Thursday, 24 May 2012

76/100 - The TNF100 Race Interview

It’s Saturday night, 9.30 PM.  I’m at a friends for dinner, talking about our cycling training.  I’ve spent the day training and then updating the HRE Facebook with TNF100 updates.  They’re all going so well.  Sean, at least from the limited information the live timing provides, seems to be on plan.  His texts throughout the day are all positive – it’s finally happening for him.   I’m relaxed, knowing that in a couple of hours, Sean will be enjoying his greatest athletic achievement to date and carrying his longed for bronze buckle.

My phone starts flashing – it’s on silent.  I’ve ignored a few other calls from friends that evening (it’s rude to answer your phone when invited for dinner!).  I glance at my phone – Sean Peckover.  I quickly say “I have to get this”.  Me – “Hey mate how you going?” Sean – “I’m done mate.  I’m pulling out”………

Welcome to Run Pex Run.  In this post, I’ve got the reins.  As you know, Sean attempted The North Face 100 on Saturday and rather than him telling you the story, we’ve decided that the best way to truly gain an appreciation of what happened and where Sean’s at now, is for me to interview him.

I’m Jason.  The other half of HRE.  You’ve seen Sean refer to me in a number of blog posts.  I’m that guy that gave up running marathons to become a cyclist.  All you need to know about me is that I’m the most qualified person to be interviewing Sean post his TNF100 adventure.  We’re very close friends.  We’re business partners.  We share each other’s successes and each other’s failures.  When he called, I did not even attempt to convince Sean to continue.  I know him too well.  I know that if he was pulling out of THIS race, he would have already exhausted every possible fibre that would have allowed him to continue.  Telling me he was done meant he was done.

What is truly inspirational about Sean Peckover is not the amazing athletic transformation.  Nor the incredible training adventures described here.  Nor the fact that he pushed his body to its physical limits last weekend.  Yes, these feats do inspire us all to reach for our dreams.  To commit to them.  To achieve them.  However, what is most inspirational about Sean is his ability to ask himself hard questions and answer them honestly.  He owns his actions; his results.  There are never excuses.  I believe there are far more ultra marathon finishers than there are people with this self reflective ability.  Therefore, I know that this interview will see the rawness and honesty often a feature of his posts.

Sean – in one word only, describe how you feel about what happened at TNF100?


So, briefly, what happened, why did you end up withdrawing?

Simply my issues from my previous ultras (being sick, stomach shut down) occurred again. In post run analysis mode, I believe the significant climbs up the Golden Stairs, Ironpot Ridge and Nellies Glenn raised my heart rate (effort) to the point in which all of my blood supply was going to my legs, and nothing around my stomach. I had stomach issues and come through them after the Golden Stairs and Ironpot – the climb up Nellies at 60km was the beginning of the end.

After Checkpoint 4 (65km) I was in bad shape, but tried to remain positive. Ben and I had enough time to buckle if we kept moving, however after going through Echo Point at 70km and going down 800 odd stairs of the Giant Staircase I was gone. I started vomiting uncontrollably. I said to Ben that I couldn’t suffer 28 more kilometres of it. He made me walk and think about it, he said if I wanted to quit I had to call you (Jason) to explain. I said I was prepared for that, and prepared to sign the race withdrawal paperwork when I pulled out.

After Ben called the race directors to come and pick me up, I kept vomiting. Two things happened during the next hour which scare me, one is I hallucinated and saw a massive white horse on the trail and the second was I was falling asleep whilst upright. If Ben wasn’t there – who knows what could of happened.

Once the truck picked me up and I got back to CP 5 – the Doctor checked my vitals, I was suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. Seeing a horse that doesn’t exist is not a good sign.

That horse was probably Marty Hack.  I hear he does that in the middle of races.   Many people have commented that what you did was ‘inspirational’, and ‘amazing’, how do you feel about this?  Do you agree / disagree?

I failed. In simple terms I signed up for a 100km race and finished 76% of it. When I arrived home to my family I have nothing to show for the 40 weeks of training, for the time away from my family, for the financial investment. I have zero. No buckle, no finish.

There are loosely two groups of people that send messages of support. Athletes and non athletes.

For the non-athletes, I can see how I can inspire them to get off the couch and get out the front door. To lose some weight or sign up for a race. For the non-athletes running 5km seems as farfetched as running 100km. I really appreciate the fact that I have inspired some non runners during my journey to get active and healthy. Greg Smith is one example. Yes I am an inspiration to him and people like him.

For the athletes, I am not amazing or inspiring. I am a disappointment. I had 40 weeks to get my preparation right and I failed to deliver. No excuses. I trained harder than other finishers. I put more work in. I missed a grand total of half a running session in 40 weeks. I was as fit, healthy and ready to run. I poorly executed a race which I had more than adequately prepared for. I should not be an inspiration to other runners, I should serve as a stark reminder that bad things happen to good people.

On the flight down, did you even consider DNFing?  You were extremely confident that lessons learnt in your preparation races (relax the pace) would see you avoid the gut issues in the Blue Mountains?

