Friday, May 27, 2011

The North Face 2011 Race Review

The 2011 North Face has been run and won for another year!  2011 was my second attempt at completing this highly challenging event that claimed me as a 'non-completer' in 2010.  There were several problems last year that led to my ultimate hypothermic demise (poor gut tolerance of food and fluid, struggles with overwhemlimg nausea triggered by travel sickness in the days before race day and failure to adequately name but a few!!).  With the memories of nausea, vomitting and retching fresh in my mind from 2010, I began to focus my training and preparation for 2011 on these so as to not be claimed by them again!  This was certainly not an easy task (as my training partner will attest to! but eventually my gut began to cope with being physically hammered whilst still being able to digest a stomach soup of endura, vegemite sandwiches, muesli bars and lollies!!  Many occassions nearly saw everything come back up but willpower prevailed!

Pre-race briefing
 Getting to the start line for 2011 was not an easy task; especially trying to get there in a near injury-free state.  Simply getting the start line for an event such as this is a massive challenge in itself and all 756 starters need to be congratulated!  We arrived at Katoomba on the Monday before the race start and spent the day after our arrival at Taronga zoo…. this was one of my mistakes….walking around for many hours in my horse boots!!  yep….nearly a fatal error…these look great with jeans and make a lovely fashion statement…but started to 'bother' my feet after about 2 hours.  By the end of the day, not only were my feet really sore….so were my legs…from limping around in them all day :(  The following day I arranged a massage to help alleviate my stupidity…followed by many sessions of home treatment, walking and stretching.  Fortunately by the morning of race day, my legs were back to normal!  I was blessed (read: tongue in cheek!) in the days leading up to the race to have freezing conditions at Katoomba thanks to a cold front that saw snow fall in neighbouring towns.  No central heating for me this year!!  I spent a lot of time out in it in an attempt to toughen up my pathetically thin Queensland blood!!  It was great to finally meet all the people I had made contact with during the year though TNF website or FB.  We had some great coffees, great conversations and I felt like we had been friends much longer than what we actually had been.  It was so nice to be drawn together by a common goal. Thanks Jaci, Dean, Matt and co!)

Jaci, Dean, Andy and I at race registration
Race day for me started at 4am.  I had slept reasonably well and woke feeling ready although somewhat introspective.  I managed to eat and keep down a couple of pieces of toast (not bad for my gluten intolerant belly) and a coffee. This was a massive improvement on last year.  I tried to keep my mind quiet and not anticipate too much; also tried to quell the memories from last year's event!  I was so fortunate to meet some of the Salomon elite ultra running team prior to race day and happened to be seated behind them in race briefing whilst staring at them in awe…sorry guys :))  These guys and girls are nothing short of miraculous athletes and when combined with their humble natures make them absolutely amazing people.

There I was in 25 layers of thermals, beanie buff and 25kg of polar fleece, gortex, waterproof nylon in my pack and there they were in sleek racing gear! (even my tough Welsh training partner was geared up for the cold weather… he had sleeves on his shirt this year and a beanie!!!)  I decided to start in wave 3 as I was aiming for a sub 20hr completion….or simply a completion!  I tried from the start to move along at my own pace and not get pulled along by others ….this year was about me getting through and to do that I needed to pay attention to what my body was telling me and not ignore it like last year!  I made it to CP 1 in a slower than expected time due to all the congestion on the trails.

Running along Narrow Neck toward Tarros ladders
  The traverse along Narrow Neck saw me start to struggle with the cold wind and when combined with the 10-15minute wait at the ladders, made me start to shiver and shake.  Once at the bottom I endeavoured to keep moving at a decent pace to keep warm but by the time I got to CP 2 my legs were really troubled.  Things started to get worse when race officials at CP asked to see headlamps and torches in our packs as part of the mandatory gear check.  I had packed my headlamp at the bottom of the pack as I wouldn't be needing it for many hours to come.  Stopping, squatting and standing still for those minutes added to my leg soreness.  All I could do was put my leg thermals on and keep moving..(once I had shoved all the polarfleece, gortex and and nylon back into the bag!!)  It was at this point I met up with my new friends Matt and Stewy Grills, Lee and Andy Sewell!  I tagged along with these guys and had a great time!  They are the happiest most vibrant bunch of guys and we many hours of banter to help pass the time!

TEAM WOODWARD!  The Best Support Crew EVER!!

