14 March 2020
I had a pretty good racing year in 2019. Even the DNF in the miler at Alpine Challenge was a 100 km PB, so I was looking for the next big thing – the Razorback 64 km. It just HAD to be better than earlier years, given the training I’ve been putting in during the year.
Then Europe happened. I’ve partially torn my ACL just as I’ve started to enjoy the new skill I’ve learned – skiing. That meant my running training was reset to nearly 0 (zero). Two days after the accident I started hiking and did that every day until we came back. The very next day after landing I gave running (jogging) a go. Did about 2.5 km, then increased the distance bit by bit so by mid February I could honor my promise to sweep the Archie, the end of the month sweeping Mt Buller and the beginning of March I was down at the Prom doing the 60 loop. Strengthening the quads most of the times was Mt St Leonard.
All I needed to do is keep travelling in a straight line, not forcing knee flexion and avoiding knee internal rotation. I must admit, I didn’t always succeed at sticking to these, doing the one step back, three steps forward dance 😃
I was really looking forward to Razorback. Somehow it didn’t even crossed my mind that I might not be able to do it.
A week before Razorback, I asked Maria [Tsikouris] if she wanted to sweep Mt Baw Baw with me. She’s one of those crazies like me, so she naturally said yes. We had so much fun sweeping that course and she fit right in with the Running Wild culture, that she signed up for Razorback 64 km, pretty much last minute.
So there we were driving to Harrietville, talking everything running, nutrition, hydration and life. Stopped in Bright for pizza and beer – we were both really hungry by that time – then drove to Harrietville. Popped into Race HQ for the bib numbers and gear check. Gave a bum bump to Paul (no hugging because of COVID-19), got our numbers, said hello to Jacqui [Hansen], Lou [Clifton], Coral and her hubby and a few other runners I’ve recognized and see pretty much only at these events. Julie [Savage] and Peter [Hudec] were conducting the gear checks. We lined up in front of Peter, there was already a few people waiting for Julie.
We went to check into the accommodation – Autumn Leaf Cottage. Should’ve read the instructions more carefully and we would’ve saved some driving around… finally called Emma at Alpine Valley Getaways and she directed us to the cottage, which was right next to the Snowline Motel. Yayy!! Finish sorted!!
Settled in, had a beer, then started to prepare the food for tomorrow before heading back for briefing.
It was dark by the time we got to HQ, where the runners were already gathered and Paul delivering the briefing in his usual, low key, funny way.
Finished the food prep, we sorted who brings what, shower, set the alarm to 4:45, then went to bed. Few days earlier I’ve done Mt St Leonard and the overstride on the way down has caused the pinched nerve in my lower back to flare up. I was tossing and turning, trying to find a position it doesn’t hurt, then around 2 am I got up and took 2 Panadols. I figured, even if it takes about half an hour for them to kick in, I still get about an hour of sleep…
Alarm went off, pushed button on the espresso machine, shower, breakfast and off we went to the start line. It was a lovely morning – star studded sky and perfect weather. We’ve stuffed the heavier waterproof jacket in the bladder socket as it was supposed to get cold…
Paul did another short briefing, roll call, count down and off we went. The line of headtorches filling the GAR to Feathertop Lane. We didn’t push it. In fact we’ve kept a steady rhythm all the way to Federation Hut. We were followed by a 40 km “dude” – sorry forgot to ask for his name, although I usually do so.
Maria wanted to use the toilet, it was locked at Fed Hut. While I waited for her, took a few selfies with Fiona [Hewson], messaged Otto and put on the W/P jacket. It was very windy and I expected to be worse on Mt Feathertop.
As soon as Maria was ready we headed up to Mt Feathertop. From the Cross, it was all virgin territory for her, as last time we’ve been here it was so foggy we didn’t go up.
We picked up the pace a little on the flatter parts, but the wind was really pushing us back and aside. As we were going further up, the fasties were already descending, hanging to the rocks. It was quite scary.
