Race Report: Northburn 100 Miler
Written By: Sue Hardy
Epic is not really a word I would use to describe this race – in fact I can’t really find any words “Brutal” springs to mind. But for everyone, the race has different challenges. I would question peoples’ mental faculties in that they complete this race year after year.
3 years later I attempted it for the third time – with all the knowledge I have experienced over the last few years – this is my story….
Friday was registration day – a time to catch up with the “Northburn Family”. These are people who you have cried with, eaten with, talked to about all your inner most secrets – who are also taking on the challenge for their own reasons. The family is growing. At the briefing, Terry our race director, was very entertaining as usual and warned us the wind at the top was a little strong this year so snuggle up and be safe out there across the top. The 2nd and 3rd loops of the course had changed from previous years, and now included an extra 2000m of climbing – in fact there were very few “flat bits” to run on.
First Loop – 50K
At 5.55am the next morning we all line up like excited wee bees ready to throw ourselves into the adventure. Making a 5k loop of the winery, we then headed off into the hills. As the sun began to rise, our first climb of 12ks takes us up to the aid station – a truck and a cuddle with Glen the Marshall and it was off up the fence line. Having already donned an extra thermal earlier on, the next items were the rain jacket, hat and gloves. 4ks up to the top through exposed open windy high country and through some beautiful streams and up to the top check point. I was feeling good at this point, taking it slow and walking fast up all the hills. I knew the 14ks back down was going to test my knees (as I had suffered with ITBs in this every race the last 2 times) as I thought about James’ advice – technique – small fast turnover down the hills. Worked a treat.
Tantalisingly close to home, (in fact you could almost see the tent) our Marshall sent us out on the 10k “loop of deception” – it was time for music. I ran into home base feeling strong and confident. 27 minutes behind Sally Nicoll and 2 hours 40 behind Jean the Machine. How can she do that?
I had written down on a piece of paper all the things I need to do before leaving the tent. Good plan. Nothing was sore, I was fed, watered I was going well and left in about 15 mins. Out the door I ran on my own and so began the second 50k loop up to TW (aid station at the top). TW is the top aid station which you pass through numerous times during the race. While once a couple of horse floats, it has now morphed into respectable accommodation consisting of portable sheds and loo – Very high class.
Loop 2 – 50k
All was going well, and at the next aid station half way up I had caught up with a friend of mine whom I had encouraged to enter and who ran with me in the Jungle Marathon last year. He was cursing me a bit but we stuck together as we left and headed up to TW. Half was up it was time to rug up again. Jackets, hats and gloves as we climbed higher and the sun was going down. I was still feeling good and strong at this stage – weird but true. From here, we team up with another young lady and headed out along the ridge to Leaning Rock – the windiest section - and back to TW (6k). My poles were very useful against a mounting gale. I think the excitement of the wind, the fact it was getting dark, and the knowledge you were heading back down to base camp, spurs you on. Steve and I left TW in the dark and headed back down the loop of Despair and out to Mt Horn (another notoriously windy part of the mountain). My legs were getting tired now and I was feeling a little jaded and, with the knowledge that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere, meant we missed Mt Horn aid station. This was a major check point. A disaster – we had to climb back up to the aid station. This really started to make me think why I out there. It was dark, getting cold, windy as all hell, and with the downhills starting to get tough I was beginning to lose my sense of humour and the first thoughts of why I was doing this silently filtered through my head. 11ks down to the bottom aid station at Brewery. And there was no beer. We had 9ks to go to base again and more hills. Every turn I was hoping to see base and at every turn I was disappointed. The last aid station was 3ks from base so we set off with another couple of runners we had caught no-one was talking – heads bent and energy spent. We trudged on through to the end and into the tent. Home at last.
I told Steve I would take a bit longer to regroup and Virginia’s husband attended to my feet. They were getting sore but not too damaged at this stage, so as a precaution I tapped them. I also had bum chaffing – A new experience at that level – but I got that sorted before I left. Steve was ready before me and was eager to get going he just wanted to get this over with so I left more hurriedly than I wished for. Throwing down my cold chocolate, as there was limited hot water available, and with the morning sun was just peeking through the pink clouds, it was warm as we headed out for the last loop.
Loop 3 – 60ks
There comes a time when you wonder why you enter these sorts of races. The trail up to Mt Horn was a little daunting to say the last. All was going OK until I saw a good friend and fellow running sitting under a rock overhang on the phone to the race director. She has pulled the pin. Now this is not a lady that would make this decision lightly. She has completed this race twice before very successfully and I admire her immensely. We spent a bit of time discussing the reasons why she decided to stop – and missing several toe nails by then had not helped. It was a difficult decision for her to make and I was shocked. If she could not go on, how the hell was I going to fair? From then on I wondered whether I was capable of finishing this race. Was it too hard? It was scary how much her decision played on my mind over and over again. All the way up to Mt Horn my mind kept telling me it was too hard. If she could not do it then I can’t possibly do it and by the time I got to Mt Horn I was very reluctant to step out into the wind again and continue the 4k climb to TW. By the time I got to TW my brain was still harping on about it.
Once here, it was the Loop of Despair and despair I felt. 500m down the loop we caught up with another couple of runners. We stayed chatting for a while then left them and continued down to the bottom. At this point I was starting to feel weak, light headed, heart felt it was racing, my decision was to pull the pin when I got back to the top due to “illness”. I was distressed and upset. I’m a loser. I could hear Steve muttering under his breath about how difficult this was and what a stupid thing he had done. This was the last thing I wanted to hear. It was hard enough listening to your own demons let alone having to listen to someone else’s. My stomach was in a knot and I just wanted this to finish.
Now I am not sure what happened here – but with not so much as a leave pass - I just put my head down and powered away from the group leaving them in my wake. Whilst on this solo journey of mine to the top, I reassessed the rest of the race, cut it down into small chunks knowing that every chunk was achievable. It was now like a game. Two loops down, one left to go and I was half way through that. The next challenge was the water race and was told that would take me 4 hours and the final 4 hour run home. That I can do. The smile was back as it was beginning to dawn on me that I may actually finish.
I cut out the water race section in 3.5 hours and back at TW I was amped. The sun was setting, it was blowing like a stuffed pig and it was all downhill to Brewery Aid Station 10ks away. With my little lamp on, a ham and cheese filled roll in my pocket and wrapped up from the cold wind, I set off running on my own. It was a wonderful feeling, music blearing, screaming out songs at the top of my voice heading towards the lights of Cromwell finally reaching Brewery at 9.45pm. Another very steep climb for 5ks and the last 8ks back to the finish was a nasty steep downhill. But something kept me going and I managed to gain an hour on the two lads in front of me. The finish was a sight to behold only because I was a little confused as to where to go in the last 500m. I didn’t even recognise my husband who had come out to see where I was – I had done it. I had achieved a goal I thought I may not be able to reach. It was such a tremendous feeling of relief - No tears just relief. And a large smile that I couldn’t wipe of my face for days…….
- Sue Hardy