Last year I wrote a blogpost about the Feral Pig Ultra 50 miler... http://consistentrunning.com.au/came-saw-concorde/. The basic point of that article was that continuing in a race because of what you have invested in it possibly isn’t the best choice. I was lucky last year that I recovered and was back running ok within a couple of weeks with no ongoing problems. This year was a little different.
The Feral Pig Ultra is an ultra running event run by Ultra Series WA with options of 23km, 50km, 50 miles and this year an added 100 mile option. Last year the race was run on a great course around Pickering Brook, this year it shifted to the famous Bibbulmun track, one of the world's best long distance walk tracks. I had entered the 100 miler and was looking forward to tackling a tough course from North Bannister to Mundaring Weir. I had run the WTF 100 miler (Dwellingup to Jarrahdale and return on the Munda Biddi trail which is the MTB equivalent of the Bibbulmun) 7 weeks previously and although I got sick after that race and missed a few weeks of running, I think the forced rest was probably good for me.
I was originally hoping to finish the Feral 100 miler in under 26 hours for a buckle (there is a nice picture of a feral pig on the buckle that I’m quite fond of). As the day approached the weather forecast was on everyone’s mind, as the predicted temp was going up from high 20s to mid 30s. I adjusted my race plan to allow for more water to be carried and use of the water tanks at the huts along the track to top up and cool down whenever possible. I also purchased some cooling arm sleeves the day before to help keep me comfortable (it was nice to put ice in the sleeves at aid stations and soak them whenever I had the chance).
The race was supposed to start at 1 minute past midnight on Saturday but some delays on the bus ride down meant we headed off just past 12:30am and the first mishap of the day came at around 1km in when I mistakenly lead a few other runners off course for some bonus distance. We realised and got back on track, and I wasn’t concerned as there was a long day ahead and no need to worry. I was running with a good friend Ian, who was tackling his first 100 miler, and we settled into a comfortable pace enjoying the amazing course, including an stunning view at first light from the summit of Mt Cook.
We were very lucky to arrive at Sullivan’s Rock aid station - which was the start for the 50 mile race - just in time to watch them start. From there it was back up Sullivan’s rock then onto Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert, which both offer spectacular views. After submitting Mt Cuthbert and passing a few of the 50 mile runners we caught up to Sarah-Jane, a coaching client and friend who has been suffering with a calf injury leading up to the race that has limited her running. However she had an amazing mindset and had accepted a while ago that it would be more of a hike than a run, so training was more specifically focused in that direction. As we slowly caught her (she was hiking at a good pace) I was pleased to see her break into a couple of short runs and she looked comfortable doing so. I was even more pleased to see that she was able to run comfortably as we continued our run/walk (mostly decided by terrain) and we were fortunate to be able to share the trails for a long time, occasionally separated by a short distance but usually catching up at aid stations and track huts.
Compared to other ultras, we were constantly crossing paths with other runners as the day went on. The main reason for this was the heat, it was warming up quickly and everyone seemed to have ups and downs that resulted in lots of opportunities to give and receive encouraging words to help us on our way. In some parts of the race I’m sure the temperature was pushing close to 40°C.
The timing for Ian and I was great. After summiting Mt Cook at first light, getting to see the start of the 50 mile race, and stunning views from Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert in the early morning light we arrived at the start line for the 50km race not long before they started. This resulted in a fairly long stop chatting and having plenty of help from friends but it was well worth it to allow the body to cool down a bit. We headed back out seconds before being swamped by the 50k runners, and the next section was starting to become a real struggle. We had decided to walk more and try and reserve some energy, hoping that it would pay off when the sun went down and the temperatures started to drop. I found the final few kms coming into each hut/aid station was becoming harder as the day went on. My nutrition and hydration seemed to be ok but I was just getting overheated. I always felt much better when leaving a stop after a soaking and break (up to 20mins at some).
