15/16 October 2016
The Hume and Hovell Miler is a run I knew was coming up, but only decided to run it a couple of weeks before. Just three weeks earlier, I had been in Japan to take part in the Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji 100 mile race, but it ended up being pretty much washed out and reduced to 47km on day 1, then the race organisers allowed racers to run in the STY the day after. After 17km on that day, that race was also cancelled!
I had run in the Hume and Hovell 100km in 2014. It was a small event and I ended up running my fastest 100km to date and was very pleased with my run, so had great memories. The terrain is quite special, the dam lake that we ran beside in 2014 was a grand sort of place to run too. In 2016, the event has grown to add a 100 mile and 22km race into the program and it is in an area that is amazing to run and experience.
Haha, none of that flat lakeside running this year! I knew the race would have a bit more vertical, but I thought the overall 4500m should not make it too challenging (so I thought!). So with something to prove to myself and some extra taper under my belt, I lined up for my second ever 100 miler.
Leading up to the run, I had been working long days, catching up with work that stacks up when you have a two week holiday in Japan. In the few days before, I psyched myself up to get as much sleep as possible, but was only partly successful. On the Friday I made the target of getting away from work in enough time so that we could leave home for Tumbarumba at 1pm. Mark Kraljevic (running the 50km) was driving, I knew I could not drive myself as there was no way I would be able to drive the return on Sunday after the race ready for work on Monday. We both got away on time from work and left pretty much spot on 1pm. That’s a good start!
Leaving that early, allowed us to get to Tumbarumba to check in for the race and get our gear checked the night before. This saves a bit of stress as the rest of the evening and night can be devoted to sorting gear and getting the best sleep that I could, which is usually never good the night before. All went smoothly, then we met up with John McGann (100km) and Alicia Infante (22km) after gear check and we had dinner in the pub. We didn’t hang around and went straight to the cabin which Mark, John and I were sharing. I drew the short straw and took the top bunk.
The night went pretty slowly, a bit of tossing and turning, but I seemed to wake up refreshed. Alarms went at 4am and we set off to the start after a breakfast of Weetbix and Milo. It was pretty cold and temperatures were down around 3 degrees. This was perfect as I don’t like it too hot. The start point was at Henry Angel track head, just 9km up the road. We were there pretty early and things were still being set up a bit. There was no hurry and eventually we had somewhere to drop off the drop bags.
6am came around pretty quick and instead of a gun, the race start was counted down by three kids. The milers and the 100km runners started together to head out to Mannus Lake. The start of the run was on old gold workings beside a creek and generally headed in downhill. I found myself running with two other milers, three 100km runners had gone ahead. I eventually let the other two go on ahead as I wanted to run to my pace. It’s always pretty hard to get the pace right in Ultras and I wanted to be comfortable. The trail followed a rushing river which was more spectacular the further along we got. The terrain eventually got steeper and the pathway narrow and more technical. In some places it was pretty wet and I was having more and more difficulty keeping my feet dry.
The top was finally reached and the downhill was a welcome relief. I was surprised to come upon the other two milers that had gone on ahead. They had lost the trail (and some time) and were not sure where the path went. It was well marked, but they had missed a sharp right turn. Off we went again and I kept up with these Guys, the trail was still a bit uncertain when we got to a cattle paddock, as there was a bit of cotton wool mist around. The cattle paddock was muddy and pooey, now I knew that my feet would not get dry until the finish! We came to the road section and had 5km to the turn around, the 100km runners had their turn around only after 2km on the road. This is where we gained 6km on them.
I took it easy on the road. I dropped back to fourth place when another miler caught up to us. I was happy to run my own race. At the turn around, I measured my distance to the person behind and I knew that I had 1km on him. When we eventually got back to the Mannus Lake checkpoint, I had caught quite a lot of 100km runners, including John just when we got into Mannus. This surprised me as I didn’t feel that I had pushed it too hard. I topped up my Tailwind and didn’t hang around.
