Contributed by Emma Luscombe, AURA member
Feral Pig Ultra 100mi, 7 November 2020, Perth WA
Where to even begin? The conscious decision about doing 100 miles at Feral Pig wasn’t even really made this year to be honest. I’d signed up to do the miler last year but with the extreme heat and fire danger resulting in the cancelation of the 2019 event we were given the option to transfer our remaining race credit over to the 100 miler this year which is what I did. There were so many moments of doubt over whether or not I was capable of doing 100 miles in the lead up this year but in hindsight now I was so much more ready to do it in 2020 than I was the previous year.
A torn hamstring back in August meant that after a couple of massive months of training I had to pull back and give my body some time to recover. It was incredibly frustrating but it did give me time to reconnect with our running community some more on a volunteer level and it was by far the most rewarding thing I have done in a long time.
I think it also gave me a bit of a new perspective and drive to reassess my priorities and really started to enjoy my running for where it was at, at that point in time, rather than stressing about speed and my perception of what others may think of me. After a couple of months off running I spent 18 days cramming in a build of training predominately on the Bibbulmun Track with a modified shuffle/hike approach to protect my hamstring which resulted in me feeling organised and ready to tackle the beast once taper began.
The 100 miler started at midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning and so on Friday I stayed in bed until midday attempting to get as much rest as possible. I’d been feeling nauseous and dizzy all week and though originally I was worried I’d picked up a bug, eventually I realised it was anxiety giving me a good kick up the bum, testing me before I even started.
Race check in opened at 8pm and the bus ride to the start line was long…about two hours. I tried to close my eyes and rest but the distractions of Facebook and messages kept me awake while I listened to the music on the bus radio which surprisingly kept me calm. I messaged my Mum and my Dad at about 11pm telling them I loved them as I suddenly had the realisation I hadn’t really chatted to either of them in a while. Complete silence descended on the bus as we left radio reception and I felt so much relief when we finally turned onto the bumpy, gravel Wearne Rd and towards the start line on the Bibbulmun Track.
Before we knew it we were off into the darkness of the night. The first part of the 100 miler is a 6.5km out and back to Albany Hwy along single trail and when Rosa and I reached the turn around and saw the ED (and good friend) Shaun Kaesler, I couldn’t help but give him a big hug.
Off we went back towards the start line and when we finally reached that spot again Rosa and I agreed that it felt like we’d actually now begun as we were running in the northerly direction.
We had another 34kms to go until we would reach the next aid station. While Rosa and I had discussed our race plans at length and had recce’d this section together in our training we hadn’t really planned to run it together although that’s what ended up happening. Rosa set the pace and I sat behind her. I’m so grateful we did stick together as I think I would have ended up much slower through that section if it wasn’t for her pulling me along as I wasn’t feeling great. The darkness felt suffocating as the night was so still and I felt queasy and horrible – it was not reassuring at all feeling like this so early in the race and I was so glad Rosa was there to distract me from it! I had a brand new headlamp that had come with the highest recommendations yet I was struggling to see the path in front of me and I couldn’t work out why! I ended up carrying it in my hand just so I could see but the bobbing motion made me feel like I had motion sickness and I spent hours just willing the sun to come up so I didn’t have to use it anymore.
Once that sun came up everything changed and I felt alive again. I didn’t think we’d make it to the summit of Mt Cooke by sunrise but we did and far out were we rewarded for it. It was one of the most magical experiences I’ve had on the trail and I’ll be forever grateful I was able to share that with Rosa. The boost the experience on Mt Cooke gave us was awesome and I found myself squawking out to the black cockatoos as we ran along much to Rosa’s amusement! It was about this time we realised how many people were actually behind us which was so surprising as we were absolutely convinced we would be at the back of the pack with the sweeper Michelle who I was actually looking forward to spending some time with!
The last stretch after the Mt Cooke descent we leapfrogged with Chemie a bit as he took a wrong turn and then we finally made our way into Sullivan’s Rock Aid Station (41.5kms) a good 20 minutes ahead of my goal time. We were super happy to see Shannon, Justin and the other aid station super heroes as we rummaged through our aid station bags restocking everything we needed for the next long section. It was a bit depressing having to put the 6kg packs back on after finally lightening them but neither Rosa or I wanted to risk running out of supplies on the next 34kms especially as the day would soon warm up.