I had not one negative thought in my mind. I was visualising the finish area. I ran on Thursday afternoon to see what the final couple of kilometres were going to be like. I spent time really going over this in my head. I even started the celebration blog, it is in draft. That is how confident I was.

I really believed the pace strategy that Ben had laid out for us was spot on and that we were both going to have a great day and buckle.

You call me at 9:30 PM in the Blue Mountains, about to withdraw.  What runs through your head as the phone rings?

The two hardest phone calls were to you and to Bel (my wife). Obviously she was upset for me, but more concerned about my health and if I needed to go to the hospital and should I be alone in the motel room etc. She has never seen me fail at anything, so it is a unique situation where I have said I was going to do something but failed.

The call to you was tragic, I know you get all of the sneaky questions and comments about my lack of ability, nutritional queries – you deal with all of the doubters who will never say anything to my face. For you I wanted the moment where you could say “I told you so” – that moment didn’t occur. My failure is your failure.

Is the athlete who started this journey the same one in front of me now?  If not, how are you different?

I have gone to another level. The 6 time marathon finisher that started this journey is now long gone. I doubt I can go back to just doing events for fun. I have seen significant improvement in myself physically to feed the obsession. I understand what it takes now to see results. My old training habits are gone.

Have you found your limits?

I went past my physical limitations into a bad place, I obviously have a problem with nutrition and effort in longer races. I found my limit physically in the race, I don’t give in easily so was past the point of safety when I decided to quit.

Now I have improvements to be made in speed, flexibility and power. All things I have not worked on during this training journey. Being 31 and seeing what some 50 year olds are doing makes you realise that there is improvement in all of us.

Are you going back to TNF100 in 2013 to deal with unfinished business?

No. My improvements will now be in the form of being a faster runner. My path was set before I DNF’ed. I am hungry to run faster marathons. 2013 has many adventures for me, TNF100 isn’t one of them.

Do you think you will ever go back?

Doubt it. If I did, it would be the last thing on my running bucket list. If I went back it would be to run faster than the DNF time (14.30) so I would want to have the ability and conditioning to run 14hrs. I am a long way from that point.

Did you ‘over prepare’ (paralysis by analysis)?

Good question! A tough one. Possibly. By my nature I was very prepared, including lists, leaving no stone unturned type of personality. I didn’t over prepare physically as I was fresh and not injured on race day. Did I burn myself out mentally? Yes probably. I went through a period where I was “over it” but that lasted only for a couple of weeks.

I didn’t have a training history like Ben or Scott Lawton, so I needed to have 40 weeks to prepare myself physically. Some people have been able to complete the race on less training, I am not sure I would like that feeling to go in to a race underdone.

Did I get sick due to over preparation? Did I force myself to get sick because I feared success more than failure, I am not sure? I think that is a valid question to ask yourself. Is it possible to subconsciously sabotage yourself? Possibly. If it is, then I have a lot of issues to work out; fear of failure is one thing, fear of success is something totally different.

One of our Facebook ‘likers’ asked how do you feel after committing to this achievement during a difficult time in your life (your Father’s accident) and now coming home without the buckle?  Is it hollow?

Very much so. My eldest son Hayden asked me why Ben got a buckle and I didn’t, he said “weren’t you running together”.

When you are motivated to do something that is a symbol of your life situation, then you want to ensure you do everything you can to achieve it.

If my life was a movie and I needed to get to 100km to save my family’s life from the “baddies” they would be dead. I failed to make it. It is a sobering hollow feeling that I could do nothing but sit on the side of the road at 76km and weep into my hands.

In the cartoon movies, the good guy always wins mate (they found Nemo, Woody rescued Buzz, even Homer Simpson saved Springfield).  Eventually.  What’s next – what will your readers read about over the next 12 months?

Readers will get the chance to follow my journey as I aim to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The holy grail of marathons. Boston is THE marathon that every marathoner wants to run, not only do I want to be fast enough to qualify but I want to go to the USA to run it. The journey starts next week. I am no where need good enough to run a Boston Qualifier (BQ) at the moment, the journey for the readers will be a massive one, am confident of more ups than downs.

Despite all of the above, your attitude post TNF is one of a little disappointment, however you are refreshingly positive.  Explain that.

I am at a cross roads, I can’t change the past. So I either sit here and sook about it, “poor me I deserve more than this” or I accept it, own the failure, pick another event and move on. As a father to two young boys, the example I want to set is that life isn’t fair, it isn’t perfect, sometimes you get a setback – you have to keep your chin up and move forward.   

Why don’t you quit running, buy a sick Specialised carbon fibre weapon and some super quick carbon wheels and come cycling and drinking cappuccinos with me?

Ha Ha Ha. Don’t worry it has crossed my mind! Cycling is too hard, you do more work than I do!

You know me, I am a running purist and cycling to me is like car racing, running is pure. You can’t buy time when you are running. It is you v the distance v the clock, no tactics, no riding in a bunch to conserve energy.

