It had been a while. Quite a while actually, since I had run 100km.
It seemed like something that had become part of my identity, running long distances, of how people saw me, but I wasn’t actually doing it.
The last time I completed a 100km race was September 2017, the Surf Coast Century, over 5 years ago.
When you are out there on the course, people ask you, sometimes as the first thing they say to you if you haven’t shared a collective whinge over a brutal climb, endless bog of mud or water crossing, have you done one of these before? Is this your first 100?
The answer is no, but the feeling is yes.
There many reasons I hadn’t run a 100 in 5 years. There was an injury that took me out of the long stuff for about a year, a global pandemic and,to be honest, a lack of inspiration to run that far just for shits and giggles, because let’s be real there aren’t many giggles!
I just wasn’t excited to run the same event again.
People who talk a lot in the trail and ultra public space, bang on a lot about finding your “why”, having a reason to be out doing what you are doing. I have many but one of the main ones is getting to see places that I would never get to see and experience other wise. A huge part of my why is the course and location and with no travel allowed and no new races popping up that lit that spark, I didn’t sign up.
So when Ultra Trail Kosciusko was announced I jumped at the chance to have another crack at 100km.
I had some reservations, mostly that it could be as big as it’s sister event Ultra Trail Australia and the impact of putting a huge amount of people on single trails both for the trail itself and user experience and also the whole commercial situation with Ironman and UTMB. Not to mention that it was scheduled for mid December, the start of Australian summer and had the potential to be insanely hot.
But it was through Mt Kosciusko National Park, Australia’s biggest summit. I wanted to go there, to run those trails. Ironman be damned!
We arrived at Lake Crackenback Resort a few days before the festival kicked off and the mountain range was covered in unseasonable snow. Yep, actual snow, in summer!
Knowing it was going to be cold, I had packed all my winter running gear, plus heaps of spare buffs (life saver), gloves, socks and thermals.
The original course went straight up over the summit from Thredbo, up and over Eagles Nest and towards Charlottes Pass.
Unfortunately due to the weather and amount of snow, the first section of the course got completely rerouted the day before the race, removing the mountain single trails and adding in 21km of road, most of which was bitumen.
The race kicked off just after 6am at the Perisher Resort. We ran up the Kosciusko Road to Charlottes Pass before continuing on to Seaman’s Hut on a gravel fire trail.
The way out to the hut was almost white out, with icy winds coming straight at us.
Volunteers at the turn around point were amazing, it was bloody freezing out there.
I chatted with a few runners as I shuffled up the road. It reminded me of the Great ocean road marathon, only with snow. I giggled at some of the outfits and felt for the runners from Queensland who don’t have a winter never mind snow.
At one point there was ice all over the front of my pack and the top of my straw was frozen! To think I was actually really concerned about the heat after my last disaster in Cairns.
There was a checkpoint at 21km, back at Charlottes Pass but I ran straight through that and headed down to the Main Range Track.
The sun had come out by this point and the views were insane.
At the bottom the metal “cheese grater” track started. In the original course was a 5k mandatory walking section on this metal contraption but they said in the briefing that this part was just “recommended” to walk. Frankly, everyone was running.
And so was I, for about 10 metres, until I fell, quite spectacularly, the grip of my shoes catching on the grate and the rest of my body falling onto it and then off the side into the snow.
My hands and finger tips were a bloody mess. It looked like I had defensive wounds from a bear attack.
People were falling all over the place. There were bloody faces and many bloody knees. One lovely runner who stopped to help someone else, helped me put my bib back on and I kept trudging along, walking only on the track now and doing makeshift first aid with all the spare buffs I had packed.
People behind me were getting frustrated as I was walking, as fast as I could mind you, on the grate. Up to 10 at a time would pass as soon as we stepped off it.
I tried to stay focused and not stress about my hands. I figured I would breeze into the next checkpoint, get a first aid volunteer to tape them all up and I’d be good to go.
Once I got to the checkpoint however it was a little more complicated. The first aid bloke said if he helped me he had to fill out paperwork and to be honest he didn’t seem very keen. I felt like an inconvenience.
So I went off to my drop bag to find something that I could use to at least get my fingers to work and stop my palms from bleeding.
My unplanned crew/cheer squad found bandaids (from the same first aid guy!) and fixed my bib. All in all, it took about 20 minutes with the chaos of the checkpoint but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
The bandages on my palms didn’t last long at all, coming off as soon as I started running and sweating again, but the fingers were a life saver.
After that we headed back out into the trails and a pretty long stretch of road to the next checkpoint. Even without the course changes, I was surprised at just how much bitumen there was and wished I’d made a different shoe choice.
Most of the trails in this section were an old 4WD track, nothing too technical just a bit sloshy in parts. Completely runnable for the elites for sure.
From the Sponers Chalet we went back onto the road for a huge downhill bitumen section. It was interesting to see people’s responses to this, some bombed down, never to see their quads again, others walked, many complained.
I just shuffled along knowing that I have a history of blowing my quads and tried to stay mentally focused on moving forward.
It was a weird race in that people weren’t very chatty. Lots of people had headphones in from the early sections or just didn’t really chat. There was so many people on course that I was pretty much never alone except for a few sections on the Thredbo River Trail but I think that was more just the isolation of the switch backs not how many people were actually around.
I really struggled on that section. I had forgot how much I hated it earlier in the year and just couldn’t get the motivation going. I put angry music in my ear and trudged forward but I was walking more than I was running. It was a long 17k section with no aid and what felt like absolutely no end.
Despite my complete disinterest in life during this section, I was absolutely nailing my fueling and was stoked that my bladder in the back was slowly emptying out and become lighter.
I had set my alarm on my watch for every 20 minutes as a fuel reminder and hadn’t missed any. Then I added a few gels, aid station fruit bread and tail wind or aid station mix on top of the clif blok every 20 minutes. It was going great until I got my veneer stuck in a clif blok at around 80k and literally pulled my tooth out.
I didn’t really know what to do with it so I shoved it back in as hard as I could and swapped over to gels!
I was so relieved to get to that last checkpoint. I asked some lovely folks to fill my bottles and help me open a pack of wipes as I dragged my fluro vest and head lamp out of my pack. I was ready to shuffle this last section to the finish.
But once the sun went down things got a little more complicated. I could see shit!
I’ve done heaps of training runs and events in the dark but it’s always been on pretty smooth, wide tracks. This was mountain bike and 4WD tracks that were narrow with really curved on the edges. I can’t see depth in the dark without my glasses so I had no idea where to put my feet. I kept rolling my ankles and stumbling.
Frustrated and pissed off, I ran walked the final 15k when I definitely could have run at least some of it.
I crossed the finish line just shy of 16 and a half hours and my trusty support crew who had been up since like 4:30 in the morning were there to greet me with falafel in hand.
I learnt a lot on this one and there are so many takeaways for my next race.
Will I do Ultra Trail Kosciusko again? It’s a no from me, I just don’t feel excited to run all the roads and the Thredbo river again but I’d still like to do the Eagles Nest to summit track one day.
I have a lot more to say about this race and all I learnt, positive and negative, but you’ll have to wait for that because this is already way too long!