North Face 100k- Blue Mountains, Australia

Blue Mountains, New South Wales

The adventures and racing never stops. At least not in last 6 weeks. Last Sunday I boarded an airplane to Australia for my final journey of a crazy jammed packed April and May. I headed down under to join 7 of my Salomon International Team teammates as well as a wonderful crew of Salomon support for  the North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains (May 14th, 2011). Our Salomon squad included: Jen Seggers (Canada), Julia Böttger (Germany), Nerea Martinez (Spain), Kilian Jornet (Spain), François D’Haene (France), Ryan Sandes (South Africa) and Grant Guise (New Zealand).

With everything going on in the past few months, I have had little time to train, prepare or even think about the race. When I boarded the plane the day after Miwok 100k (where I paced my sister), I didn't even really have much of an idea of even where I was staying once I landed in Sydney 15 hours later. All I knew was that our team leader and logistics/coordinator extraordinaire (and kick ass trail runner of all distances) Anna Frost, would be at the airport bright and early Tuesday morning to pick me up. This event was a big team race for the Salomon International Team and Salomon did an amazing job taking care of every last detail of our trip. 

Naima and Frosty, our fearless leaders!

When I was in high school and playing basketball, one of my favorite things was to travel with a big team. While traveling in a big group does have its downsides and annoyances, it is so much fun to share an adventure with other people, friends and teammates. This Salomon team trip really made the experience, the NF100k aside, it was a blast to be able to spend a week with Salomon teammates and friends from around the world. 

I lost 17 hours in time change flying over the ocean, almost an entire day. While I slept a bit on the plane, I walked off the plane feel worn out, beaten down and definitely not invincible. Over the course of the long flight, my right side back, glute and hamstring became very angry with me. I usually don't fair well sitting for long periods of time, but the pain usually disappears pretty rapidly. I had a short lived flare up in that glute in April, but Scott at Psoas was able to get rid of the issue in one good rub/painful ART session. I hadn't had any problems since. When I got off the plane, I figured it would work itself out before Saturday's race. I focused the remainder of my week, resting, recovering, tapering and trying to fuel up for the race. We had a full slate of media events, appears and meet and greets as well as some fun team bonding and a bit of light running.

Running with the gals at Manly Dam

Jamie fully into the swing of things on our run at Manly Dam

On Wednesday, I got a massage with Angi, our team massage therapist who'd flown down from California. When she started working on my glute, it was obvious that there was an issue, but I wasn't feeling it just walking or even running around, so I figured it was no big deal. We didn't dig too deep on it and the rest of the week without any incident.After LA marathon, Mad City 100k and Grand Canyon R2R2R FKT so recent, I was not surprised that my body was not absolutely 100%. 

Way back in January when Salomon invited me to be a part of this event, I didn't have LA or Mad City on the agenda. I had thought that I would have bagged my OT qualifier in Houston, then switched over to the trails to prepare for the big climbs and trails of R2R2R and NF100k. Things didn't work out that way and I decided that I would make the best of things. My main goal leading up to NF100k was to not push myself too hard and find a way to arrive as rested as I possibly could. I have a back log of necessary recovery and I had hoped that I would be able to find a way to make it through just one more event. With each additional event, I knew I was pushing myself closer and closer to the edge and that the room for error and forgiveness in my body was drastically reduced. I resolved to see how race day went and to listen to my body. I have had an amazing six weeks and season, I knew that whatever happened at NF100k would happen.

Thai Curry in Katoomba. My one great meal of the trip.

We headed up to the Blue Mountains on Thursday and prepared for the race ahead. I did my best to find food that would properly fuel me for the race at the restaurants we ate at as a team, but most lunches and dinners settled for a salad. My favorite meal by far was thai curry on Thursday night out in Katoomba. Anna did a great job with me and was ever patient trying to ensure there were options for me to eat. She even changed the entire team and crew's plan (20 people!) to attend the pasta party the night before the race because there wasn't food for me. On short notice, she coordinated a dinner at the hotel we were staying at and made sure the chef made me lots of plain boiled potatoes.

Pre-race treat in Leura, a long black and a artisan peanut butter truffle.

Getting together my mandatory gear and checkpoint bags

The usual pre-race rituals, resting and packing ensued. Each of us had to have a huge list of mandatory gear including warm fleece and rain pants to be carried from Checkpoint 4 (which we would end up having to take due to very cold temperatures). I have never had to carry so much gear before in my life and I really appreciated the help of Salomon US team leader Adam Chase and all of the Salomon crew in helping us sort our packs. I went to sleep on Friday night calm and easy, my belly full of potatoes and plain chicken, looking forward to the adventure of the next day.

Ready to roll in the prerace meeting.
The race start was a very civilized 7am, so teammate and roommate Jen Segger and I got up a bit before 4:30am and had some french press coffee (Segg's brings her own french press and beans with her, what a pro). I tucked into a hearty bowl of gluten free granola I'd brought from the states topped with two packets of Justin's peanut butter. I really felt like I didn't eat that hearty over the week and wanted to make sure I had some fuel to keep me going. We headed to the start less than 1km away at 6am. One of my favorite moments of the trip was walking into the Fairmont Hotel where the 800 race participants were gathering all together as a united team. I love being a part of a team and over the course of the week I truly felt like I was part of a team instead of merely being around other similarly sponsored athletes. This was my team, my family and I was proud to walk in with them.

NF athlete Sebastian, Francois, Grant, Killian, me, Jen.
I can't tell you how many cameras got whipped out when we lined up for this shot.