The return was pretty uneventful, except I suddenly came upon a white human bare backside just coming up a small rise. A runner was taking a pit stop and thought he was more off the track than he was, lucky I caught him early and saved more embarrassment! At about the 30km mark, I was passed by another miler who was the eventual winner, I was still happy at my pace. I was looking at my watch and knew that I would start to encounter some of the 50km runners who started from Henry Angel at 9am. The first two 50km leaders had gapped the rest of the field by quite a lot, I eventually came upon Mark, but we didn’t stop to chat much! I then came upon one of the other milers and passed him not too far from the Henry Angel check point.
I arrived at the checkpoint in 4th place. I topped up my bottles, used the sunblock as the day had opened up to a beautiful one. This is where I met Chantelle Farrelly. She borrowed my sunblock and saw my name and said she had seen it before. Her reputation preceded her and I knew that she had raced GNW and C2K with good results. I had seen her name at many events but not met! I was very surprised to see her here as I had to be 6km ahead as she was doing the 100km.
The next part of the race was familiar, we followed the old gold workings for 6km or so to Junction camp ground, where I met Liz who was going to be ‘manning’ the checkpoint for the entire race. She was very welcoming and said when I come back through and she is asleep in the chair to give her a nudge. I think I spent too much time here, but it is a beautiful spot.
The next part of the trail was open and undulating. I got to a style and as I climbed over, I spotted a threesome of fine-looking chestnut brumbies. They were a bit shy and I never got a chance to get my camera out, they were perhaps 50m away and took off along a fire trail. In 2014, we were told about the brumbies, but I never saw any, which was a disappointment then. This race was set to be different, in the end I saw upwards of a dozen, mostly in groups of three during the whole race. It might have been the fact that this time I ran solo for virtually the whole race.
Now the trail started to rise up and become more technical. There were a lot of fallen branches and sticks as well as a carpet of gum bark that made it extremely tough going. In some respects, I tripped less when running than walking, but when I did trip it was scary. At least while I was still relatively fresh I could keep a reasonable clip. I eventually got to the next check point called Coffee Pot. I was expecting coffee, but I missed out.
Fuelled up I knew there was only about 10km to the Pines and I was keen to get there as it was a major check point. A bit more uphill, then it levelled out at a small picturesque lake, which I remembered from 2 years ago. My watch told me just 1km to go, but the check point came up at 77km on my watch rather than the 75km on the race information. I finally came upon some large pine trees and realised that the check point must be close. I was the only runner there on arrival and spent quite a lot of time getting myself sorted. Chantelle and Anne came in and I was about ready to go. I was feeling a bit more fatigued by then and Tailwind had started to turn my stomach, so I got some more regular food in me like soup and a vegemite sandwich. I also grabbed a bottle of Perpetuem to try something different. The volunteers there were fantastic.
The next stage is the first of two out and backs from the Pines. I was keen to get to Buddong Falls and get to the bottom before dark. It was a pretty slow trip as I was feeling queasy, I missed a turn due to inattention and ended up running an extra 400m or so as well. I smelled the smoke of the check point before I saw it, there was a roaring fire burning and again I was the only one at the CP. Food was still not good and I ate some chips to try to ease my stomach. The runner in 1st place came in (Stephen Redfern), so I knew I was a long way behind. He was full of enthusiasm and happy to have completed the Buddong out and back in daylight.
Off I went again, hoping I could smash the down hill like I had 2 years previous. I met the 2nd placed runner coming up less than 1km to go, then the 3rd placed runner soon after that. This downhill hurt a lot more than last time, the washout had been repaired, but there were new difficult spots. The river was hurtling down the falls and they were spectacular, another reason to do this in daylight. After the bridge the downhill eased up but it also started to get quite dim. I knew there was going to be a full moon, so resisted getting my light out until after the turn around. I passed the 5th place runner heading down, so knew I was not that far ahead of him.
I went through the 100km mark at about 14.5 hours, 30 minutes ahead of where I thought I would be. I met up with a couple of runners, Roylene and Anthony near the top of the steep section and encouraged them as much as possible as I knew it was a difficult return trip. I was feeling pretty sick by the time I arrived at the check point. At this point I knew I had to rest and wait for the stomach to accept food again. All up I spent nearly 50 minutes here until I stopped vomiting. The 5th place runner came in and went out, I summoned up the courage to trust my stomach and left about 10 minutes later, now in 5th. About 300m up the track I spotted a few lights coming at me. It sort of distracted me and when they got close I tripped and fell flat on my face. I was so close to impaling myself on a branch, but was lucky in the end and no damage was done. The lights ended up being the last runner and the two sweepers on mountain bikes. Without good food, it was a slow plod back to The Pines. I got there only 2 minutes behind 4th place, so somehow I had made some progress.
