Date: 3 March 2018
When a 100km event allows 28 hours (the norm being 20 hours), heed the warning sign. For some reason, I thought this event was flattish and not too technical. Not sure how I got that idea in my head, but that was what my head was willing to cope with. With a massively long cut-off time, you could potentially walk the whole way and still make it. It would be a great way to lure newbie ultra-runners (and allow walkers) into this sort of distance. The event terrain in a nutshell, as described by the organisers – “Tasmania’s Gone Nuts 101 Adventure Run will commence on one of Tasmania’s most recognised and visited icons, The Nut, at Stanley, in Tasmania’s North West corner. The race will hug coastline, climb through Rocky Cape National Park and traverse rugged coastal bush and calming temperate rainforest. You will be challenged by diverse landscapes, encounter native wildlife and birds, and witness some of the most spectacular coastlines imaginable. In this part of the world, rolling green farmland drops over cliffs into the pristine waters of Bass Strait. The beaches are also as diverse as they are unique, with sections of long white sandy beaches, small crescent shaped bays and rugged rocky bays formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.” Sounds nice, eh? Unfortunately, I apparently chose to ignore words like “cliffs”, “rugged rocky”, “climb”, and “rugged coastal bush”.
Last year when we were searching for a 50km event for Gerry’s birthday, we couldn’t find anything. So, I started looking at the Australian running calendar, and the only event close to his birthday was the Gone Nuts 101 Adventure Run. Adventure Run should have been the second sign. While the event included a 50km option, we of course decided to go for the longest distance on offer to get the full experience. Why travel all the way to Tasmania for a 50km run only?
The race is divided into four stages of equal lengths. Participants can choose to do any of the distances solo, teams of four can do the 101km, or teams of two can do either the 101km, or the 50km events. Transition points are therefore roughly every 25km. Since we didn’t have a support crew, we made use of the drop-bag option for food, clean pairs of socks and undies, and warm clothes and spare batteries for the last leg, in case.
As mentioned before, our training has gone off the rails a bit the last few months (looking back, it may seem it has been off the rails for the past year). We’ve only managed an average of approximately 50km per week for January and February, with only one long-run of 60km on a well-groomed, perfectly flat surface. Apart from that, we did three roughly 25km distances, all on very technical terrain, taking between five and seven hours each. The latter was specific, and good training for any technical, hilly run. But, it was not enough.
We drove to Wynyard (from Yolla where we stayed) late Friday afternoon to register. With registration, drop-bags and race briefing all done and behind us, a beautiful full moon was just starting to peak over the hills as we headed home to start dinner. While devouring our beetroot, salty boiled potatoes with cracked pepper, lamb chops, and a Greek salad with a glass of wine by candle light, followed by ice cream, at 9pm, we were taking bets on just how much we were going suffer.
At 2:30am the alarm went off. We obviously haven’t had a whole heap of sleep, but had to catch the bus at 4:15 to take us to the start, and we were staying a good 25 minutes’ drive away.
It was cool and fairly windy in Stanley when we got off the bus around 5:15am at Kings Beach car park. Much to my surprise, there was nothing, not a single other person except our bunch who were on the bus; no starting banner, no bunting, no music, no lights, no nothing. In fact, the bus driver was a little concerned that he went to the wrong place, until one participant from last year confirmed that it was indeed the right place.
We went straight for the nearest wall (by the toilets) to try and dodge the wind and after a while the organiser came along with a ute and massive spotlights. The type that looks like stadium spots. And suddenly there was a vibe going. Runners were buzzing around, filling water bottles, getting their packs ready, testing headlamps, checking and re-checking everything, making loo stops, and someone even brushed their teeth. Speaking of brushing teeth, when we go this long again, I’m definitely putting toothpaste and a toothbrush in my drop-bag for later in the race. Strangely enough, that was the thing I missed most after about 70km – a fresh set of teeth!
Leg one (26km) – The fall
Sitting in the dark wondering what the day would bring, we had a last banana. And then suddenly it was time, and less than 80 runners made their way to the one corner of the park. There’s something about an early morning start in the dark – the quiet and subdued, nervous runners, all the reflective bits and bobs on clothing, shoes and packs lit up by headlamps, and seeing the trail of lights heading off, with only the sound of breathing and footfall. Those same poor feet that would have to carry us over mountains and through rivers on challenging terrain for miles and miles.
