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Turning Feral

Date:
By  Melissa Robertson

After completing Hume and Hovell 100 miler it was now a matter of seeing whether I’d be recovered enough to complete another 100 miler in 4 weeks time. I waited a couple of weeks to check and make sure I could still run, all was good so I booked the trip. Feral Pig Ultra was in my sights!

If I completed this race I would have 16 points over 3 races. Enough points to qualify for entry into the UTMB lottery next year. 

At the start line

We flew into Perth on the Thursday, with the race starting on Friday night at midnight, a terrible starting time. I didn’t really know when to eat or sleep. the pre-race dinner was actually a pre-race lunch on the Friday. Then I tried to sleep, but it’s really hard to sleep when it’s not sleeping time. Unfortunately our hire car also got backed into while I was trying to sleep, so that was something else that had to be dealt with (and is still ongoing).

We got up at 8pm and I got ready to race, then headed out to the Perth Hills Discovery Centre for rego, bag check and after a bit of a delay while our portable toilets trailer got hooked onto the bus, we were underway. Then the bus got lost, then temporarily stuck as it was trying to reverse back up the forest road it had turned onto. I fell asleep when the excitement died down and we hit the highway.

Snek

We got our race briefing just before reaching the start line, then there was the usual pre race nerves in the warm night air before the countdown and all 23 of the 100 mile runners were underway at about 12:30am (30 minutes late) from North Bannister. I set out in a comfortable little pack and we were jogging along fine, following the reflective snakes. Technically the snake is called Wagaul, but I referred to him exclusively as Snek. Snek says where to go. I follow Snek. All I do is follow Snek. Snek is my leader. Trust the Snek. Then 0.9kms in the group of guys I was running with followed Snek into a campground and straight out the other side. We continued on for about 800m and were clearly seeing Sneks, but the course wasn’t going were I expected it to, it was meant to loop back, surely it should have looped by now, but we were seeing Sneks… Then I thought of the map, there was a fork… OMG we were headed for Albany. I checked my map which confirmed this and we turned around and headed back. Well that’s not great we’d just added 1.6kms onto the run and now I was at the back of the pack. Oh well…

Back on course and following the correct Sneks I started overtaking runners and hit the turnaround coming back through the start line at what was meant to be the 6k mark. And off into the night I went. Now I was running alone through the warm night air. The bush had been recently back burned so besides the occasional smouldering stump there wasn’t a whole lot to see. It got boring very fast.

Cairns

It got more interesting as I started climbing Mt Cooke. It was actually a pretty cool mountain with giant granite outcrops and boulders on top. And following the bushwalkers markings; cairns & sticks was the only way to navigate the mountain. Shame it was still dark so I didn’t get to enjoy the view. The sun started to come up a couple of kms before the aid station and I got to see Margie Hadley the lead female heading out from Sullivans Rock just as I was headed in (giving her about a 1.5km lead - my lost k’s). Way too soon to give chase. I turned into Sullivans Rock and followed the cairns down the granite face to find mum ready with her support crewing. Fiona Hayvice was also there cheering me on as she was getting ready to run the 50 miler. Refuel and enough sunscreen to protect a red head on a day out at the beach and I was underway again. 

Up high

The day was really starting to warm up as I headed over the next two mountains Vincent & Cuthbert. Fiona came cruising past me looking comfortable in the 50 miler. Then Fiona again came past me after having gotten lost at one of the campsites. This was actually pretty common. The girl who was coming 2nd in the 50 miler also ran past me twice. By now the track was cooking, there was almost no shade, no breeze and the running was all done in direct sunlight. I was very very glad I’d been lathered in sunscreen. But the heat was knocking me around. My pace was dropping and I was needing more water, but I also didn’t have any more water. Coming into the next aid station I had to ration the water out. 1 sip every km. So by the time I hit Brookton Highway (73.5km) I was dehydrated and overheated. And I wasn’t the only one. Runners were dropping like flies… Margie had already come through and pulled out. Putting me in first, but I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I sat down and put on a towel that had been soaked in ice, mum sponged the ice water over my head. And I immediately drank 750ml of water. If you know me, you know I hate cold water, I hate water mist, and I don’t really like ice. However at this moment it was the greatest thing ever. 

Brookton

I spent about 30 minutes in the aid station cooling down and rehydrating before it was time to continue on. Headed out I hit two runners who were both headed back to the aid station to withdraw knowing that they wouldn’t make it.