I was keen to consolidate my small gain, I managed to down some food (very gently) although Coke was my fuel of choice now (it stays down!) and set out in 4th place. This stage of 20km out and back was on dirt road to Granite Mountain. I managed to run a bit, but at one stage I was just wandering along in the dark (Coke is not the most sustaining fuel) and suddenly got the fright of my life when a brumby which only saw me at about 10m just took off into the undergrowth. I met up with third place who I worked out was 16km ahead. I had no chance of catching him and he always looked like he was running strong. At the turn around, the volunteers seemed a bit lonely as they had only seen three runners so far! On the way back, a large bird that was roosting in the dark above the road chose the very moment that I passed underneath to empty its bowels all over my hand! After the initial disgust (it must have been a large bird!), it actually made me laugh and put me on a high knowing that it is actually good luck! About 1km from the Pines, I came upon Roylene and Anthony again and one other heading out. It was great to see them out there plugging away and I gave them as much encouragement as I could, they were pretty close to the cut off.
I finally got back to The Pines and was pleased to see Mark which cheered me up, the CP vollies were fantastic again too. I think it was at this point I jokingly said to Peter the race director that they should have cleared all the bark and sticks off the track when they were marking the course. I suggested that he could have had a rake up his behind doing it! I immediately felt really bad about that comment, of course I would never want them to make it easier than the natural track. They had already cut over 200 fallen trees from the tracks over the last few weeks and some of them were enormous. I learned that Alicia who was going to be running with me on the last 30km, wouldn’t make it. I already thought that might be the case as she had to use John’s gear and I knew that he had left the Pines very late and Alicia wouldn’t get back in time. Peter then told me that I was now in 3rd place as the previous place holder pulled out (that was the good luck from the bird pooping on me!) when he got back to The Pines. This put a spring in my step and I left with enthusiasm and running.
I ran the first 3km as it was gentle down hill. Then everything slowed down again when the Coke high ran out. It was all just a plod now. I got to Coffee Pot and chatted to the Vollie. He found me a can of Coke which was great as it was all my stomach could take. The body was great, just the stomach. He suggested I avoid all the bark and sticks track, by taking a different route. In my sleep deprived state, there was no way I wasn’t going to follow the markers, however difficult it was going to be! Off I went for the most difficult section of the whole race to Junction Campground. It seemed to take forever to get there and I finally got to see Liz again who wasn’t asleep at all and she had heaps of Coke!
I stocked up with Coke and spent more time there than I should. I now had a few blisters and was struggling to run at all due to fatigue, I had been going for over 26 hours and it was all starting to catch up. Navigation wasn’t that simple, but thankfully I was completing it in daylight and there was nowhere to go wrong really. There were cows for company and giant wombat dens burrowed into the dirt to avoid. I knew I must be getting close to the finish, I thought I had read that presentation was happening at 10am, so I should just make it.
The wind had whipped up in the last few hours and at least it was coming from behind. Just one more style to climb with only 200m to the finish, I thought I had better put on a bit of a run to the line. There was a huge crowd to welcome me in and they were trying to rein in a flying pergola in the wind. I probably got the biggest welcome of all the runners as I found out that the presentation had just been completed. First thing I needed was a sit down. Someone put a beer in my hand, but the top wasn’t a twist top. Eventually it was removed and it tasted fantastic.
Well, that was my race. Physically I had enough in reserve, nutritionally it was not a good race. I eventually made the 100 miles in 27hrs 32 mins. I think I ran the whole thing solo except the first few km and a km during the out to Mannus Lake. This race is really well catered and serviced by volunteers and it is them that really makes it a worthwhile trip. It has a real personal feel. Before I entered, I emailed race director Peter to clarify a few things. Instead of emailing me back, he phoned me up! That is an indication of the enthusiasm of the race organisers. The terrain and scenery are just icing on the top.
**NOTE: To clarify, I am not sponsored or paid by Coke in any way**
Thank you Hume and Hovell fb page and John McGann for the photos.