Not long after a hut stop around 80kms where there was a large gathering, Ian and I were joined by another friend Shirley, who was running the 50km race and doing very well. She dragged us along for a while and was great company, but on a steep climb at around 95kms I suddenly had a big drop in energy and fell way behind. I figured it was just one of the many low points that I know will come and go during an ultra, but when I reached the top of the hill I started to run on some flat single track and just ran straight off the trail into the bushes, banging my knee on a stump. This had me worried, but as I was only a few kms short of the next aid station I decided to just walk the rest of the way and reassess once there.
I was just about at the aid station when Shaun the event director drove past. We had a chat and he told me to stay as long as I needed to cool down before heading back out. I shuffled into the Beraking aid station and was very quickly put in a chair, given ice cold water and coke and had some ice on the back of my neck to cool me down, thanks to the very capable aid station volunteer Coops. I spent the next hour and a half being helped by Coops and other volunteers and runners, and I wasn’t the worse case in the Beraking emergency centre. The temperature had taken its toll on many runners throughout the day with more than half of the 100 milers not finishing.
Ian and Shirley carried on after a short break towards Mundaring Discovery Centre, which would be the finish for Shirley and the second last aid station for Ian before an out and back section to return to the Discovery Centre to finish the 100 miles.
I started to feel normal again and decided to head back out, confident that the worst was behind me. It wasn’t long until sunset and the temperature would start to fall. I felt ok for the first 10kms or so but then started getting a similar feeling as before, feeling very hot, my eyes didn’t seem to focus very well and I was tripping quite frequently. The last 15kms to Mundaring took me around four hours with many short stops and stumbles but luckily no bad falls. I had been thinking about how I would be able to continue from Mundaring as the final out and back had some very rocky sections and I was concerned about having a bad fall. A fall on my head a few years ago is what got me into ultra running (to help with constant headaches) and I didn’t want another to be the reason to stop. I wasn’t feeling safe on the trail and that’s what ultimately made my decision to stop at Mundaring for a DNF. Even the option of a long rest before heading out again was taking a chance as it only worked for about 10kms last time.
I came into the Mundaring aid station and sat in a chair next to Ian who had also decided he was unable to continue. It was his longest run and a great effort in very brutal conditions. Shirley was also there after an awesome run finishing the 50km. She got me a chair and helped get me comfortable before the inevitable visit from Shaun the RD. I knew what was coming and had prepared for his pep talk to try and get me back out again to finish the race. If I didn’t feel it was unsafe for me to go out I would have, and if there was a chance my mind was just screwing with me and looking for excuses to stop then Shaun was the perfect person to turn things around. Unfortunately I really didn’t feel I could safely finish the race.
So compared to last year where I thought I may have made the wrong decision to continue on an injured leg (but turned out ok), this year I have no doubt I made the right decision. I’m very disappointed not finishing but don’t regret my decision.
This result has also made me think about what I consider a successful race as although I DNF’d, I feel it was one of my most satisfying and enjoyable races when I consider the positives against the negatives.
I’m not injured and I have recovered pretty quickly after catching up on some sleep. I only have a few minor niggles such as blisters and a sore knee that will be fine in a few days. So as far as negatives go the DNF is the only one... even then I feel there are some positives in the DNF, such as knowing I can make the right decision to stop, plus I’m already thinking about returning next year and what can be done to improve and reduce the chances of it happening again.
As far as positives go, there are plenty. I always look at a race as including the lead up training runs and sharing time with others who have similar goals is definitely a positive. I was lucky enough to share a trail run on the Yaberoo Budgera trail the weekend before with one of the race ambassadors Fiona Hayvice (who had a great run in the 50 miler winning overall by an hour). She had plenty of great advice and was very generous offering me some nutrition samples to try (first impressions of Spring energy gels and Vespa were positive and I’m planning on trying more in future races). Sharing the trails during the race with so many other runners was great, running with old friends, putting faces to names from the Facebook group and meeting new friends is a great way to spend the day. Seeing other runners doing well such as Sarah-Jane and Shirley, watching runners get a second wind after almost pulling out and going on to finish strong, seeing runners who have pulled out helping others and even runners still competing stopping to help others. All these things aren’t exclusive to this race, it’s very common in trail and ultra races but this one did seem special. I think a combination of the heat and tough course made the sum of the shared experience by all runners and volunteers greater than its parts.
- cover picture by Shirley Treasure