I said hello and well done to everyone coming towards me. Some answered, others didn’t. Lou, Jacqui and Byron gave me a hug, others called me by name, but I didn’t recognise them with the buff on their face and the sun in mine.
On the top I wanted to call Otto, but it was too cold, so we took a few shots and headed back. I was going to tell Maria to look around, she is the second tallest mountain in Victoria, but forgot.
Going downhill in the open was really challenging, then we finally got to the Cross and headed straight on the Razorback. There were portions where we were covered, but most of it was exposed and windy. At the turnoff to Diamantina Spur we caught up with Fiona again, who was telling us about her stack and encouraging us to go ahead if we wanted to. I told her there is a portion with a few drops where we need to be extra cautious and took the lead.
The track goes up and down then just down. It’s a landmine of tripping hazards, with a stunning view. I kept pointing to Mt Feathertop and saying “that’s where we came from”. Then finally got to the rocky drop. Maria said she knew I was into crazy shit and Otto is right to be worried. Now he can be even more worried. Told her I knew what I was doing, did it a few times before, even in the dark. Looked back for Fiona, but I couldn’t see her. I’ve yelled out – no answer. Maybe she stopped to eat so we continued. She did say that she had studied the course, she has the GPX and also Avenza maps, so I thought she’ll be OK.
This “Be present” stuff really works!! Every time I’ve found my mind wandering ahead, I reminded myself of that (somehow it was intertwined with some other thoughts though) and soon enough we were at the next cross point. Like the Kiewa Valley in this case.
It was so beautiful!! No wind, lovely sunshine – just perfect. We stopped to take a few shots, unfortunately the selfies are pretty rubbish. Told Maria the water running under the bridge is nice and cold on a hot day here, but we are going to fill up at the river crossing at Blairs Hut.
To my surprise Parks Vic has put a proper sign at the Blairs Hut turnoff (Blairs Hut 400 m) to replace the handwritten one. Lovely single trail all the way to the river crossing, where we took our shoes off to get across the water. It was freezing and slippery, but doing another 43 km in wet socks and shoes didn’t feel appealing. Especially since Maria was suffering from Raynaud syndrome. Poor girl had aching fingers all day and her CTS has flared up, as well.
We’ve filled our soft flasks as well with the help of the BeFree bottle and just head out when Fiona arrived, waded through the water and really happy to see us as we walked across the clearing in front of Blairs Hut. She said she can’t believe we took our shoes off…
I’ve learned my lesson at Alpine Challenge, when I didn’t take my shoes off crossing Big River and not long after that (at around 34 km into the miler) I sat down to change my socks and noticed the blisters. These damn blisters hurt me for another 66 kms (cut back to 100 kms).
As we got onto Westons Spur, I suggested we share one of the electrolytes from Maria’s pack. We stopped, took my little GOW soft cup out and shared the drink. It felt really good and gave us an umf.
We took turns in leading the pack uphill not talking much as it’s quite steep. Told Maria we’ll have the can of ginger beer at Westons – we had something to look forward to.
Saw the wild raspberries along the track, these are so nice and sweet, but didn’t touch them this time. Be present.
We had a can of ginger beer at Westons – Fiona took a shot of us doing it. I was trying not to spill the sweet drink all over my jacket. Gosh it tasted great! Gave us the energy to complete the climb.
On the highlands Fiona fall behind. We kept going, the wind was so strong and cold, we really had to move. Hopped over and into sloshy grasses, shuffled most of it all the way to Pole 333, where Julie was waiting with jelly beans and to tick us off. She also took a great shot of us as we were approaching.
Big hug, quick check if all is well, then off we went towards Cobungra Gap. Again, hopping over rocks and into the sloshy grasses. I couldn’t wait to be out of the flat area and into the valley.
On the way down to Cobungra Gap we saw Byron. Big hug, he said he was waiting for Fiona. We kept going downhill. I tried to do this faster at Alpine Challenge and stacked it – twice!! This time I really took care where I stepped and how. I realised I haven’t been fueling properly pretty much since we headed up Westons. Had some jelly beans, but I guess that wasn’t enough.