The race organiser, Michael Phillips, counted us down and off we went across the picnic park and straight onto the path that takes you to the top of The Nut (another one of Tasmania’s 60 best walks). Suddenly it made sense that a few runners were warming up feverishly, which I thought was a waste of energy on such a long day ahead.
The Nut has a 143 metre rise to the plateau at the top on the steepest little path (paved) I’ve ever seen. Little did I know that this would set the tone for the rest of the event. Very steep hills, lots of hills, non-stop hills, steep up and steep down, and again, and again, all day long and all night long (we totalled over 6000m elevation gain). Once at the top of the volcanic monolith, a circuit at the top brings you back to the same path for the trip down. We encountered quite a few animals on The Nut, especially pademelon and even a blue penguin. Poor thing looked quite distressed by the time we came past, flapping wildly in the grass.
But while circumnavigating the plateau of The Nut, I did that thing that runners sometimes do towards the end of very long runs when their muscles and mind start to fatigue – they take a tumble. Except, my dive was only 1.5km from the start. I was trying to see where I was going on a corner (note to self – don’t use the lower settings on your headlamp to save batteries), while Gerry was taking a photo somewhere behind me, when suddenly there was a rock that sent me flying into thin air. Lying there, I knew a few things were not right, but I got up and ensured the poor fella that enquired about my well-being, that I was fine. Thinking back, I was probably a bit abrupt as I was trying to process all the sore bits to assess whether I was actually fine or not. Both my hands had bits of gravel in them, with the left being far worse. The palm of said hand was completely numb for a couple of hours afterwards, and I couldn’t move my thumb at all. Opening my front water bottles proved challenging. Apart from that, my left hip took a knock, as well as the side of my calf, which was all still okay. But the worst offender was a pain in my left chest/rib bone. It was uncomfortable, but I could breathe okay-ish (sneezing, couching and laughing out-loud wasn’t an option) and decided “she’ll be right”, so got on with it. Not sure why I waited a day and a half to have it checked out, but a trip to the doctor at Launceston Medical Centre on the Monday morning, indicated that I damaged/tore/fractured the cartilage just left of my sternum. [Back in NZ, I paid a visit to my favourite chiropractor, who requested X-rays to get a better understanding of what exactly is going on. Hoping to see results soon.] Apart from my left thumb that wasn’t doing its part, I also had a left arm that wasn’t of much use. Pulling, pushing or dragging myself up steep inclines could not happen. Climbing through or over fences, or rocks ended up being a one arm affair. All along I was holding my thumb in one place and trying not to move my arm too much.
I have now learned the hard (real hard) way why you should use soft flasks in the front of your hydration pack and not rock-solid disposable soft-drink bottles.
Once up and over The Nut, a short trot through Stanley took us onto Tatlows Beach. The sun started to light up the new day and after a few kilometres we could see well enough on the wide, flat, white beach to stow away the headlamps. The beach section carried on for about 10km. After about 12km, we reached the first aide station, and with low-tide, the beautiful full moon in our backs, and a new day dawning, it was easy going. Life was good. After the aide station, we had quite a few water-crossings, one of which was waist deep for me.
Finally, we reached Black River and following it inland for about one kilometre, we rock-hopped until we reached the bridge that took us across the river. We were meant to go across on the railway line, but due to safety issues, this feature was scrapped from the course and we took the road instead. Once over the bridge, we crossed another road to get onto a farm. Following the farm road, we finally reached the farmhouse and went right past it, where the owner was hanging onto a fence checking out the runners going past. From farm roads, we crossed paddocks to finally reach a trail through native forest. At one point, we were running on an old railway line, and shortly before reaching the first transition point (after 3:45 hours), Gerry were on all fours. Luckily, no damage was done. We spent about ten minutes in the transition area.
We were going well and I was still thinking we might make a fairly okay finish time. Unfortunately, I was obliviously unaware of all the hills that were to follow all the way to the finish.