I guess the other question people might ask, is why don’t you do something you were already good at? That is an interesting one, why keep trying to pursue something that is using so much energy and I get minimal results. Maybe I should go back and play Rugby League or try rowing or archery or mountain biking. I don’t have the answer – I simply just LOVE to run. It is a curse.

I wouldn’t say no to a new carbon Specialized from Tuckers though!!!

Ahem, ah, well, that ‘sitting in the bunch’ is only so you can later launch a solo attack for the win up a hill kilometres from the line whilst your legs scream and your heart rate – never mind. 

Answer this - Sean Peckover – hungry or broken?


Well – watch your weight then.  Oh, you probably mean metaphorically ‘hungry’.  Right.  Why are you eating that second cheeseburger then?  Don’t answer that.

Anything else to add?

The point of blogging for me is to try and be as honest and self reflective as possible. I am not someone who writes what people want to hear, nor do I want people to feel pity on me for my failure. The purpose of exposing myself via this blog is for readers to be part of my journey, the successes and failures, my emotions - how I am going and how I view the world.

Do I invest too much emotion into races? Aren’t they meant to be fun? I love running, the moment that I don’t and I dread registering for a race, putting the shoes on, pinning a bib to my chest is the day I quit. Until then .......... I’ll run on, chasing the next challenge.

* * * * *

Thanks to Sean for inviting me to interview him on Run Pex Run.  It would be easy to simply say ‘ah well, it didn’t work out, maybe next time’.  Sean never takes this option.  Describing the above was tough.  You may be wondering; how do I feel about his effort?  Am I proud?  Obviously, I’m disappointed for him.  I feel the result is unfair.  The sheer commitment and focus in preparation plus his attitude post the event is what he should be proud of; as I am.  I was just as proud to call him a friend before TNF as I am after it.  Don't for a second think that the result doesn't matter.  It does.  Imagine yourself in Sean's shoes.  Martina Navratilova - "Whoever said it's not whether you win or lose that counts, probably lost".  For this reason, I think Sean will return to TNF100 one day.  When he does, he is likely to have already had other great successes in his running career.  He may do it in a shirt he picked up at Boston.  I can't see him leaving it unfinished.  Sean does everything at 100%.  Nothing will remain at 76%.

Although the interview may sound like Sean is in a negative place, if you get the opportunity to speak to him you will see that he is actually quite positive about what the future holds.  Remember, this account has been recalled only days after the event.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeeded” – Michael Jordan.

Sean’s success will come.  Stay tuned.  When it does I’m sure my phone will again flash with Sean Peckover.

Jason Paull


  1. Great post guys, such honesty from an athlete is refreshing. Everyone deals with failure in their own way, some are motivated by it, some are afraid of it, others embrace it but we all should learn from it. I wish you the best of luck in your future running endeavours!

  2. I thought one day that I too would run the Northface, I trained for months whilst living in Mt Isa... however life got in my way and I didn't get there, however... reading your blogs has been inspirational even reading your interview... the fact that you got there, got to try, got to experience the worst possible outcome but to live through it is inspirational. Go for Boston head held high and stiff shit if we think youré inspirational suck it up!!!!

  3. Great interview guys. Never realized the difference between how the athletes and non-athletes responded. I can understand now how it could feel like a failure. But seriously, I don't want to do anything that feels good, for 14 HOURS...seriously. Huge effort. And maybe (for now) this was the thing to give you that push for the Boston and other great things. Silver lining. And the humour columnist in me really got a giggle out of Jason explaining the "in a bunch" thing. :)

  4. Sean, running is not a finish line: it's an experience. It's not how you survived the storm but how you danced in the rain. Go back next year, run within your limits and soak up the true majesty of where you were running.
    Mate, this wasn't a failure & you didn't give up mentally - it takes a lot of guts (no pun intended) to make the DNF call - but it remains an unfinished experience. I've been in your shoes at 65% (CP4): go back next year and enjoy the moment.

    If, on the other hand, you find it challenging to adjust your expectations and this remains a 'failure' then ask yourself whether the failure in fact lay in your decision to register for TNF100 in the first place. Every time I contemplate registering for an event, I ask myself what I want to get out of it. If 'enjoying the moment' isn't one of those things, I don't register. If I happen to DNF, I will go back next time to avail myself of the enjoyment factor I missed on the previous occasion.
    Good on you for putting it all 'out there' and all the best for your future endeavours!!

  5. Sean there are heaps of very very talented Ultra runners that DNF. I totally LOVE your commitment to running as you obviously have a busy work and family life that needs attention to.

    I wont waffle but to summarise my thoughts on the above interview .. you are a yet inexperienced Ultra runner. With more training / dedication you will get stronger and eventually blitz the 100K.

    Your 'dodgy' stomach needs resolving.

    Mate I am wanting to run the 12hr Historical Village Run next year .. I want to put the miles in for it. If you are fit get on board ;)

    Enjoy your running Sean .. love the blog .. ;)

    love lee