Friday, May 30, 2014

100km of Bliss

How best do you begin to reminisce about an experience that has filled you with feelings of happiness, greatfulness and accomplishment, well, the best way is to head back out on the trails and let the memories run through your mind with every step.

Running TNF100 in the Blue Mountains, Australia, was not in my plan until two months before the event. Living in Switzerland I sporadically planned a trip to see my family and friends in Australia, realizing that the dates would coincide with the running of TNF100, a race that had tickled my curiosity for a while. Having had glandular fever in january, I wasn’t very ambitious about this running season, moreso living by the motto – if it‘s meant to be it will happen… and with exactly that attitude I went on the waiting list for a start at TNF100. Sure enough, only a week later, a spot had opened up, and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The day had arrived… I greeted it with both anticipation and excitement. I gravitated straight towards the window in the hotel foyer, running my eyes from sky to valley, checking out the conditions and taking in the scene of where I would be running for the day. The sky was clear with stars still twinkling in the distance, and the colours of the rising of the sun becoming obvious out on the horizon. It was going to be a good day, I could feel it!!

My training and preparation for TNF100 was far from ideal with the limited time I had to train specifically for the event. I just ran by feel, aiming to run because of the fun and love of it, rather than because I was training for an event. I also felt that this approach might help me cope better with the expectation I might put on myself, allowing me to take things step by step, leading up to the race and durning the race. Living in the Swiss Alps I had the advantage of altitude and (forced) hill running, but because we were just coming out of the winter season and it was hard to get any decent long Km’s up, my longest run maxed at about 30km (I never run with a watch so its a bit of a guess), which did leave me a little worried as to if I had undercooked myself and I was taking the whole thing a bit too légère…

Standing at the startline the energy was tangible and spirits high! I watched the start of the first 3 start groups, before I gravitated towards the startline in wave 4. I checked in with my body, it felt ready… my mind was calm and focused on the task ahead and before I knew it we were off and the adventure had begun!

The beauty about ultra running is, that you always meet really cool people and you’re running at a pace that allows you to have a chat and share parts of the journey. Soon enough I was talking to other competitors as we looped our way around the road for the first 4km of the run before hitting the trails. I was in my element descending down the stairs into the depths of the bush then gliding over some lush and fun single track trails. But it wasnt long before the congestion slowed the flow of the moment and I was slowed to a stop/walk pace as we ascended back up some stairs. In hindsight i am incredibly grateful for that, as I could conserve energy to take on the next 90 or so Km’s.

Trail running is incredible, it‘s like a dance with nature as you tip toe over its surface, jumping over stones, constantly changing pace and always alert of your surroundings. Trails are always an adventure as they are never the same, depending on weather and other factors. The trails in the Blue Mountains were very playful on the day, nice and dry providing a grippy surface, sometimes technical and steep, other times slick and fast but ever changing.

I had passed checkpoint 1 & 2 making good ground, feeling comfortable, happy and chirpy. As we hit the top of one of the climbs the sound of a didgeridoo was obvious in the distance, and sure enough two fellas were there cheering us on and leaving a great tune with us as we ran past them. We then ran into an open field, cows grazing, horses watching us carefully as we passed by and birds chirping their happy song. At this point I was excited to hit checkpoint 3 soon, where my friend Shayne would be awaiting me and I could fuel up on some chocolate milk.

Finding the right thing to fuel you for a 100km is not the easiest thing. I was very aware of fuelling and hydrating properly in the days before the race, allowing my system to be stocked with reserves, so on the day all I needed to do was maintain. The North Face did an amazing job with providing the participants with a variety of food and drink options at every checkpoint. A banana, some lollies, a chocolate milk and a red bull were enough to fuel me along for the day, keeping my energy levels consistent and preventing me from ever hitting that dreaded wall.

Checkpoint 3 was in sight, people were cheering from far away and then I spotted Shaynes face and ran straight up to her with a huge smile. I was keen to keep running, keep the flow going, so I quickly refilled my water bottles and without much hesitation set of on the next leg of the race.

The going got a bit tougher as the first set of gnarly stairs approached after the 50km mark, but there was no other option other than to take it, literally, step by step and share the whingeing and pain with other participants on the many following sections of steps. I kept in mind that it was all part of the adventure, and so far it had been a great one. We passed some highly populated tourist areas, zigzaging through the masses of people, feeding on their cheering and kind words.

I had done a few ultras before, but never a 100km continuous run. I was very aware of the mental aspect of such a run. I often visualized how it would be running TNF100, allowing various scenarios to go through my mind always focusing on a positive mindset, having an exit plan should my mind run off into a negative area. Luckily I didn’t have to tap into that exit plan, as I was always in a good frame of mind.

The weather couldn’t have been anymore perfect, warm and sunny keeping the spirits high!! Checkpoint 4 came and went, the sun was descending slowly announcing the imminent arrival of the evening, and with that, the last leg of the run. I had made a quick transition through checkpoint 5, realizing that it would be the last time I would see Shayne (who had done the most amazing job at crewing me through the race) but also realizing that a tough 20km was still awaiting me.

Running downhill is something I love, letting yourself be pulled by gravity and your legs run free on autopilot. However, approaching the long downhill section after checkpoint 5  my legs were not loving it as much as they usually would. I struggled to find a rhythm for the first few kms of the descent, but it didn’t take them long to get back in the groove.

The last leg was filled with anticiapation for the finishline, digging deep and participants motivating one another along the way. It was like I had changed a gear, something else propelling me forward driving me towards that finishline. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, with the last km of the run being 933 steps to the finishline. There was no other option than to embrace the burn and keep on keeping on until the finishline came into focus.

Typical to my style I didn’t stack it, although there would have been plenty of opportunity on some of the sections, until the last 50m of the run, where  was so excited to be running up the last few stairs that I actually forgot to lift my legs. But i didn’t care, the finishline was a visible reality and I ran as hard as I could until I crossed that line. My elation was undescirbable.

Going into this adventure without expectation I didn’t have a specific time goal, but i did want to finish under 16hours. I didn’t wear a GPS watch, I wanted to run within myself and that appeared to work for me. I crossed the finish line in 12hours 44minutes placing me 8th female and finishing in the top 8% of finishers. This exceeded any expectation I could have ever had!!

I will forever hold that day, running TNF100, as a treasured memory close to my heart, allowing it to add fuel to the fire of my passion for running!!

„When you run on the earth and with the earth you can run forever“ … and that is exactly how I felt that day!!


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