Contributed by Sean Lyons
Brisbane Trail Ultra 100mi, 3 October, Brisbane Qld
I’d toyed with cancelling this race. I’d entered it, expecting it to be in July in the depths of winter. Of course, due to COVID-19 it was delayed until October, which in Brisbane gets pretty balmy to be running. I became aware that the numbers in the 160km race had dwindled from around 30 to only 10 starters, albeit, the runners at the front had very strong pedigree. So I felt compelled to go for one reason or another.
This race, in stark contrast to BVRT, has 8000m of climbing. I was looking at the cut-off thinking that 30 hours may test me. Only 18 finished last year out of 26 starters. Only 7 of the field finished under 27 hours, and only 4 finished under 26 hours. And I believed our conditions were going to be tougher with the heat and humidity due to the forced date change.
To CP 1 – I had to start somewhere so I started…there
This section passed without incident. It was always going to be tough running in October in Qld with a predicted temperature of 27 degrees. I missed the start for a start. Had to drop some rubbish to a bin and by the time I’d done that, the race had begun. I did enjoy running by myself at the beginning though and felt it helped developing some kind of rhythm.
There was some climbing early on but nothing too hectic. I was using poles that I’d bought only two weeks ago, but felt that I’d already developed some type of technique that helped. I was surprised how quickly the 110km runners caught me as they’d started 30 minutes behind. They might have passed me 13km in. I was taking my time though, adjusting equipment and making sure everything was set up right.
CP1 was very early one, I’d caught a couple of other milers at this stage and I pretty much went straight through the aid station.
To CP 2 If you get to a fork in the road, take it
I started working fairly solidly and contrasting to my last “miler” (BVRT in July) actually felt pretty good during this section. I arrived at CP 2 at 44km in fairly good nick, to be met by crew member Mark.
I was weighed here and had lost 2kg. This is already 3% of my body weight, which is a bit too much. I do lose a lot of weight running but this was at the margins. As it was heading into the hotter part of the day, I’d have to be really careful with hydration now after having such a large loss so early. Mark had packed ice which I put into sewn up buffs to try and keep cool. For some reason I asked Mark to mix the Perpetuem stuff with sparkling water rather than normal water.* I dunno why, but it just seemed to taste bloody terrible. I recall Mark saying, “This is a long section. You’ll need hydration.” Inexplicably, after he told me this, I neglected to top up my bladder. I thought it had plenty in it and there had been water stops in between the check points previously, so I was too blasé about it.
*When I got home I realised the Perpetuem in the bottle I’d given Mark tasted bloody awful, something had gone awry with it. Surprised it didn’t make me sick, it was crook.
To CP 3
I made it to about 52km and completely ran out of water. Battled slowly for the next couple of hours in the heat. Along this point, before I ran out of water, I was running with Jacky, who was telling me she is a terrible navigator with a laugh. Jacky also told me about an attempt she had at a self-supported FKT at BVRT. She ran it self-supported, started really strongly but not running it out unfortunately and getting quite ill afterwards. Anyway, I was running strongly, so left Jacky and battled through after running out of water.
Eventually the trail opened out to a road. Unfortunately, for me the aid station was to the right and I ended up running away from the aid station. Eventually with help from Mark, who was looking at me via the GPS tracker, he drove to me and directed me back to the check point.
I drank a litre of coconut water to attempt to address the damage and filled up water. There were no scales at CP 3. Hate to think what my weight would have been.
To CP 4 Walk a mile (or 50) in my shoes
I thanked Mark, said goodbye and left CP 3, knowing that the next bit was going to be challenging. For my body to deal with no water, then gallons was going to be tricky. Early in this stage, started feeling really rotten, especially running the same stretch of road for the third time. It was the worst 2km of the course and I ran it 3 times. Towards the end of the descent my foot clipped a rock and I stacked it, tumbling forward. Initially I was worried I’d really injured myself, but after 30 seconds realised it was okay. Felt nauseous for a bit, but I understand that is just a blood pressure thing and that fixes itself pretty quickly.
Thought I was about 3km from CP 4 where I was meeting my pacer Pete (86Km in). I’d told Pete the earliest I’d be there conceivably was 4.30pm but likely later but I think it was 6.30pm when I got in.
