Wednesday, 7 March 2012

When Day Dreaming Becomes Reality - The North Face 100

I’ve had this orange folder hidden under the bed for a long time. There are coffee cup stains hidden under the dust and cobwebs on it. On the front, it has written in black pen in capitals THE DREAM. Inside there are 20 or so pages of information regarding a race, not just any race but THE race. This aint no fun run kids.....
It’s been 3 years since I first learnt about The North Face 100 (TNF 100), at the time I had just read an article in an adventure magazine called The Outer Edge, the article was written by a runner who ran part of it with Dean Karnazes - The year was 2009 and I was bitten hard by the runners bug. I had just read a book about Karno (50 Marathons in 50 Days) and here he was in Australia running a 100km race – I had to learn more about it.
At that time running 100km seemed like the most extreme thing for me to even dream of doing. I was new to running, I had just survived a marathon, my second ever race and finished in just under 4.40. I had never met any Ultra Marathon runners, thus had no idea about races greater than a Marathon in distance. To me, at that time and like others 42.2km is long enough!
I became a little obsessed with the idea of training for this race, I collected articles, photos, and website info and placed it in an orange folder. It became the secret race that I was training for. This was in 2009, many many months ago.  
If you are unfamiliar with TNF, it is a 100km Ultra in the Blue Mountains NSW. It is run over parts of the infamous 6 foot track and mostly in heritage listed national park. What makes this tougher than your average 100km trail race is the elevation. There is over 4500m of ascent and descent over the course – for those in Rocky that’s 9 trips up and down Mt Archer!
The climbing up (and down) hills and mega stair cases make this Ultra unique, it has a reputation of  smashing your quads to pieces on the downhills and smashing your soul to pieces on the ups. Because of the elevation changes, it is a long day at the office for most people, there is a very generous cut off of 28hours – and for those willing to push a silver buckle for a sub 14hr finish and bronze for a sub 20hr finish.
If you get your training right and do the work, it is one piece of the puzzle, the other is nutrition. Due to the length of time you are on course for, nutrition and hydration plays a bigger part than any other Ultra. The longer you are on course the more likely you will fail at your nutrition plan, gels, perpetuem, coke, powerade, noodles, pizza – it all tastes like crap eventually. And don’t even get started on managing calorie volume, and water and electrolytes, making sure you get enough but not too much to shut things down!
TNF is also Australia’s largest Ultra. Most Ultra’s are quiet little races with less than a couple of hundred (for the big races). TNF this year has over 950 solo runners. Benny tells me it is the closest Ultra he has been too that feels like an Ironman.

So my dream has been bubbling along for 3 years.
Why am I doing this? Why spend a shit load of money on 1 weekend? Why keep a stupid folder under my bed for 3 years? What is the attraction to THIS race?
I think I just wanted a challenge that seemed unrealistic. I really just wanted to set a goal for myself that seemed so farfetched from my fitness and experience level that it was plain stupid to imagine doing it. When I told Bel about it doing it she said no. Thinking back it was partly because she knew that I wasn’t fit enough, the other reason was it seemed scary and unsafe to her for someone to be running for 20hrs in the bush.
Now this is going to sound stupid, but my folder is filled with a heap of articles about gear and stuff. I know I have already blogged about gear, but that was my major concern back at the start. I needed a cool backpack and rad trail shoes and an awesome headlamp.
There are no bits of paper with training plans or anything resembling nutrition plans! Pretty funny really.
Thinking back I was in love with the idea of being a 100km finisher, being like Karno with cramping quads with every step, the romantic idea of suffering for hours on end in the bush walking up steep climbs powered by pizza and pain. Dreaming about the finish and never about the journey.
To be honest training for TNF has been bloody lonely and hard. As a certified extrovert (one psych survey I did puts me in the 95th percentile of all extroverts!) – who has used running as my "alone time", logging not only over 12-14 hours of solo running but 3-4hours of gym work each week hasn’t been easy.
I had dreamed about the finish and never about the daily 4.15am alarms.
I had dreamed about the sub 20hour buckle and never about the perpetual tiredness, hunger and irritability.
I dreamed about the bragging rights on the facebook page but never about the constant battle to get back home before the kids woke up and all hell breaks loose every morning.
I dreamed about the cold beer at the Sydney airport wearing my TNF shirt and never about the prospect of a DNF.
The old me was part wanker part dreamer, the reality of it is that there is a lot of hard, long, lonely work required before you even get to the start line of an Ultra. Then if, and it’s a big if, everything goes to plan and you have a good day, the Ultra Gods will allow you to finish.
The dreamer in me has long gone, beaten into submission by the sleep deprivation and countless kilometres of solo running, maybe with it a little bit of the illusion that this Ultra game is fun.
"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights" Muhammad Ali.
Find your limits, redefine them, repeat - Jason Paull Team HRE


PS -Its my 31st Birthday on Saturday the 10th of March - feel free to donate to The North Face 100 Trip! Its been very expensive getting all of the mandatory gear together!

1 comment:

  1. The usual enthralling read that athlete enthusiasts love to read.
    Nothing great is easy and happy birthday fellow 10th Marcher!