Campsite

I was fine for the first 7kms out of the aid station, then the heat hit me again. The 50k runners who had started at Brookton Highway started to come past me as I turned off to Mt Dale campsite to try and cool down and refocus myself. These campsites were along the course about every 12kms and provided hikers with water that required purification, a table, toilet & a three sided camping hut. They didn’t have any support for runners, apart from water that needed to be purified and a place to sit down. My attempt to refocus didn’t really work and I instead started to fall asleep at the table. Quite a few other runners came through trying to do the same thing while I was there, none of them were looking well.

I had to suck it up and push on. This wasn’t going to get the race done and it wasn’t going to get me to safety. I left Mt Dale and set out for Beraking. It got worse, it got so much worse. The sun was beating down on me, there was no escaping it. No shade. No breeze and very little water. I was 7kms out from any help. I had a few sips left and I was incredibly thirsty. I don’t think i’ve ever been that thirsty before. My lips were dry, my mouth was dry, I was daydreaming about water, just water. My pace was also going downhill. Running was out of the question. I was barely walking and now I was cramping. Side cramps and stomach cramps. The leaves looked green and I considered seeing if I could lick them, but fortunately I knew that wouldn’t work. I just needed water… I tried to call mum, I was panicking, but there was no reception. I didn’t know what to do. I needed water now! I stopped at one point leaning on my poles and would have cried, but that would have wasted water, instead I had a tantrum at myself yelling “I just need water, water!”. I was very distressed. 

Hot track

Getting to the top of the next climb the greatest thing ever was on the track. a bottle of water… OMG it was glorious. I filled up my bladder and started gulping it down. It kept me hiking for a bit further. But to be honest I was too far gone. The cramps came back and I was barely moving. A nice lady (who’s name I never found out) found me doubled over my poles and not moving on the side of the track. She walked me the final km into Breaking Aid Station (97.3km) where I immediately laid down in the camp hut and stopped moving.

My race was done. I couldn’t run, I was exhausted, I was overheated, dehydrated. I’d put it all in and I was trashed. Absolutely trashed. Fortunately I did have reception so I called mum to see what she thought, she was very much in agreement that I should DNF so I put my name down for the DNF pickup.  This was the only aid station that support crew couldn’t get to. So the only way out was in the race directors ute as he was shuttling fallen runners back to the Discovery Centre (finish line) from Beraking.

I laid in the hut until the Shaun the Race Director arrived. He advised me to wait it out. Don’t withdraw, just stay at Beraking for another hour and see how I felt. As he said I had 40 hours to finish the race, there was still time. While he was there the 2nd place woman Raquel came through looking fatigued, but determined. There went first place. 

He made a good argument, he also told me that he didn’t have room in his car on this pickup and couldn’t get me for another hour anyway (I was pretty sure he was lying), but I also really really really hate giving up. It takes a lot for me to quit a race. So far my DNF’s have been: ITB, dehydration & sprained ankle. Breaking was a very nice aid station setup in the Beraking campground, shady and with plenty of water so remaining there was fine. I went back to laying down. One of the other DNF runners gave me a Hydralite tablet and that seemed to help. And then it was weird. I was 100% trashed when I came in. As in, I wanted to lay on the side of the trail and die… But now after resting for an hour or so I wasn’t feeling so bad. Could I continue on? Should I continue on? I’d already posted my DNF on facebook, so I updated the post with the RD’s suggestion and gave it some serious thought. I called mum and went for a walk around the campground while I was talking to her. I wanted to continue on, but I also didn’t want to get 7kms out and fall apart again. It was 29kms to the next aid station. I could only leave if I was fairly certain I could cover the 29kms. 

With the thinking and discussing done I assessed my situation. Now that it was later in the afternoon the temperature had dropped, the sun had gone behind some clouds and I was feeling much better. However I also didn’t have a full size headlamp with me, I’d never planned on being out this long and the Petzl e-lite was not going to cut it. Shaun had come through once again and already lined up a borrowed headlamp for me. Hello 200 lumen Petzl Tikka. I gathered my gear, filled up all my bottles with water. Ate 2/3 of the fruit platter at the aid station (He had more, that wasn’t cut up). And then to my delight as I was walking around talking to mum on the phone and telling her of my current plan I found a pig! 

