Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon. It sounds so harmless.

I entered the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon thinking that it should be a pretty harmless trail Marathon. Come on, it can't that be tough. All the competitors are even made to walk through the tunnel so we don't disturb the fragile Glow Worms. A 30 minute time penalty will be added to your time if you are caught running through the tunnel. Surely it can't be that bad. I watched the teaser clip on You Tube and I was hooked. How hard could it be? I've done 6 Foot Track, The North Face 100, Great North Walk, trained for Mt Solitary. I knew the first section was pretty run-able, but I was clueless after that. I had never trained in Newnes before. I'd walked through the tunnel about 13 years ago. That was the limit of my knowledge of the area. My lack of respect for the course will bite me in the end.
To start with I had a few gear malfunctions. I forgot to bring my bigger UltrAspire Surge pack. My plan was to use the light weight UltrAspire Spry pack for the first 21.1km then switch to the UltrAspire Surge for the 2nd 21.1kms. I wanted the option of being able to fill up the bladder with water. But I washed all my gear and it was drying on the back of the bathroom door and in my haste of leaving the house the day before I forgot my Surge Pack. I only bought one of my compression socks. I thought I had a pair but it was rolled up with another sock making it appear like I had a pair of my compression socks. I did not check my gear properly again not showing enough respect for The Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon that I was about to tackle. http://www.mountainsports.com.au/ms_cms/gwtm/ . Luckily to my amazement I was able to fit my waterproof jacket, thermal top, emergency blanket, gels, hydralytes and water bottle in my UltrAspire Spry pack. http://www.barefootinc.com.au/. This pack is tiny and it only weighs 178 grams. I did not have a bladder though. So I was going to be in danger of dehydration. But I could fill up with water along to way in my water bottle. So I thought I'd have enough hydration for the event.
Newnes is a special little place nestled amongst towering sandstone cliffs in the Wollomi National Park in the Wolgan Valley. It was an old coal mining town which left an amazing Glow Worm Tunnel, in the remains of an old railway line as well as many heritage listed sites around the little town.  You can stay in cabins on the farm or camp.
I walked past old antique coal carriages as I dropped off my mandatory gear and lined up at the start line. I found Beth, Brendan and Mick at the start line. We wished each other good luck and after the photos were taken we we counted down from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and we were all off and running.
I had know idea what I was in for. I usually try and find a profile of the course before I run the event so I know where the climbs are, from that I will gauge how much to leave in the tank. I, like most people who entered the race, was running blind. I was up for the challenge and I was just going to run to how I felt. So for the first 7km I went out fast and just ran to my breath. The track was flat but it climbed steadily gaining an elevation of 400m for 7kms passing over numerous streams which I had to slide down on my butt to cross. I tripped many times as I did my best to keep my pace as well as my feet as the leading female.
Close to the top I was caught by Angela Bateup. She is an Australian Long Distance Running Icon who has come 3rd and 5th in the World Mountain Running Championships so she is a legend. Angela was backing up from the team event of The North Face 100, in which she broke the record for. She has represented Australia in many disciplines from the time she was 16. I was first passed by her whilst running my first 6 Foot Track in 2010 and I was about to be passed by her again. We chatted whilst we dodged and weaved our way along the track that became more ruggered until we made it to the Glow Worm Tunnel.
At the tunnel we pulled out our head torches and slowed down to a walk. We chatted about our kids and what events we like to train for. I let her lead for her head torch was far brighter than mine. I was only carrying a tiny 35 gram head torch knowing that I had to walk through the tunnel so the light was not important. I let Angela lead the way and I tried my best to spot the Glow Worms, but we were gas bagging so loudly we probably scared them away.
The second we were out of the tunnel Angela was off and running up the rest of the climb. I chilled out a bit and I knew I would catch her on the descent and before long the terrain turned to my favour at the 11km mark and I was soon passing Angela and a couple of guys. I passed the drinks stop and through away my water bottle in the bin and headed back onto the track down the ridge to the valley where at the 20km mark where the guys and Angela caught up with me again. We all checked our Garmin and marvelled at the difference. The Garmin's were out by about 1500m.
I let Angela and the guys pass and I soon hopped across the stepping stones of the Wolgan River and then ran a grabbed my pack with my mandatory gear in it. I emptied my rubbish and threw my head torch into the transition area, (which I am sure is now lost, I am not good at check points) and headed straight back out onto the dirt road to the biggest climb of the day.
It was tough, steep and narrow. Less than a fifty centimetres separated you from a 400m fall below. If I was not racing I would have stopped and taken a photo. The view was just amazing. The steep sandstone cliffs were framed by mist. I was running through the clouds and I loved it. The climb soon became steeper and totally un -run-able. I looked up and I just saw a wall of dirt, rocks, trees and mud ahead of me. "Just keep going, Beth is coming after you".  I said to myself and I pushed my hands into my quads to try to scale the steepest climb I've ever seen.