We bid our goodbyes to the Aid Station rockstars and started the dreaded climb up Sullivan’s Rock. Soon we came across Jimmy and Nicola heading back towards the aid station. My heart sank when I heard poor Nicola had missed the turn and now had to make her way back to the aid station to check in.
She had to climb Sullivan’s Rock TWICE! I felt so bad for her. Rosa and I continued grinding on up Mt Vincent until somewhere on the descent Rosa started feeling nauseous and was struggling to get the nutrition in. Feeling so yuck she decided she needed to do more hiking on the section to let the nausea settle. Rosa’s hiking pace is faster than mine and I was actually feeling better when I shuffled and not so good when I hiked so I said I’d go ahead for a bit but expected we would leap frog back and forth until the next aid station at Brookton Hwy. That was the last I saw of Rosa and even though I knew she had her pacer Abdul waiting for her at Brookton who would take awesome care of her I still felt bad for the whole rest of the race wondering how she was going and feeling like I’d abandoned her.
According to my pre-race calculations I’d worked out that I should overtake my other half Sean who was hiking the 100kms somewhere in this section as the 100kers had started their race at 6am from Sullivan’s, about 40 minutes before we arrived there. As I got closer to Brookton Hwy though he was nowhere in sight despite bumping into Jimmy again (who seemed to just randomly appear everywhere) who told me he wasn’t far ahead. I figured he must have just been hiking much faster than planned and that I’d still catch him eventually.
Finally I arrived at Brookton Hwy (73.5kms) pretty much on schedule again and was super happy to see Shannon & Juliet who offered me a Zooper Dooper – BLISS!
Jimmy commented that I looked a bit hot which I was but nothing that was really bothering me at this point and I was happy just to restock without sitting down and head out on my way again! I think the best part was that this time it was only about 12kms to the next aid station so I didn’t have to have anywhere near as much stuff in my pack. Nicola had caught up after her missed aid station turn and we both headed off on the next leg at about the same time.
It was warm now and despite this part of the course being fairly flat (except the last nasty climb into Mt Dale Carpark) I felt like it was really starting to cook me! Not long after turning off from the powerlines back into the bush we came across Georgia coming back towards Brookton Hwy – Nooooooo! Georgia was getting pain in her knees and was doing the sensible thing and withdrawing to preserve the body for Delirious WEST 200miler in February. I was sad but so proud of her for making the tough decision and we took a selfie with Nicola before continuing on our separate ways. I didn’t see anyone else for the rest of that section but boy was I relieved when I finally made it to Mt Dale Carpark (86ish kms) where I knew Shon was waiting for us. I mentioned to Shon that Sean must really be hiking a good pace today since I still hadn’t caught up with him and there was a look of confusion and concern on his face as he told me he hadn’t come through yet. I hadn’t overtaken him yet. How had I somehow gotten in front of him? As I got myself organised once again we saw two figures on the horizon and thankfully realised one of them was Sean. He was hiking with Stefan and they’d stopped at one of the huts for a loo break which is when I must have passed them. It was great to finally see him looking so happy and fresh – better than me.
Once again I bid everyone goodbye this time with a big chunk of ice wrapped in a buff which I put under my hat to try and bring the body temperature down. The heat had definitely taken its toll in the last section despite the fact I’d only hiked and I knew I was going to have to start adapting my goal paces from here on in.
The next 10km or so got me to Beraking Aid Station (99kms) just before sunset and I was starting to feel like crap. Apparently I wasn’t alone with that feeling as there had been many before me who had decided to DNF here. Todd took a photo of me at this aid station and I looked angry and constipated. You really know you’re tired when you start thinking patches of pea gravel would make a comfy place to sleep – that’s what had been going through my mind over those last 10kms. I’d also been whinging about the problems I’d had with my headtorch all day and I was starting to think maybe I had a dud so James offered to lend me his spare one (which was the same as mine) so I could test this theory! High vis and headlamps went back on as darkness was descending and I set off on the next section to Allen Rd which was about 16kms away. I turned my headtorch on and yep – same problem as the previous night – I was so annoyed. I did not want another 9 hours of struggling with a headlamp through these technical sections – why couldn’t I work it out? I put James’ headlamp on and had the same problem before it promptly went flat. I decided I’d try and put it around my waist instead and while I was fiddling around with it on the side of the trail James came along and stopped to check on me. When I again explained my frustrations with the torch he suddenly laughed and said ‘Oh you just need to angle it down’… ‘WAIT WHAT?!! HOW?!!!’ He flicked out the little bit at the top and the whole thing clicked and could be angled down. I swore and swore I could not believe that I struggled with this for hours the previous night trying to work it out and it literally was just something that clicked out.