Ultra Series WA has a points competition run across all of their races and if you managed to find a stuffed pig during Feral Pig it was worth bonus points. I did not care about the points, but I really really wanted a stuffed pig. This particular pig was stuffed up near the roof of the toilet block and no one had found it that day. I just happened to be wandering around and approached from a different side. I was stoked! I had my pig. So the plan was set, I loaded Feral Pig into the back of my pack and with all the supplies I was back on track.

Overall I’d spent about 2hrs 30mins in the aid station and it had worked wonders. I took off, I was running! Or at least I ran for the first 10ks and then it got dark and I had to use the headlamp. While It was better than the e-lite and I very much appreciated it, I don’t know how people train with 200 lumen headlamps. I had to drop pace on the technical ground and I was still hiking the ups, but whenever the track opened up I was moving.

I passed one lookout and could see the glowing red of fire another mountain range over. It looked pretty cool. Then the descent down. Another runner caught up to me as I hit the bridge across Helena River. They’d left drop bottles and a bottle of coke on the bridge which was perfect. I’d planned on refilling and purifying water at the next campsite, but this was better. The other runner helped me to fill my bladder, then we had to move the bottles out of the middle of the road as two 4wds came along. The second one stopped and told us we wouldn’t be able to go on. There was a fire headed for the Bibb track.

I was pretty sceptical of this. As the back burning was known and we’d seen it off in the distance, plus there’d been no word of fire headed for the track. But the 4wd driver was quite adamant about us not being able to use the track. By now 4 other runners had caught up to us, so the logical thing to do was to call Shaun and check. No reception on the bridge but we had a climb coming up next and I figured we’d get reception up high. I set off… A quick climb until I had reception and after a call to him (He probably thought I was needing rescuing when he realised who it was). He reassured us that the back burning wasn’t near the track, wasn’t headed for the track and it was all being monitored. We were good to continue on. Word got passed back down the mountain trail and all the runners were again underway.

I left the group at this point and disappeared into the darkness. The next section wasn’t overly interesting. It was very dark and the trail wound around the edge of mountains which I think may have had views. So I was tossing up whether or not to blog this bit… But there’s good and there’s bad in trail running, and then there’s feral. My undies had started to creep a bit and were really starting to chafe. As in really painfully chafe. I tried vaseline, it didn’t help. This was uncomfortable. Really there was only one solution. The undies had to go. It was time to run this race commando. So I tossed them in pack and continued on with only my silky smooth speedo shorts. Surprisingly comfortable and no more chafing!

Discovery Centre with Feral Pig

I called mum after climbing up the hill out of the last campsite before the Discovery Centre. I was just under 3kms out from her and I wanted to let her know I was on the way. A run/walk into the Discovery Centre aid station (126.6km) where I was reunited with my Ayup, 700 lumens of light! I rested up at the Discovery Centre for a while, Roger the Event Director gave me some noodles, which were great! I was pretty much over sweet things, and I didn’t really want anymore chips. I needed real food. I also gave mum Feral Pig to mind. Technically I may have been required to return Feral Pig, but Roger was not getting it back…. I had just carried that pig 29ks through the night. It was my pig!

Leaving the Discovery Centre the end was in sight. I headed for Mundaring Weir and somehow got lost, the track over the weir was closed and they had a detour to another temporary bridge, but the signs got confusing. I ran in circles a little, but I eventually figured it out (or close enough) and got across the temporary bridge climbing the other side and headed back into the bush.

Camel Farm

Glen and his pacer caught up to me not long after which funnily enough put me into last place… As in last surviving runner on the course. It was that brutal! We saw another runner being limped out after failing 6kms from the finish. He was a mess! Then Glen slowed down and I overtook him again. Coming into the Camel Farm Aid Station (137.7km).

I sat there for a few minutes and had some Coke, I was struggling to get real food into me, but at least Coke had some calories in it. While there I was told that I was now only 30 minutes behind Raquel, I was an hour behind her at the last aid station, so that meant I’d gained 30 minutes over 11k. I gave this some thought and let my competitive side kick in.

Piggy Cupcake

Some people are driven by personal achievements as, in finishing the race, or completing what was thought to be impossible or beating themselves. My biggest driver is competition. It’s never personal. I just use competition to push myself beyond what my body tells me it can do. In this case I let that fire loose. I left the aid station moving, I had a target, a goal and I was focused on it! I was running through the bush, only slowing on the stairs and real technical ground. It was still dark so I saw Raquels headlamp off in the distance towards the top of the next climb. I pushed, I knew if I got in front of her I run even better when I feel like I’m being chased. I caught her towards the top of the next climb about 1km out from the aid station, she was looking smashed. 