There was no one at Cobungra. We went across the bridge, then I got down to fill up the flasks again, keeping a bit of water in the BeFree as well (just in case).
When we got to Swidlers, we pulled out the bottle of ginger beer and shared it, then headed uphill. It wasn’t windy and it started to be warmer. Even though it was way better than other times I’ve done this, it was still hard. Took my jacket off, carried it in my hand, thinking I’ll need it as soon as we get up.
I pretty much hit the wall there, didn’t talk much, only asked Maria if she was OK. She always said she was OK, but every now and then I could see she was just being brave. We picked up the pace where we could and were soon at Derricks Hut. The door was open, so I closed it, then we kept going.
As we were getting out in the open again, the wind was getting stronger and meaner. Showed Maria where we are going, which seemed ages away…
Turned left onto Machinery Spur, then realised there is reception, so we tried to call Otto. He didn’t answer so we kept going. We agreed on getting up and taking pics on the giant chair when we get there. Gosh I hate that climb!!
We didn’t muck around much at the chair, it was so cold, our fingers felt freezing as soon as we took our gloves off. Then Otto called. He could hardly hear us because of the wind. I thing the whole valley could hear me yelling “I need to hang up the phone, it’s really cold, my hand is freezing!”. The water in the dam looked so strikingly blue/green, I took a few shots before putting the phone back into my pocket.
We crossed the parking, the road, then headed up to the top across those damn bushes. I suggested to do 2 poles and stop for a few moments. It worked. We walked the rest up to the summit, then picked up the pace going down. The thought of getting to the Diamantina check point was truly alluring.
Ian was shooting as we ran closer, gave him a hug once we stopped. Then I saw Duncan and his lovely wife. Duncan wearing a moon boot and sitting on the camping chair – he was checking in-out the runners. Gave him a hug, then we went into the hut to refuel. Bumped into Paul, who – in his usual funny way – instantly started to pick on me. We had some watermelon (used thongs, of course and only had a few pieces), banana, chocolate and dried apricots while Tall Caz refilled the soft flasks with electrolyte.
We thanked them, said good bye and headed towards the Razorback. I somehow wasn’t looking forward to that part… the wind was just mean. Really mean. The bouts caused us to loose balance on the narrow track, bumping into the grasses and rocks. Maria slipped at some point which gave me a fright – the valley to the right was steep and deep, not much to hang on to, but she hopped up instantly and ready to continue.
A runner we saw talking to Paul while we were leaving the check point has appeared not that far away behind us, then caught up with us. Couldn’t understand everything he was saying, he was from Manchaster, UK and this was his first ultra. He took a few wrong turns earlier. He seemed pretty fresh and jumpy for this distance. Ran between the two of us for a little while then passed and we didn’t see him until later, when he was on a peak along the Razorback.
I stopped a few times for a few moments to pull myself together. Felt dizzy and lightheaded at some point. Wind was still blowing hard and so chilly, had to get the beanie out. Our eyelids and faces were puffy. Wasn’t eating much and it seemed the electrolyte wasn’t helping, either. The “be present” bit only helped with not tripping that much, given the nature of that trail.
Then my phone was complaining – it was running out of juice. No wonder, it was trying to get signal all day. Digged out the charger and the cable and put it on charge.
The views were amazing!! Told Maria how good is that we don’t need to climb Mt Feathertop again and look – there is Federation Hut! We stopped and took a few shots on the less windy side of the mountain, then arrived to the Diamantina Spur turnoff. Yayyy!! Another waypoint achieved. Then we bumped into the lovely runner who took the shot of us before the start (Thomas Kirchner). He took two wrong turns and added another 6 kms to his distance.
Once we started to head down towards Federation Hut, I felt a bit better. Have no idea why, but it was better. In front of Federation Hut the wind was just so strong, nearly blew us away. We couldn’t wait to get onto the track where it was a bit shielded. No wonder there was no one camping up there. We saw a tent a bit further down, though. There were people in it, we could hear the voices.