This transition point seemed quite sorted: friendly volunteers ticking runners off, two portaloos (the last until the 75km transition point), lollies, watermelon, oranges, baked potatoes, bananas, Clif bars, and sandwiches, were on offer (all of which was also at all the other aide stations, and sometimes with a few other things thrown in such as Coke, coffee, tea and noodles).
We measured all our food for each leg, allowing nutrition for five hours, in each transition drop bag, and therefore decided to dump the leftovers and take all the new stuff. That way, we knew exactly where we were in terms of our consumption. Eating every 20 minutes, made sure we stayed on top of our nutrition. We roughly consumed 200cal for me and 300cal for Gerry, every hour. The food at the aide stations were a bonus, as the only things I could eat (due to allergies) were the oranges, bananas and potatoes, which I scoffed down each time. We had a variety of things for each leg including: jelly snakes, licorice, dates, frooze/bliss balls (a variety of NZ and Oz made), sesame snaps (some with chocolate), Wellaby’s (chick pea) crackers, carrot crackers (like rice crackers, but made with carrots), and rice crackers. The licorice we saved for leg two and leg four only.
Leg two (25km) – Twin peaks
After leaving the transition point, we ran most of the leg on forestry roads, as well as bike trails. Although some of it was still possible to run (for me), the undulating and hilly bits started to increase. It felt like we were just running in circles in the bush to make up distance. One of the organisers (Steve) came driving past, and were busy adding more signage to make sure participants didn’t go the wrong way. After what felt like an eternity, we reached the aide station, stocked with the usual spread. Up to this point, Gerry and I were by ourselves for the most part. We could still see other participants way up ahead on the beach stretch of the first leg, as well as at the transition point; when we arrived, some were just leaving. With so little participants, it is easy to end up completely on your own. Luckily, we had each other for company.
After about 43km of undulations and hills, we were suddenly on the ridge and could see up ahead an enormous 4WD track going straight up a hill. If the gradient is not at least 30degrees, I’ll eat my straw hat. In a distance, we could see a few other runners again, just to remind us that we’re all in this together. On the way there, we started reeling in another couple, whom we eventually passed. Exchanging some gasps and supportive swear words, we soldiered on up the hill. Eventually we made it to the top and could finally get a view of The Nut way off in the distance. A far-off memory. It is actually quite a pity that The Nut as a feature of the event, is all run in the dark.
But, then horror struck – another similar beast was awaiting us. Down the first hill on slippery, rock and gravel terrain, we started on the second monster. The latter was a bit shorter, but just as steep. Another view of the Nut, before a sharp drop down the whole mountain on the other side back to the beach. If your quads still thought they were doing alright up to this point, these hills made sure to knock them right back to size.
Reaching a farm/forest road, we were once again greeted by Steve who was also kind enough to have a few bottles of extra water, as the day got hotter. After about 4km, we crossed the road and headed into the paddock for the second transition point. On the last few kilometres, we passed five or six other participants. While we were putting on a new pair of socks, filling water bottles and taking our new food stuffs, one participant withdrew. Another was having a sit down, hoping to recover as he was dry retching for most of the way. Much was my surprise and relief to see him later that night again. Apparently, he took a 25 minute lie-down, felt better and decided to carry on.
This is how it goes during ultras. So many things can go wrong, so easily. And sometimes all you need to do, is gather yourself, pick yourself up and carry on.
Apart from all the usual food on offer, this aide station also had Coke, so Gerry and I immediately shared a can. It was the least nice transition point of the three for some reason. There were also no toilets, or route indicators and less of a vibe. Obviously, probably because we were so far back in the field.
This leg felt long and like a slog. I was hoping that by the time we reach the halfway point, our spirits would lift and we would feel better about life in general. Seeing participants pulling out and battling stomach issues, does not instil feelings of confidence.
Leg three (25km) – The slump
Leaving the transition point after about 20 minutes, we headed straight across the paddock in the opposite direction of where we were coming from. I guess it was obvious where to go, but without any signs, we were suddenly unsure. So, Gerry started running back to get directions from the volunteers, when the support crew of another participant told us to just head down the road. It is quite weird how one’s mind needs the constant reassurance that you are on the right track.