Well – what a difference this made. I could actually see again and I now appreciated the headlamp as much as everyone else who recommended it did! Not long after that I came along to the special log I’d been looking out for where I’d met a very special lady Michelle the previous year at Feral! I’d been hoping to make it there before dark but still managed to take a very dodgy selfie in the dark to commemorate this special milestone and took a moment to smile and think of Michelle.
At Beraking someone had asked me how my body was feeling and surprisingly it was feeling pretty good apart from my feet killing me but that’s normal of course for 99kms in! In hindsight I now felt like they’d jinxed me by asking that question as it wasn’t long after leaving Beraking that my left knee started playing up. I noticed electric shock type sharp pain on certain gradient descents and being my weaker leg I knew it was fatigued and not terribly happy with me. I hobbled on being a bit more cautious and slower on the descents leap frogging with James who was have quick dirt naps every few hours to combat the intense hallucinations he was experiencing after being awake for over 30 hours. At one point I overtook him just as he was about to take one of these naps… I said goodnight to him and continued on only to see a scorpion on the ground a few metres away…it crossed my mind ‘Do I tell him?’ I decided that what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him and just hoped like heck that the scorpion did not choose to snuggle up to James’ body heat while he napping. He later told me he saw it after he woke up so thankfully the scorpion decided to stay put.
I heard the lovely ladies at Allen Rd Aid Station before I saw the lights and it was such a relief to finally get there after struggling down the last slow descent with my knee giving me grief! After the usual restock I decided to get one of my compression snake bandages out and wrap up my knee to try and give it a bit of support. That felt a bit better and I followed James up the hill after the aid station with the knowledge that our next stop would be Discovery Centre where I could get changed and even maybe have a sleep if I needed it. This section ended up feeling like it was never going to end and I started seriously wondering if we’d ever make it to the Aid Station.
It really got gnarly – so much worse than I remembered and I wondered how much of that was just because it was dark and we were so incredibly sleep deprived by that point. About 116kms in and I’d now been awake for around 36 hours and we were literally clambering over technical rocks and bushes on the side of a mountain trying to find the path to follow. Bibb Track markers were minimal and I remember thinking ‘I really hope this is the right track because I’m just following it blindly and hoping for the best!’ Every now and then I’d see James’ headlamp in the distance and think ‘Oh well I must be going in the right general direction!’ This was also the closest I got to hallucinating…I’d see things on the side of the trail and every time I’d think ‘What IS that?!!’ I’d have to really stare at things until my brain would finally process what it was! It got to the point where every single thing I saw I’d have to stare at to work out what it was which took so much focus so instead I told myself not to look and just focus straight ahead only. This was a little creepy as it was like there were these weird things along the edges of the trail that I could only see out of the corners of my eyes.
Somewhere along here we came across Paul as well who was suffering so badly with blister on the soles of his feet. I saw the expression of pain on his face as he struggled up an incline obviously in agony and suddenly felt a whole lot better about my knee! I spent the next part of the section in front of the guys but then ended up behind again as my headlamp died half way up a climb – thank goodness I had my phone torch as a backup until I found a spot to stop and plug in the battery to recharge! Not long after that we came to Ball Creek Hut and then we all knew it wasn’t far back to the Discovery Centre.
Mel, Jutta and JC were a sight for sore eyes and although it was an effort to make my way over to the toilets it was such a relief to be able to completely change my disgusting clothes. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and had to take a pic as it was definitely an interesting look after 26 and a half hours in the bush. I hobbled my way back to the aid station and realised how freezing it was now that I’d stopped so it was pretty good motivation to get going again. I got to give my daughter Maddy a big hug before setting off on the last 40km out and back. Maddy asked me how long I thought it would take and realistically I had to say at least 10 hours…things were really slow now, I was exhausted, my knee was stuffed and at least half of that 40kms was nasty technical stuff which I was barely able to get through with my knee. I’d earlier contemplated having a sleep here and in hindsight I definitely should have as things went downhill rather fast after I departed with this next 11km section feeling like the most eventful of the entire race!
I left the camp and headed down the hill as I turned onto a path which I thought was the track I ended up on what felt like a maze of paths which I was sure was leading me in the wrong direction.