Tried to keep a steady pace going down Bungalow Spur, thinking what Dan told me once “just roll down”. I also tried to be present – it was really important, as fatigue set in and I found myself harder to concentrate. We set out to finish before it gets dark. The sun was setting, colouring everything orange. Just beautiful!
We scrambled over the fallen trees, passed Tobias Gap, then about 5 kms before the finish I could hear the phone receiving a message (it wasn’t anything new, it was going on along the day), lost concentration for a split second and tripped on a rock. Next moment I realised I can’t save this, I’m going to fall. Hands stretched out, on the edge of the trail, halfway into the valley (lengthwise, so it’s quite weird). The only thing I thought of right then and there was “please, please just not the damaged knee!!”. Well the injured knee only copped a little bruise, but my right palm was missing a piece of skin of about 1 $ coin and all black from the dirt; a corkie on the left thenar eminence (it’s all bruised and has a small puncture); skin off the left knee – again, all black from the dirt – and a bruise on the right leg, about 5 cm above the ankle, next to the shin.
Maria came to my help. I asked her to let me just stay here a few moments until I recollect myself. I managed to sit up without rolling into the valley, then she pulled me up and back onto the track. She poured some water onto the wounds, but those needed some proper cleaning. I said let’s just go, we’ll get it looked at when we are there.
We slowly picked up the pace again when my watch was complaining of low battery. I’ve digged out the cable, plugged it into the charger and finally headed towards Harrietville, really looking where I was stepping and how.
Getting off the trail before dark seemed pretty attainable, which gave us a good vibe. Big Yayyy!! once we got onto the bitumen (which wasn’t that pleasant on its own). Then we spotted Thomas, looking left into one of the streets. I yelled out to keep straight and cross the bridge.
We were in good spirits as we were getting closer to the finish and it was also getting darker. It was strange that there is no one outside the Snowline Pub to cheer us in… we’ve realised the presentations was in progress, so ran into the finishing shute holding hands, about 30 seconds after Thomas. Registered the time the clock was showing 12.52.22, then had a piece of water melon, realised I forgot to stop the watch, so I stopped it, then tried to clean my hands with the solution in the pumpy container… it was very sticky… ah!! That’s why there was a water container next to it!! Should’ve washed it down. Couldn’t be bothered. It was all hurting anyway.
We walked with Thomas for a few meters and agreed to meet in the pub after we changed. Otto called, then we went to have a beer, shower (gosh that was painful – all those wounds stung), steak, red wine, when Fiona messaged that they are in the pub, and waiting for us.
There was a group of guys with Fiona and Byron – Nathan, Matthew, and two more which I can’t remember the names of. We had a glass of wine and talked and laughed, then went to bed for the well deserved rest.
In spite of the fall, the times I wasn’t feeling too well, the wind and the freezing cold, it was a great experience. I am really proud of Maria completing this beast of a course. She could’ve whinged for most of the time, but she’s a tough cookie.
Thank you Maria for being my partner in crime for all those 64 kms and to Paul for putting up this event. Huge gratitude to all the lovely vollies – Duncan, Peter, tall Caz and Julie.
- Lululemon top and crop
- iOMerino thermal top and socks
- Saucony Peregrine 10 (brand new, 0 km)
- DexShell gloves
- Salomon AdvancedSkin jacket – the thicker version
- toasted yummy bread with avocado and haloumi
- Musashi protein wafers – vanilla flavour
- Scratch electrolyte – passionfruit
- electrolyte – orange & mandarine + Hammer from check point
- ginger beer
- Scratch chews – 2 pieces
- boiled potato with salt and butter
- jelly beans (all colours)
- watermelon, chocolate Freddo from check point
- original Pringles
Max elevation: 1926 m
Min elevation: 478 m
Total climbing: 4328 m
Total descent: -4355 m
Total time: 13:53:24