We were heading down a sealed road, which later turned to gravel for about four kilometres heading into Rocky Cape National Park. The last bit of gravel road took us almost to the beach, before making a sharp turn right to go up the hill on single track. And so the hills continued. Through the whole reserve we went up and down, and over every hill in the area, for roughly 10kms. Even though it was on a beautiful trail which would be quite runnable if your legs were fresh and you were fitter and stronger, I could only muster a walk. Not even a brisk walk. There might have been one or two spots of about 50 to 100 metres on the flat that I could shuffle, but the going was mainly slow. Our morale was low for some reason. Maybe it was the slump of mid-afternoon, but between 2:30pm and 5pm I was not my chirpy self.
The views were beautiful and the area really special. Every now and again we would pop out of the bush and onto the beach. But the beach was mainly very rocky and again not very runnable. And usually, after, another hill was waiting in all its glory. Finally, we made our way down the side of another massive hill to reach an aide station at Boat Harbour. We had passed another couple of runners on this leg and after sharing another Coke, we were on our way down another rocky beach, before heading onto the trails again. More hills, and more forest trails as the sun was starting to fade away. Daylight was nearly gone, and we made it just in time into transition three without having to take out our headlamps. While filling water bottles, and stocking up on food for the final push, it was suddenly very cold. The aide station also had noodles, coffee and tea on offer, and a warm coffee would have been nice, but we were eager to get going. It took a while to get ourselves sorted anyway (as it did at all the transition points – we were wasting a bit more time than planned at transitions), when eventually we were off on the last leg.
Leg four (25km) – Animal farm
Now already completely dark, the volunteers pointed us across the beach to a reflector in the distance and we started heading in the general direction of where there we might find a trail. Apart from the first stretch of beach after The Nut, all the remaining stretches of beach were very rocky and difficult to negotiate. Luckily, it was low tide again, so at least we didn’t have a second round of wet feet. Unfortunately, the participants that left shortly after we reached the transition point, were already too far away, so we couldn’t follow them.
Leaving the rocky beach, we were on another farmer’s property, where we covered the bulk of the leg running/walking across paddocks, still going up and down and keeping the sea to our left. The grass was cut and the route markers with white reflectors were quite visible far up ahead. The going was slow and tough and in some areas the camber was so steep that I would literally slide off of the sides of my shoes. Granted, I tie my shoes very loose. It was tough going on already sore legs and feet. To make up for the hardship, the most gorgeous yellow moon started to appear over the sea, leaving a trail of light in the water.
But the beauty of the night shift, was all the animals that came to life. We were already accompanied by a whole assortment of birds during the day, and the odd pademelon, but at night time, all the animals came out to play. We saw tonnes of pademelons, rabbits, a barred bandicoot, a brush tail possum, as well as a pigmy possum, a few tiny black scorpions, an owl and even a snake! We nearly stepped on it, as it lay in the middle of the cut path in the short grass.
At some point there was an unmanned aide station with water and small chocolates by an olive tree. It must have been a totally different experience passing through there during daytime, but this stretch, even though I despise paddock running, was made quite special by doing it at night time.
Shortly after, we headed up another hill onto a farm road which took us to a sealed road still going up Table Cape. Red arrows on white board indicating the turn-off points where the route goes, were the only route markers on this stretch. And again, it is probably fairly obvious where you should go, but it remains unnerving when you don’t see route markers for long periods of time, as you don’t want to back-track in the middle of the night. Heck, I don’t want to back-track at any point on a 100km run. Specifically, also because the medic said during race briefing that if you haven’t seen a marker for a couple 100 metres or so, you’re probably lost.
We stopped and took out the map to try and find the general direction we should be heading into. It wasn’t really helpful, so we just carried on while all along shining our lights in all directions in search of white reflectors, or pink flags. We’ve grown so used to the little pink flags and ribbons by then, we missed them when we couldn’t find them. Eventually we saw someone way down below making his way up the hill, so we dilly-dallied in the road until he caught up with us. Turned out it was the guy who was dry retching and having a rest at the 50km mark. We talked a bit, before Gerry and I tried to shuffle along on the flat sealed road for a kilometre or so. Eventually there was another set of arrows so we knew we were on the right track. Heading off on another little trail through the bush, with the constant sound of pademelon scattering in all directions, we reached the lighthouse on top of Table Cape which was also the site of the final aid station. The wind had picked up and the poor volunteers where probably having a hard time in the middle of the night way up on the hill in the cold.
