe what I had just achieved, but who also took on the harsh weather elements of bitter cold and winds in excess of 80kms, I had completed my first 100km event both exhausted and totally exhilarated.

Vicki later told me that when she saw me run into complete darkness for the last section of trail at 89kms she completely lost it.

Do you have any mentors?

There are few other ultra-runners that I admire. In particular American runners Dean Karnazes (who I have met and run with a few times. Dean also ran in the first North Face 100 event that I did and although I didn’t know of him at the time he had also run in the first NYM that I did as well) and Scott Jurek.

Why do you do it?

It has become an outlet for me. I guess I could say a bit of “me” time within my busy life (I now have 4 children and work two jobs). It’s definitely an obsession as well.

 Please walk us through the logistics of the North Face 100 event:

What time did you have to get up?

For this year’s event I went to bed (in the house I was staying at in the Blue Mountains) at about 10pm. I tossed and turned for most of the night until a fellow runner friend woke me up at 5am.

What was the atmosphere like?

There was a mixed atmosphere – excitement, seriousness and nervousness, but definitely a distinct buzz.

900 entrants sounds potentially chaotic. Was it?

For over 900 entrants it was very well organised. Checkpoints stations were well equipped. First aid was in high demand as well with many injuries throughout the event. The first 10kms saw a few bottle necks on certain parts of the trail and stairs around the 3 Sisters.

More questions (!)

How many times have you attempted this run?

4 times. I failed last year, but completed the other 3 times.

How long did it take you to complete the 100km course this time?

This year took approximately 18 hours and 15 minutes. It was my slowest time yet. My reasoning for this was the lack of training that I was able to do leading up to it with my work and life schedules.

My longest run before the race was 22kms about 3 weeks out from the event. To step up to 100kms on trail from 22kms on road is absolutely massive.

After having to pull out last year though I was determined to complete the race this year, which I did and I was happy with the result.

What were the most difficult physical and mental challenges your faced during the run?

Physical challenges were what you would expect – exhaustion, cramping, sore feet and knees, sore back (from having to carry a backpack throughout the whole event with approximately 15kgs of mandatory gear) and the cold. There are also a lot of stairs involved in the event (the last 1km is up stairs). You are well and truly sick of stairs after this event!

Mental challenges – in a standard road marathon you typically hit “the wall” at around the 30km mark. In a race like this you hit the wall several times. Pushing through the wall is a challenge within itself each time, especially going up the Nellie’s Glenn Stairs at the start of the Six Foot Track part of the race (approx 60kms into it) and also the incline of 11kms leading up to the 89kms checkpoint. Definitely gruelling and a test of your mental toughness. Many competitors were swearing constantly, sitting on the side of the track and even vomiting. Running the latter half of the race in the dark is also a challenge for many people, although I have found it peaceful each time. At certain points you can turn your headlamp off for a while and enjoy the stars. The sound of the bush rats and other animals in the last 11k

What were the most difficult physical and mental challenges your faced during the run?

Physical challenges were what you would expect – exhaustion, cramping, sore feet and knees, sore back (from having to carry a backpack throughout the whole event with approximately 15kgs of mandatory gear) and the cold. There are also a lot of stairs involved in the event (the last 1km is up stairs). You are well and truly sick of stairs after this event!

Mental challenges – in a standard road marathon you typically hit “the wall” at around the 30km mark. In a race like this you hit the wall several times. Pushing through the wall is a challenge within itself each time, especially going up the Nellie’s Glenn Stairs at the start of the Six Foot Track part of the race (approx 60kms into it) and also the incline of 11kms leading up to the 89kms checkpoint. Definitely grueling and a test of your mental toughness. Many competitors were swearing constantly, sitting on the side of the track and even vomiting. Running the latter half of the race in the dark is also a challenge for many people, although I have found it peaceful each time. At certain points you can turn your headlamp off for a while and enjoy the stars. The sound of the bush rats and other animals in the last 11kms of the race certainly keep you alert as well.

How did you overcome these to complete the course?

I broke each section down into parts and kept focus on the end result and seeing my Support Crew at each of the checkpoints. My support crew for this year’s event were Vicki, Jonathon and my daughter Isabella. Jonathon and Isabella kept up the words of encouragement at each check point which, when you think you have nothing left to go on with, really helped me get through it. Also visualising the finish line with my family waiting there for me – and getting the Bronze Belt Buckle for completing the event in under 20 hours. Vick was also great with rubbing some 10x strength Voltaren on my sore knees and muscles throughout the latter checkpoints, as well as helping me change into warmer clothes as the night grew colder.

Describe the aftermath – any sustained injuries? How long till you fully recovered?

After the race I collected my belt buckle and we went straight to the car for the long drive home – about 2 hours 15 minutes away. This was around 1am.

I was really cold, exhausted, breathing fast/heavily and sore after the event and eventually dozed off in the car only to awake on the M7 Motorway with the urge to vomit. I asked Vicki to pull over quickly and I realised that my blood pressure had dropped so slunk back in my seat with my legs up on the dashboard and remained that way until I got home.

When we got home, my muscles were very stiff and I was absolutely filthy from the race so I had a hot shower and then went straight to bed. The next day (Sunday) I basically relaxed around the house with sore muscles, but a happy spirit for having completed the event again.

On the Monday I went for a walk down the street and back to loosen things up.

I did sustain some injuries during and after the race. Not only do you get loads of scratches on your legs from the trail, but I have also lost both of my big toenails and a few other toenails on each foot from the terrain.

As my longest run leading up to the event was only 22kms (on road), I also sustained an Achilles injury on my right foot – which I have since managed to fix. The bottom of my left heel also sustained some sort of injury as well which is still posing a problem for me now (in September).

How did you prepare for this event, mentally and physically? 

The event is equally as challenging mentally and physically.

Preparing for the mental side of it is hard as you don’t know how you will react mentally throughout the event. After completing an event such as this with the mental challenges you go through, you discover a different side of yourself which you would never have known that you had. You are changed forever.

Physically you should do as much training as you can (which I didn’t have the opportunity to do for this year’s race). 100kms on the trails is a long way and a long time to be out there in a challenging environment and harsh weather as well.

Would you do it again and why / why not?

After I completed the event the second time around I vowed not to do it again. I also said this after not completing the event last year. I also said it after completing it again this year, but with the opening of entries for next year’s event looming I have to admit I am getting the urge to go for it again.

What is your next challenge?

My next challenge is the New York Marathon in November. It’s funny though as once you have done an event over the 42.2km marathon distance, a marathon doesn’t worry you too much. Even my family isn’t really concerned about it, yet when I was going to do my first NYM they couldn’t comprehend how I would be able to do it. Ha!

The challenge of this year’s NYM though is the logistics behind it with organising the family, costs involved, travel and work.

Thanks for your time. I’ll shout you a coffee. 

I’ll take you up on that!

 

 

 

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