Overtaking her I maintained my pace, this was my style of racing, the environment at which i’m at my peak. I pushed hard into the next aid station Jorgeson Park (144.8km). It was actually a really nice aid station, I wanted one of the piggy cupcakes, but I couldn’t stomach it. Mum meanwhile was thoroughly enjoying her piggy cupcake. I had some coke and took off just after Raquel hit the aid station.

Camel Farm again

That was the turnaround so now it was a race back to the Discovery Centre. The sun came up as I was leaving the park and it turns out I was running through some really nice bush in the dark. Giant granite boulders and lots of wildflowers. However this section on the return was less runnable. The stairs were the descents and the climbs were the smooth sections. Mum was waiting and taking photos as I came out at the Camel Farm and then ran into the aid station beside me (I was running THAT slow!).

Camel Farm again with sign

I didn’t even want coke at Camel Farm aid station (152km). Too sweet. I nibbled a couple of chips, sucked it up and pushed on. It was the home stretch now and I had a lead to maintain.

Out of Camel Farm, I had my visor on but the day was already starting to warm up (It was about 7am). The return wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be on the way out. I seemed to remember a really steep descent that didn’t really eventuate into a climb (It mustn’t have been that steep). I also got briefly lost up near a lookout. Luckily for me another runner out for their morning run came running through as I was standing there looking at a map and pointed out where the Snek was. 

Coming into the finish

I was off again. By now the hallucinations were kind of bad. I had to keep reminding myself… “That is not a Giraffe it’s a tree”, “Not a guy in a safari suit, it’s a shrub”, “That crow is NOT talking to you”. I kind of knew it wasn’t real. Or at least part of my brain did, but I couldn’t stop seeing or hearing things.

Down across the weir again, going this way and in the light I managed to find the right track, I had actually been on the right track through the night, but I’d also run in circles a bit. Up past the Mundaring Weir Hotel (Where we were staying) and onto the last technical section. The day had warmed up and I was having flashbacks to the previous day. It was time to finish. I cruised on into the finish line at the Discovery Centre (163k) crossing in about 32:13:56 (I’m still waiting on official results… But this is based off a 12:30am start time) 1st place female!!

Only 8 of the 23 starters actually finished the race. Raquel and I being the only women. Over all the races (50 miler, 50k & 23k) the reported DNF rate was 50%

I feel that this is one of those races where I learnt a lot. It’s always worth listening to the more experienced ultra runners. In this case Shaun the race director, plus Stephen Redfern (via Facebook). Don’t just DNF the race, in the miler there is a lot of time. It’s better to spend a couple of hours chilling out than to just pull out, it is actually possible to recover. Also water is the most important thing ever! Never ever run out of water!

This was not one of my prettier races, but after finishing two milers in a 4 week period I was very very pleased that I got it done. Also, I now have ALL the UTMB points. The whole actually affording to go to France and race I’ll deal with later. One step at a time. Next up is Six Foot track (assuming I make it through the lottery)

Done!

Results

  • 32:13:56 - 1st female, 6th overall

 

Main Gear

  • Terrigal Trotters 2XU singlet
  • Speedo shorts
  • Wooters buff
  • Lasportiva visor
  • Salomon Speedcross 4 shoes
  • Injinji Original Weight socks
  • Zensah seamless running sports bra
  • Salomon Adv skin 12 set
  • Ayup headlamp
  • Borrowed Petal Tikka
  • Black Diamond ultra distance trekking poles
  • 2 * Salomon 250ml soft flasks
  • Invisible Zinc sunscreen

 

Nutrition

  • Gu Gels (for the first 3-4 hours)
  • Tailwind (2 * 250ml soft flasks for most of the race, I switched it to pure water later on)
  • Mixed chocolates (m&ms, chocolate covered sultanas, dark choc ginger)
  • Jubes
  • Ginger beer
  • Coke
  • Chips
  • Bhuja cracker mix
  • noodles 
  • Powerbar energyze wafer bar
  • Hydrate tablet
  • Fruit (watermelon, pineapple, oranges)

 

1 comment

You are a legend! Well done on such an amazing effort x

Posted by Jo, 16/11/2017 8:51:56 am

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