By this stage (with only about 10-12km to go), both Gerry and I were quite sick of all our food. We kept our nutrition up, which I think helped tremendously, but didn’t really feel like any of the stuff that we had between us and the aide station. Nonetheless, we forced down some oranges and Coke, and took off. Again, the path wasn’t that obvious. A high-vis vest was taped to a gate, so we just followed the path. We couldn’t really go anywhere else, but was still concerned we might go off course. Back on a sealed road, we headed uphill again for a short bit.
More paddocks followed, up the one end and down the other. Again, it felt like we were just doing silly things to make up distance. Eventually we could make out Wynyard in the distance way down below as we were still doing our thing in the farmers paddock on the slopes of Table Cape. Slowly working our way down hill, we finally reach suburbia and followed the sealed road towards where we through we should go. Pink ribbons were tied to the trees and the familiar pig tail farm pegs with the pink (a few were green) flags were still a welcoming sign, even though they were few and far between by then.
Another bit of trail and finally we reached the bridge taking us across Inglis River where the finish is about 1.5 kilometres away. As we approached the volunteer on the other end of the bridge (it was no other than Michael, the race director himself) told us we had to go do a lap of horror of about 2km before heading to the finish. He even apologised for making us do the extra loop so close to the finish. 🙂 At that point, it made no difference either way. We were heading for a 3am finish and I was just relieved to have made it thus far.
Another bit of trail, before making our way out between houses. We very nearly got lost on this stretch, as the signage were lacking. Fortunately, we found the way back to the road by hook or crook, and then we were on the home stretch. It is quite tricky to navigate in the dark.
Michael congratulated us at the finish (at a half-collapsed finish banner, which was funny and quite apt) and handed us our medals, before the medic tried to ascertain if we still had all our marbles. Forcing ourselves to eat right to the end, made a world of difference. I felt perfectly fine, not so “out of it” as was the case the previous time, and even my body was less sore.
They again had the full spread of eats, as well as the hot beverages and noodles. We were a sum total of about six people at the finish (Gerry, myself, Michael, the medic, the photographer/news reporter and another finisher/supporter), a very quiet, unassuming affair. This being the way of the event in general. Michael is a very nice, hands-on guy and so is his business partner, Steve. We came in so late, that all the drop-bags were already delivered back at the finish, which was great, so we had our warm jackets that we left at the first aid station as an extra.
It is a lovely event, and even though it sometimes felt like we were running in circles and up and down paddocks just for the hell of it, I would consider doing this again. In fact, now that I know what I’m letting myself in for, it would be easier. But in practical terms, it will probably not happen, unless fate takes us back to Tasmania at the right time. Who knows.
We were 79 participants, of which 15 were relay teams (two teams and 10 individuals in total pulled out somewhere along the line), totalling 67 finishers for the 101km event. The final participants arrived at dawn in a time of 25:13.
We drove the 30 minutes or so back to our cabin, had a shower and dove into bed for four hours sleep before prize-giving at 10:15am (according to the web). Proceedings started a bit earlier, so we missed the first few minutes.
Compared to our previous time, when I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried for I was too sore all over, I passed out and slept like a baby for four hours. And the best part is, I got up and could move fairly decently. Yes, I was sore, but not at all like what I was expecting. In fact, things were not too far from normal and within a day, I could probably have gone for a run. My legs were tired walking up steps, but at least it wasn’t so sore that I couldn’t do it at all. It is either because of all the foam-rolling and the few squads and lunges I’ve been doing haphazardly for the past few months, or it is the nutrition. Probably both. Or maybe it was just because we went so slow for the bulk of the event. Either way, I think we have our nutrition sorted pretty decently. There’s always room for improvement and I’m sure we can consume more – the more the merrier! Something to work on for next time.