About 3km from the CP 4, I came across some water bottles at a drop point. I filled up as I was completely out. Then proceeded to climb the most hellishly steep and protracted climb I can ever recall doing in my entire life. I bumped into Alun Davies from AAA racing at the start of the hill, who was re-marking a sign to be clearer. He advised that the track ahead was “undulating”, I believe. Thanks Alun. Nice one!
AT CP 4 I sat down and got everything sorted.
To CP 5 Gingerale Afternoon
We left the checkpoint on an innocuous track with me finding it hard to imagine this enormous climb ahead. We started another monstrous descent, followed by an outrageous climb. The organisers had laid illuminated rope on the down climb, it was so steep as well as smooth but both of us slipped and fell our way down the slope.
Then we had to climb our way out of it. Halfway up the hill I placed my pole on the ground in front and it just gave way. Whilst this equipment fail was not ideal and was a substantial sacrifice, the pole actually gained character because of this. We made it up the steepest climb okay.
We got to CP5. My watch was reading 125km at this point. In my head we had only 35km to go. CP5 was supposed to be unmanned, but there were two guys there who had driven out to help. I laid down on a hill for a bit. I was concerned about getting stuck in between check points so I asked how far it was to the next one. One of the guys said it was about 10km, “but the terrain is nothing like what you have just been through. There are hills sure, but nothing like that.” So I thought 10km that’s OK, I can do that, get to CP 6 and be further down the course when I retire from the race.
I thought CP 6 was a reasonable spot to pull out, as opposed to CP 5 which is barely past halfway. Kept eating the gingers which seemed to help a lot. Started moving steadily and eventually got to CP 6.
To CP 6 The million dollar miracle $1.98 Suimon noodles
I hadn’t eaten anything since oats for brekkie 24 hours earlier, relying on Perpetuem for calories. Pete was in my ear about eating some real food, so I relented and took up the aid stations offer of some two-minute noodles.
It was another 20km to the next aid station; I knew it was then another 20km to the finish. My watch said something like 135km, so I had thought we were much further into the race than we were. I kind of knew this was the case, but it was till deflating to be placed backwards on the course.
It was 3am. Cut-off was at 11am, so we only had 8 hours to finish. I was actually 1 hour outside cut-off at this aid point. I pointed this out to Susannah, who was now there and she said, “just keep going until they pull you off course.” I thought, “If we’re going to go, we’ve just got to go now and keep going, there was no time for rest, or sleep until we’re done”
To CP 7 another wind, how many is that now?
We got up and started moving. Pete did it all fairly easily and had a clear head to do the navigation. He patiently got his phone out each time we came to a turn or if I got paranoid we were going the wrong direction at certain points.
We joined the 30km course and a steady stream of runners started passing us. Got to the last aid station at JC Slaughter Falls, had a little rest, something to eat and was ready to go. Would have gone some more noodles, but they only had beef flavour left at this late stage so I just ate fruit cup.
To the end
We re-joined the race looking forward to another 10km of trail, then 10km in the streets of Brisbane. The hills were quite mild during this section. We emptied out into the streets, said goodbye to the forest and prepared to run the last bit.
During these last bits, there were people to talk to from the 30km race as eventually we were around people about the same pace as me. So it was nice having that energy around at the end as well.
I struggled on the flat and exposed bikeway section, which for some reason was not appealing to me. Pete backed off and encouraged me to cross the finish line separately. I thought we should cross together, but he wasn’t too bothered.
We had a hug, then was sat down on a chair and given a thorough medical assessment. The duty of care was very high.
I finished in 28h 30min.
I was 6th (and last) finisher out of 10 starters.
This event would normally be held in July in more moderate conditions. We had 6 hours of 27 degrees temperature towards the beginning.
For me this was a qualitative experience, not a quantitative one.
Thanks so much for Peter Mikeska for helping me and doing such a great job pacing.
Pete had worked Saturday morning, been driven up to remote Dundas bush camp by his partner, then jogged the 2km in to meet me at about 85km and subsequently run through the night and into the next day. He was in the same boat as me sleep wise, whilst being charged with navigation and general safety issues. Thanks to Mark for crewing for me as well. Mark set me right very quickly when I ran off course and probably saved the day at that point.