Unreasonable East – 100 miler – Race Report
I entered the Unreasonable East 100 Miler back in February for a few reasons:
- I hadn’t done a long race (>50k) for about 4 years, and thought that entering something big might shake me up a bit.
- I have talked about doing a miler for quite a few years, but always put it in the too hard basket because they were too far away, and the time, effort and cost didn’t feel like it was worth it. This one was literally on my doorstep, so there was no excuse.
- I wanted to enter something that was long enough to feel like finishing it was the challenge, rather than racing it.
I had two main aims for the event:
- To enjoy it, and have a fun day out on the trails, preferably running with a friend the whole way.
- To eat pizza and drink beer somewhere along the course.
The reason for the beer and pizza was that to be able to pull that off, I would need to be running slowly enough to also enjoy the day out and not treat it like a race.
I am disappointed to report that I failed to achieve these goals – but it wasn’t entirely my fault!
The race kicked off at 7pm on a Friday night. It was a balmy evening by June Blue Mountains standards, so there wasn’t much need, at least initially, for all of the winter woollies we had to carry in our mandatory kit.
We started at a nice sedate pace up the campfire creek single track and then onto one of the many firetrails which would make up the bulk of the course. About 10km in, I caught up with Andy Coleman who happened to be an old physio patient from a few years back. We started chatting, caught a couple of blokes who had been in front of us, and it turned out that this put us at the front of the field. We ran all the way to checkpoint 2 (33km) at a nice easy pace, chatting the whole way.
Things were going exactly to plan.
I had a few slices of a vegemite/pizza bread thing, grabbed a big handful of salt and vinegar crisps and was ready to go in a couple of minutes. Andy had an issue with his vest rubbing his shoulder, so he was taking a little bit longer to get ready, and in the mean time Matthieu Drouyer had also joined us at the checkpoint as he was only a couple of hundred metres behind us.
I left the checkpoint first and said to Andy that I would see him in a few minutes when he caught me up.
This is when my race plan went out the window. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I started to go a bit harder. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my Type A brain I was thinking – “I don’t want these guys to catch me”.
I have just googled “Type A Personality” and it is a bit disturbing.
What Is a Type A Personality? Characteristics associated with a Type A personality may include operating at a more urgent pace, demonstrating higher levels of impatience, having a more competitive nature, getting upset easily, and associating self-worth with achievement.
I generally try hard not to get upset easily, but I must have low self-worth, and I am definitely guilty of operating at an urgent pace pretty much all of the time.
The next checkpoint was only 14km away, but up a fairly decent climb which I was disciplined enough to hike up rather than run. Half way up the hill my headtorch went flat. My ten-hour battery had only lasted 4 ½ hours. Not ideal.
I swapped over to my backup head lamp and made it up to Checkpoint 3. This is where my nutrition started heading South. The volunteers running the checkpoint weren’t expecting anyone yet, so they didn’t really have any food ready. They helped me refill my soft flasks with water and tailwind, and someone found a container with vegemite scrolls, so I grabbed a couple of those and got on my way. They also very kindly charged my headtorch battery for me, as I would be back again to the same checkpoint in about 3-hours time.
The next leg was a 27km out and back on a gently undulating firetrail that I know very well. It was just after midnight now and the weather was still ridiculously warm compared to usual. I had long since ditched my buff and gloves, and was really enjoying being out on a familiar trail in the middle of the night. I switched on some music. It was a playlist that my 12-year-old daughter and I had put together the night before the race and it was on a random shuffle – so I didn’t know what to expect.
First song – “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees. It seemed appropriate. It is also at pretty close to 180bpm – so a good running form check!
Second song – “Sound of Silence” by Disturbed. The first line is “Hello darkness my old friend . . . “
Third song – “Where did you sleep last night” by Nirvana. I swear I’m not making this up.
Fourth song – “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers.
Maybe I was beginning to lose it a bit, but it felt like the songs were talking to me. I went back to silent mode.
I turned around at McMahon’s Point 61km into the race, still loving it, and now with the opportunity to find out what everyone else was doing, and whether I should speed up or chill out.
I soon passed Matthieu and worked out he was probably about 1.5km behind me. Following him was a long and consistent string of headlamps running towards me. Everyone was in good spirits and wishing each other well which was awesome. It seemed slightly less crazy to be running along a pitch black trail at 1:30am when there were a whole lot of other nutters out there with me.
I got to Checkpoint 4, picked up my now recharged battery (thank you very much volunteers), grabbed a little bit of food, including a handful of chocolate chip cookies, filled my soft flasks and headed off again. I walked for a bit and tried to get as many of the cookies into me as I could stomach.
The next leg was a fairly easy 12km passing within 400m of my house and into the Wentworth Falls Checkpoint. I was delighted to be met by my wife and daughter who had very generously got up at 3:30am to make me a coffee and check on my progress. It was a real pick up to see them and give them a quick cuddle.
It was now 87km into the race, I was feeling good, and after downing my double espresso, I ate some pumpkin soup and walked out of the checkpoint carrying a cup of tea (with one sugar).
I walked and sipped until I finished the tea, and then got running again.
This next section of the course is very close to my home, so I should have been familiar with it (note for next time – do a lot more research into fully understanding the course – especially when the organisers go to great lengths to have you download the GPX map file on your watch and phone).
The course markings were very difficult to see in the dark, my phone had gone flat despite only listening to 4 songs, so I switched on the map function on my watch and discovered that at 4am, after a night of running, my 48 year old eyes couldn’t actually read the screen!