Coming into CP3 was a huge mental lift for me…. all I could look forward to was seeing my amazing husband and children who are the best support a running mummy could ask for.  Blanket to sit on, noodles at the ready and little cheer squad to boost my morale!!  I was feeling pretty good at  this point as I'd managed to eat and drink and keep it down during the 54km.  I ate what was put in my hand, changed into additional long legged skins and set off for Katoomba via the imfamous Nellies Glen.  This bastard set of stairs up a 750m vertical ascent was not forgotten to me from last year.  The mistake I made here was eating too much and then running….jigging my stomach contents up/down/side to side proved too much for my willpower to overcome the inevitable tsunami of nausea and several near vomits…..certainly not helped by Nellies!! My old nemisis nausea had returned :(

Feeling pretty dreadful at CP4!!

By the time I reached CP4 I was not in a good way.  A bit vagued, disoriented and overwhelmed gastrointestinally.  My left knee was also violently complaining,  so at this point my ability to run was gone.  The outside temperature was very cold at 6pm so I arrived at this CP wearing the entire contents of my pack! Coming into the basketball stadium was almost suffocating…exteme cold outside… and stuffy inside……big wave of nausea….near retch….near vomit in the wheelie bin in the middle of all the supporters inside the stadium…..I thought that this was going to be a pretty untidy little episode….not to mention embarrasing!!   I managed to quell things down (don't know how but probably through many times of practicing this this so as to not disgrace myself infront of my ever forgiving training parter…..thanks again Andy!!).  Somehow, I stifled the retch reflex and drank and kept down a hot hospital grade sustagen, a handful of ibuprofen and paracetamol! My ever amazing rusty ironman husband ( got me too my feet, put the pack on my back, snapped the headlamp onto my beannie covered head and pushed me out the exit door.  I was then confronted by a wall of icy air which shocked me back to reality and bought with it another wave of nausea.  It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other but the words of my good friend Andy and my ever tolerant husband rang in my head…"just keep moving forward…..and don't stop".  So that's what I did.  I pulled out the ipod which I have very rarely used for running…plugged it into my ears under the beannie and buff…cranked it up and stormed off like a woman possessed…..for the next 4hours and 23minutes to CP5…..ipod, iphone and some very frank text messages to my besties and family.  What a better way to glean motivation from your loved ones to make you move forward!!  There was something in that long lonely leg of 4hrs and 23mins that strengthened me; the steeled my reserve to move on  and in the words of my ever eleoquent brother "don't let this bitch beat you!" that resonated in my soul. 

Feeling great at CP5!!

 I simply disconnected my mind from my body, put the misgivings and negative thoughts aside and simply put one foot infront of the other…again and again and again.   It's not until you think you can't, that you really discover that you can.  You really discover what lies deep inside you as a person and come to the realisation that the limits you have are not limits at all…somewhere in your deepest being you know that you are taking the road least travelled.  It isn't until you reach these points in your life that you discover who you are and what you are made of.  You realise that life is not about how many times a week you mow your lawn, how pretty your garden appears to the passers by or how many things you can sell….all the superflous miscellaneous nonsense that superficial people think makes them worthwhile.  You discover that what makes you worthwhile is what lies inside, it's what you feel, what you think, how you act.  To be a person of significance requires deep self reflection on what you do and why you do it.  It was somewhere in this 4hrs 23mins that I had that 'epiphinous' moment.  To be a person of significance is to lead by example and not by verbosities. 

Once I reached CP5, I was on fire!  I was greeted once again by the rusty ironman who was visibly relieved at my exuberance and obvious good condition (I think he was expecting a repeat of last year). I felt great…was even making jokes with the paramedics…a stark conrast to last year.  I drank down another sustagen, put the pack on and set off into the dark again.  I forged on, ran some down hills, ran some uphills and took some photos!  I most certainly felt the magnetic pull of the the finishline.  I reached that finish line in 18hours and 48 minutes and ran into the arms of my ever amazing husband and two incredible little children who were still up at 1.50am to see their half crazy mummy!!  After I look up, I see my wonderful friend Andy who had waited the better part of an eternity to see me cross that finish line! 

I can't thank those special people in my life enough who helped me get on this crazy journey of self discovery: My husband; unequivicably; without him I could not do this , my children (best cheer squad ever!!), my parents and parents in law (because they had to mind the kids whilst I trained), my training partner and motivator friend extraordinaire to put up with me at my lowest moments, Physio Noosa staff and colleagues because they keep the wheels turning whilst I'm away and troubleshoot my injuries along the way, my brother for all the pearls of wisdom he gives me "pussies don't do this race do they?!!".  Thank you everyone!  I love you  XXXX  Next year???

I have had many people ask me "WHY did you do that race?" and my answer is "To see if I can"