I kept moving slowly and once again found myself just willing the sun to come up and bring with it some clarity to my fuzzy confused brain. Along with everything else that was distracting me I suddenly realised there was a problem with my shorts. The inner seam of the left thigh of the shorts I had just changed into at my toilet stop moments ago had split completely open leaving a gaping hole about 10cm long. I problem solved as I kept walking and decided my best option was to try a Fixomul patch on the outside and then maybe another one on the inside. Sounds easy in theory but I assure you at 4:45am on the side of a trail in the middle of the bush on your 3rd day of being awake. It kind of worked until I was busting to pee again and accidentally half ripped it off while I was trying to get my shorts down. I figured, I’ll finish in my undies if I have to!
The tears started flowing at this point and I realised I was really beyond it now and needed to sleep. I spotted a patch on the ground that looked like it might be soft enough to lay down on and was just about to stop and get my emergency blanket out to wrap round myself when I saw another guy coming. I said hello and he took one look at me and asked if I was doing the 100km or the 100 miler? When I replied the 100 miler he responded with ‘Ha! That last bit is f&*ked up! Good luck with that!’ I thanked him for his words of encouragement and once he was out of earshot burst into tears. I was so done and so tired but there was no way I was getting this far and not finishing so I just had to keep going.
I saw Sandra and her pacer not long after that and told her of my encounter and she reassured me and encouraged me to keep going – so thankful for her kind, friendly face at that point. I was so jealous of all the people heading back to the finish who were nearly there – it was so tough but at the same time I was so happy for them! I trudged on towards Camel Farm trying to fight off the tears until I saw Kelli! As soon as I saw her on her last leg home of the 100K I burst into tears again and gave her a big hug! It was so good to see her and I was so happy she was smashing out her race and almost there! We parted ways and I continued on to the Aid Station where Rachel and Sophie were waiting for me.
Now these last two aid stations, these vollies really do deserve so much praise and thanks from me!! I literally balled my eyes out at both and they all had to listen to my stories of my shorts splitting and me really hating the world at that point in time! The girls searched for something to help repair my shorts (the irony that Rachel is a dressmaker did not escape us) and in the end we stole two safety pins off Rosa’s drop bag and I used those to pin my shorts back together enough that no one could notice at least!! I hastily grabbed my supplies as by this point I was starting to stress big time that I wasn’t going to make cut off with how long that last section had taken me!
The next section I pushed myself to try and shuffle again and sobbed the entire way. I swore, I cried and I told myself to get my s*&t together over and over again. Everything hurt and I didn’t think I was going to make it. I hauled myself up those horrible rocky climbs the best I could and cried some more when I kept taking the wrong turns in the maze of pathways in the section before Kalamunda. I knew the 23kers were going to be starting their race at 8am from this end so I’d literally be running into them anytime soon and I wanted to be over the most technical sections before they got to me. Finally I saw the front runners and tried to hold my emotions together as almost every single runner said hello, or good work, or keep going. I wanted them to stop being so nice to me as it was just making me even more emotional and as soon as I started seeing people I knew, that was the end of me, the tears flowed and I just sobbed and sobbed. I got hugs from so many people and I’m so grateful for their love at a time where I just wanted so badly for it all to be over. Kerri and Nat were sweeping the 23kms and after hugs and pics with them I dragged my butt up the last of the stairs (still sideways like a crab) before bumping into James and Tom again who were on their way back to Camel Farm. They too had struggled to find the right way in the maze of paths and encouraging words were exchanged before we kept going again.
Finally, I got to Kalamunda and the relief when I finally arrived at that aid station was immense! More tears but I finally was able to relax a little realising I had plenty of time to get back before cutoff even at snail, hobbling pace I was going to do this. Massive thank you to the Kalamunda vollies who helped me get my head back together again.
And back to Camel Farm I went…back down the stairs like a crab, gingerly moving myself around rocks and tree roots and everything else I came across. I saw a fox leap across the trail and thought I was hallucinating but it was definitely real! I forgot to put sunscreen on at Kalamunda and could feel myself roasting as the sun got higher in the sky but there was nothing I could do about it, I just had to keep moving. I tried to power hike the less technical sections but it just felt like I was in slow motion. When I finally got back to Camel Farm (159kms) it felt like a dream but once more Rachel and Sophie showered me with kindness and reassured me that I had plenty of time to get back. Harmony and her Mum arrived and seeing the damage poor Sally had done to her leg took my mind off my own miseries temporarily. Harmony set off again looking so fresh and energetic after a 4 hr sleep and eventually I followed knowing there was still one more 100 mile runner behind me after all other remaining runners behind me had DNF’d at some point.