I bumbled on through – going slowly in lots of places to try and search for the next pink ribbon course marker. I found this part of the race very stressful. I didn’t want the guys behind me to catch me, but I also didn’t want to get lost, so I was trying to find the happy balance of staying on course without going too slow.
Eventually the ribbons lead back to the Prince Henry Cliff track and I navigated my way successfully to Checkpoint 6, 103km into the race. It took me about 3 or 4 minutes of bumbling around to find the actual checkpoint. It wasn’t exactly where I thought it was, and it was still pretty much in the dark because they weren’t expecting me yet either!!
There was no food ready, but the very helpful volunteers had some ginger ale and managed to boil the jug to make me a cup of tea. After a couple of minutes I worked out that I knew both of these people well. Between the headlamps, beanies and my now slightly delirious state, it took me a while to figure it out. I must have seemed very vague.
I took a litre of ginger ale, and the first cup of tea tasted so good, I got another one (this time with 5 sugars) to sip while I walked.
This section of the course was also an out and back, so it was the second and final chance to see how everyone else was tracking. Matthieu was still in second place. We stopped and chatted for about 30 seconds, and I worked out he was probably about 8km behind me. It felt like a decent lead, but one that could easily be lost if my wheels fell off – which given my lack of solid food was probably going to happen at some point.
On my way back through Leura, I was back on the road and the pink ribbons were much easier to follow now that the sun had come up. I got to a corner and came to the horrible realisation that I had missed this part of the course on my way out. Damn. I figured I would probably be disqualified, but I still wanted to finish so I had at least still done a miler. Even if it wasn’t official.
Luckily, and unusually for me, I had been listening the previous evening when the race organiser Shaun Kaesler had told us, that if you leave the course at any point, you can ring the organisers and get permission to be driven back to the part of the course you have missed, run it, and then return to where you were.
My friend, work colleague, and pacer for the final leg Peter Sweeny was waiting for me just before checkpoint 7. This was back at Wentworth Falls and 119km into the race. I told Pete what had happened and he agreed to call Shaun to tell him what had happened and discuss our options.
Being Irish, and never shy to miss an occasion for either a chat or a beer, Pete suggested to Shaun that I could do a “beer mile” once I reached the oval down in Glenbrook. Shaun though this was a great idea, except I would still be disqualified unless I went back and ran the actual part of the course that I had missed.
By the time this phone conversation had played out we were a few minutes past the Wentworth Falls checkpoint where I had once again been met by my wife, daughter and this time my 14 year old son who had run to the checkpoint from home because he’d been left behind! (Thanks Ollie!)
Pete quickly rang Kylie, my wife, to tell her what was happening. We ran back up the stairs towards the checkpoint and Kylie drove us back to Leura. I jumped out of the car, ran the 1.6km section of the course I had missed, and then got driven back to Wentworth Falls to restart where we had left off.
This was all a bit stressful, I worked out that I might still have a 25-30 minute lead, so Pete and I headed off, back past my house, for the final 50km run to the finish.
It turns out it wasn’t much of a run. The lack of food was now starting to cause some issues. My head felt foggy, sort of like when you haven’t had enough sleep, and I felt very nauseas. I sipped on some ginger ale and Pete force fed me one of his home-made Anzac Cookies which was actually very nice, and on any other occasion I would have eaten several.
Immediately after eating or drinking, I would feel sick for 10 mins, then my head would clear and I would feel good and start running a bit quicker. Then my energy would run out and I would have to repeat the process.
At checkpoint 8, 136km in, I was well past even trying to eat anything solid so I filled up with a litre of coke and 500mls of ginger ale for the final 33km, predominantly downhill, stretch to the finish.
The same cycle repeated itself many times over. Cloudy head, a bit of sugar, feeling sick, a short spell with energy, then flat as a pancake again.
At one point I vomited several times. But there wasn’t much in there, so not much came out. This actually helped to settle my stomach for a bit longer, so was probably a good thing. Maybe I should just vomit my way to the finish line.
All this time Pete was telling me stories, most of which I didn’t hear and didn’t reply to, and he would encourage me to run the runnable sections, and walk anything that was even vaguely up hill. Without his help I would have been much slower through this last section. Any doubts I had over whether a pacer would be helpful were well and truly dispelled.
What little energy I could muster for a conversation was always asking Pete to check how far back the guys behind me were. Because of the extra time taken up getting back to Leura, combined with my dismal finishing speed, I figured they must be making some fairly big inroads into my lead.
Pete assured me that I should chill out a bit, so I tried to, and on we bumbled, eventually reaching the Glenbrook causeway and the final km or so back to the finish line for a 1st place finish.
These are my takeaways from the event:
- I am extremely pleased, proud and grateful that I was lucky enough to be able to win my first, and probably only, 100-mile race.
- I would like to thank my wife and kids for their support and ongoing willingness to put up with, and help me, on my selfish endeavours
- I would like to thank Pete for giving up a whole weekend to listen to me whinge for 7- hours
- I would like to thank Shaun, his team, and all of the amazing volunteers who have made this event possible. I honestly think that running was the easy job compared to the hoops the organisers have jumped through to make the event happen, and the amount of absolutely selfless time and energy the volunteers have put in to keep us fed, watered, warm and healthy.
I am disappointed I didn’t stick to my plan of eating pizza, drinking beer, chilling out a bit and enjoying the whole event. The last 50k was too painful to call enjoyable, and I failed on both the Pizza and beer front, despite being handed a lovely can of Imperial Stout 100m before the finish line (Thanks Paddy!).
Perhaps if I enter the 200-miler next year I will pull my head in a bit and achieve my goals.
Those people are truly crazy. Hats off to them for sure. But they can keep it.