At the 25km mark the climb soon flattened and I thought I would be able to run the next section but I was greeted with the most virgin trail I have seen on a track. It was over grown and rocky. I could tell that the guys ahead of me used the trees for breaks as they descended off the huge gorge. I had nothing to hold onto as I made my way down the old creek bed. The guys had broken their way through the bush. Who's idea was it to send us through here? Is this a track? Far out man. What were they thinking?  I just had to trust that the ground was clear of rocks and I was not going to break my ankle as I ran through this section. Trees, ferns and undergrowth covered the track. I caught foot on a rock and I twinge my right recovering hamstring. Bugger. It started to hurt and tighten up.
I pushed on hoping the track would become more run-able. I was soon greeted by Mick running up the final climb of the day. "Hi, well done". I encouraged.
"Hey Shona". He replied.
He was 4km ahead of me on the turn around section of the track. A few hundred meters I spotted Brendan and Tony (Fats), I soon started to worry when I saw Brendan walking. Shit, if he is walking up this climb it must be tough.  "She's good" I heard Brendan say.
In my head I started to get a bit weirded out. In my low glucose state I totally mis-read his comment thinking that he meant that Angela was good not me. Clearly it was meant for me but I must have been hurting so I twisted it around to a negative. It is funny how your brain works. Its good to remember this.
I was soon out of the single man track and I spotted the final check point of the day. I quickly filled up with water and I asked, "Where's Angela? I have not seen her running back".
"There was a female in front of you but we don't know her name" They replied.
I popped 2 hydralytes into my 500ml water bottle. I was all out of my trusty Sustain mix and headed straight back out up the climb again. When I turned around I spotted Beth. "Hey Beth well done. Have you seen Angela? I have not seen her I think she is lost?" I asked a bit concerned about her.
"No I have not seen her" Beth replied. "Hey Shona watch out for snakes".
"Snakes, where?" I asked as I sped off.
Bugger, Beth has caught me. I have a huge climb ahead of me. Shit. I'm a sitting duck here. I started the climb, my knee started to hurt. I think it is a cross between my hamstring and my abductor started to play up on my right leg. I'd just run 100km 2 weeks ago so I was bound to have issues. By the 34km mark Beth caught me and soon passed me. This in a way made me smile. She got away from me at the 34km mark at TNF100 too. She is an awesome athlete. So efficient with her energy that she expends.
"Hi Shona, how are you going" She kindly asked as she passed me.
"You know me, well done". Was all I could manage. I was hurting and I hate climbing. (I later checked my heart rate over this section of the course and it was the lowest for the entire race. I am really taking the "Piss" on the climbs and I just need to harden up. It is all in my head....but was I really hurting ...was I really tired...who knows? But my heart rate dropped through this climb.)
I would like to add here that I was passed by many runners who were descending the biggest climb of the day in the opposite direction. They were all so nice to me and ever so generous to move off their descending line to make way for me as I climbed. I heard many up lifting comments by all the contenders. The entire vibe of the race was just amazing. So selfless. It was a humbling experience all the contenders really did their best to get out of my way as I climbed.
I was soon passed in the opposite direction by Beth's Husband. "Hi Shona you are going well." He encouraged.
"Beth passed me at 34km again". I replied matter a factly.
"She's just ahead" Again he encouraged.  Those two together are such a nice couple. I have a soft spot for them both they are a great team. I knew she was just ahead, I was imagining her just ahead. I was hurting. My hamstrings screamed at me. I pushed my hands into my quads and just willed myself to get to the top. I found a rhythm and I started to feel better. The terrain was so ruggered it was barely runnable and I tried hard to keep my balance. Run, run, run I urged myself there is only 7kms to go.
I made it to the top and I tried to stay positive. Come on there is only 6kms to go. I did my best to run down the narrow ridge line to the valley below. This is what you love. The terrain was so technical it was through to just let go and use your agility especially when you are tried. I slid on my arse down a few section and tried to get my groove back. Come on it's down hill go, go, go. Come on you can go on crutches for two weeks after this event to recover if needed I said to myself. I have a set of crutches at my house and I use them for recovery some times. I past a marshal and asked him for some water. He refused to give me some as he only had enough for himself. Oh well, I thought and ran on.
I made it to the bottom in one piece and I soon spotted the 40km marker. I downed a gel with a few drops of remaining water in my water bottle and tried my hardest to kick it on. I soon started to either have an asthma problem or I was cramping in my chest muscles. I'd been without water for for a few kilometres and I definitely underestimated how long it would take me on the course. I was staring to show signs of dehydration.