From Camel Farm to the finish line felt like an eternity of hell. I just honestly thought it was never going to end. The longest, toughest 10kms of my life but I had 4.5 to do it to finish within cut-off. Everything hurt and all my body wanted to do was stop and sleep but instead I forced myself to keep moving, continued to eat my nutrition every time my watch told me to, kept sipping my tailwind and told my brain to focus. I knew I just had to get back to the lookout then I’d nearly be at the weir. This time at the weir the gate would be open and I was allowed to go across the top rather than down and up those dreaded stairs again! I told myself that would be awesome and that’s what I looked forward to. I decided I’d message Sean and Maddy just before crossing the weir with about 3kms to go. But first I had to get to the lookout and the lookout just never came! Every corner I turned I thought ‘I’m nearly there!’ but then I wasn’t! In the end I kept saying to myself over and over ‘Every step takes you closer to the finish’… ‘Focus Emma – Get it done!’. It took everything I had not to let my mind drift and get lost again in the abyss of exhaustion. I wanted to cuddle my dogs, I wanted to hug my kids and Sean, I wanted to take my shoes and socks off and I just wanted to stop moving and be still. I started really thinking about what I love in life. When you’re suffering at your worst you suddenly realise what it is that’s important to you and that is flashed before you like a big beacon of hope and love and thankfulness. And then just like that I finally made it to the lookout and then the road and then the weir. When I made it to the weir I managed to lower myself painfully onto the step and sit down so I could message Sean and Maddy. This was when the last 100 miler Ian (or checkered shirt guy as we knew him by during the race!) overtook me. He stopped and asked if I wanted him to wait for me. I thanked him but said to go ahead as I was just letting my family know I was nearly there.
Half way across the weir I heard a horn beeping and people yelling out ‘Go Emma!’.
It was Liz & Alex who’d been looking out for me to come past at the Weir Pub and were worried they might have missed me! When I got to the other side it wasn’t long before I was met by Maddy, Julie and her daughter Jennifer who had walked down from the finish to keep me company! They’d met up with Alex and Liz who’d directed them which path to take to find me! I cried some more and then kept trudging with my entourage of beautiful people chaperoning me to make sure I made it to that finish line. We headed up that last climb towards camp which felt so painfully slow but they all assured me that I was moving well and that it was just my cloudy exhausted mind that was making me feel like I was in an eternal slow motion of hell.
They directed me back down the maze of pathways that I thought I’d taken incorrectly earlier that morning and I was convinced once more that we were going the wrong way but we weren’t. We met up with Mitch and Charlie and they led the way for the last final 300m or so until we could finally see that finish archway.
I just can’t even express how that felt to finally, after 38hours and 40minutes, to finally see our remaining tribe of beautiful people waiting for me at that finish line. They cheered and made a human archway tunnel for me to run through as the final finisher of the day. I gritted my teeth and managed to shuffle my broken body for that last time through their archway of love and support and over that finish line. I was done. As I turned back around to face all these smiling, amazing people, the first person to put his arms around me was Michael Hooker, the record breaking winner of the 100 miler this year who had returned to see the last person cross the finish line. This is the stuff that gets me the most, that speaks to the very centre of my core as a person and as a runner… It reaches into my soul. When someone who wins a race almost an entire day earlier, who would be so incredibly exhausted themselves is humble enough to come back, cheer home and congratulate the final finisher like they are winning the race themselves… that is something so incredibly special I don’t even know how to describe it. To Michael – from the bottom of my heart thank you.
And then came all the other amazing, beautiful hugs from all the people I love the most! So much love and so much relief. I was done but I had nothing left – nothing. A chair, ice on the knee and a beer – bliss!! I’ve never been happier something has been over in my life and I made myself a deal out there that if I finished I didn’t ever have to run on those trails ever again! To the ED Shaun, the RD Jon, the ever-hardworking tribe, Simone, Wayne, Amanda, Mel, Susan, Scott and all the crazy awesome selfless volunteers who surrounded us all with love and care, THANK YOU! Without you all we’d never be able to fufil these crazy insane goals we have and I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you for the part you played in Feral Pig 2020.
Time: 38hrs & 39 minutes
Total Time Awake: 55 hours