I tried to have some ventolin whilst I was running which probably really did not work that well. My chest was feeling really tight. I was having trouble breathing. I was getting so distressed I was thinking about stopping and walking. But I dared not. I pushed on and tried to talk my way through it. Just breath, breath deeply and calm down you will be okay. I started to cry. The last 9km were so brutal. I was at my limit. My lungs just could not get enough oxygen into them. Come on it's only 2kms to go you can stop and recover at the finish. My chest was killing me. I tried to expand my chest as far as it would go, I adjusted my bra and heart rate monitor trying to give my ribs more room to move but it did not make a difference. I ran on willing to end to come. Come on it's just up ahead, you've run like this before. It's not that bad. Come on push through this.
I spotted the camp ground and I relaxed a bit. I knew the end was just ahead. I soon spotted Keisha my daughter and her friend. "Come on girls, run with me" I suggested.
With that they were off and running next to me. They were loving it. They were flying, I felt like they were running in front of me and running faster than me. This fun experience was soon destroyed with my negative thoughts. If these 7 year olds can keep up with me I must be going slow even though they were running flat out. ( I really need to practice the finishing "Run" with my daughters so we finish on the line together. I keep getting it so wrong. It's tough when you are exhausted and hurting to think straight to get the final run with your kids correct). So I dug deeper and kicked it on some more. I felt like I was going really badly. My legs felt heavy. I could see the finish line. I then turned the wrong way to then realised my mistake, then quickly had to change direction weaving back out form the cars and I was passed by two half marathon guys speeding across the finish line. I was gutted. I had no idea they were in the half marathon and not the marathon and I thought I'd lost 7th place and I was demoted to 9th position. I crossed the line and I was greeted my me good friend Beth Cardelli.
"Well done Shona, are you okay you did so well. " She asked really truly concerned of my well being. I must have looked really, really bad. I was hurting.
"Yeah I'm okay." I assured her and we hugged. I knew I was hurting and I was not feeling the best, but I really did feel okay no worse from any other event or so I thought. I really believed I was okay. But second we hugged and she took some of the weight of my body my legs gave way and I collapsed to the ground. Keisha my daughter was right beside me. The First Aid officer was soon helping me with my cramping legs and I was given fluid which and helped my with the cramps that I was experiencing in my legs. The ventolin kicked in I was placed by the fire and I was soon feeling much better. I think I was dehydrated maybe a bit of asthma...
I soon perked up and I was able to have a shower, thanks Steph & Phil....I was still having some problems.....I was pretty funny.
I loved the race. I can't wait to do it again. The Glow Worm Tunnel is a fantastic event, so well run. My kids were entertained all day. The prizes were so generous thank you Wolgan Valley Resort for the pamper pack. http://www.wolganvalley.com/wolgan-valley/en/ The catering for the event just was perfect. The course was tough but I love a challenge. I heard a rumour that the course will be run in the opposite direction next year so we will run the tough section first and the Glow Worm Tunnel Section second. I want to train in Newnes over the next school holidays. I might even do a Chick only trail running camp in the area. Anyone girls interested? I really want to go back to the Wolgan Valley again. It is just the perfect training ground.
Okay the places for the girls are as follows 1st Angela Bateup 4:26 1st female and 4th overall. Beth Cardelli 4:36 2nd Female and 5th overall and Shona Stephenson 4:47 3rd female and 7th overall. The females really held their own and were really completive. For the blokes Mick Donges was in 1st 3:39. It was nice to see Mick bounce back after TNF100, followed by Tony Fattorini 3:45 and then my mate Brendan Davies 3:58. Mick, Brendan, Beth (Current record holder of TNF100) and myself have all backed up from TNF100 only two weeks earlier. Angela completed 46km out of the TNF100 in a team and broke the record for the event. It was a star studded field and I was happy to be part of it. Both Angela and Mick are now heading to Europe to compete in various international events. I wish them both the best of luck.
My Kit for the Day.
Inov8 Roclite 285 Shoes, Injinji Socks Mid-weight, Inov8 Printed 2XU Elite Compression Shorts, Inov8 Printed 2XU Tri-Bra, Inov8 Printed 2XU Running Singlet, The North Face 100 visor, Silva Head Torch, Thermal Top , Hard Gear Water Proof Jacket, Emergency Blanket, UltrAspire Spry Pack (Although the UltrAspire Surge would have been more suitable for the 2nd half and use the Spry for the first half.) Garmin 910 watch with heart rate monitor and Tag Heuer watch to keep me connected with real time.
My Nutrition was Gu Roctanes, Sustain Hydration Mix and Hydralyte Tablets.