It was quite cold at the start, although it was warmer than the previous few days in which I spent most of my time nestled under 3 coats including a down coat. The nice thing about it being a bit chilly meant I could wear a few items of my mandatory gear instead of having to carry it. At 6:56 the first wave of starters were sent off and we made a mad dash up the long steep pavement driveway of the Fairmont hotel. I wasn't nervous at the start of the race but I was having a hard time getting into the mental space necessary to run a 100k. I decided to settle in, run comfortably and just manage my body. After checkpoint one, I knew we could listen to headphones, so I had loaded my ipod with music to move me along. My strategy was typical: get to the last 25k and hammer it home. My strategy was also to have as much fun as I possibly could. Without sufficient recovery or training, I knew I could be in for a long day and so I planned accordingly and brought my camera to record some of the amazing scenery. In the pre-race meeting the RD had said, "make sure you keep your head up, there will be times when you wished you had your camera", I laughed to myself when he said this and thought, good thing I have mine!

The start of the race is about 5k worth of road running including lots of big steep hills and random jumps on and off trails that included a great deal of stairs. It was random. I opened up a bit of a lead on the other women and after a few turns couldn't see any other ladies. Finally we hopped off the road and descended down into the valley of the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are a lot like the Grand Canyon. The towns of Leura and Katoomba sit on the rim, so we began with a very long technical descent that reminded me of some of the more gnarly sections of HURT100. I like technical downhill but definitely found myself taking my time and trying not to get too carried away too early. The shade of the trees meant that a lot of the uneven steps and stairs and rocks were slick and muddy and I did what I could through the section.

Self-portait between rock fields

I had a few guys chatting to me during the first 10k, which seemed to pass excruitatingly slow. With 13,800 feet of ascent in the race, I knew the fun downhill would be short lived and prepared myself mentally for going uphill. The Salomon squad had run on a few sections of the course that they reported were very "me" i.e. very runnable fireroads without singletrack or technical bits. I was looking forward to cranking on these sections and knew that the big climbs, especially technical ones, I just needed to move steadily on. Our first big ascent of the day was the "Golden Staircase". This was an 800meter ascent and truly reminded me of Topher's widowmaker. I felt like I was hiking hard on this section and making good time. I knew I was nearly at the top when there was a huge onslaught of media and camera crews recording my ascent. It was a very experience to suddenly have a camera in my face as I was scrambling to the top. I made it to Checkpoint 1 in 1:58, right about what I had wagered I would for an 11 hour finishing time. I knew it was feasible given my recent 7:46 100k and my 9:30+ Miwok 100k from last year (which has only 2,000 feet less climbing). I wasn't really pacing myself off a chart per se, but liked to have a general idea of when I could expect the Checkpoints to come. 

Video of the Golden Staircase and view from the Ridge

I put my headphones on after the aid station and began a long section of runnable fireroads. The running now reminded me of TusseyMountainback i.e. very hilly but runnable fireroad. We were on an amazing ridge with sweeping views on all sides and I got snap happy at the scenery. 

On the climb up to CP1, I noticed my right leg was a bit niggly. The top of my right calf muscle was feeling crampy much like I experienced at Grand Canyon and I took some salt to help combat it. I also hoped that the long runnable section would help it sort out. Instead, the long road section transferred the pain up into my lower back, glute and hamstring. I could feel my right leg going and less than 25k into the race, I was not happy with that. I just tried to stay comfortable and cruise. I took in my gels on schedule, drank my water and took my salt. Soon, we popped off the firetrail and did another very technical descent. We climbed down a very scary (but awesomely cool) ladder section and down through very steep boulder fields in which you only know the course because of the flagging.

My leg was really hurting as I boulder hopped and zig zagged my way down the narrow ridge. The section was really cool and I wish I had felt better so I could have flown through it better. I took an advil in hopes of ridding myself of the pain, but to no avail. I hit another fireroad and shuffled along contemplating my state. I was not even 40km into the run and my leg was not doing well. I could put my head down, push past the pain and hope for the best or I could make the hard decision. I contemplted what to do. I searched myself and tried to be honest. If this had been the first race of my season, my big "A" race, I would have stopped at nothing to get to that finish line. But it wasn't. The NF100k was my fourth race in 6 weeks after 3 "A" race efforts. The reality was that pushing through the pain could easily mean injury. After all the racing, my bodies capacity to bounce back or forgive was drastically diminished. I was less than 5km from Checkpoint 2 and knew what needed to happen. I was done. Soon thereafter, my Salomon teammate Jen caught up to me and I talked with her about my pain and my options. She didn't offer up a stirring speech to motivate me through, instead she agreed that stopping was the best option to avoid further injury. By the time we arrived at Checkpoint 2, I didn't waste a second thought on dropping. I told the first aid person what was going on, relinquished my timing chip and dropped from the race.

 Post-DNF hug from Adam.

I didn't waste anytime feeling sorry for myself. I called upon the wisdom of my decision and the consolation of all of my other major recent accomplishments. I made a smart decision, how can I feel bad about that? I also knew while my race was over, I still had 6 other teammates (our other teammate Julia didn't start due to a calf injury) out there and wanted to do everything I could to support them. I caught a ride with some race spectators and managed to meet up with the Salomon crew at the bottom of the road where they were waiting to cheer Killian, Francois and Ryan through towards CP3. 

Now part of the crew, I was swept up cheering and helping my teammates. It was so much fun to zip around trying to pull of a huge crewing effort. The crew and our media guys pulled off an amazing coordination effort that had all six runners tended too and sorted.

The photos tell the story:

Adam, Julia and I at Checkpoint 4

 Checkpoint 4- Killian having an interesting chocolate breakfasty concoction

 Angi trying to work out my glute issue on the lawn at the Fairmont.

Congrats to my Salomon teammates!
Killian 1st place and new CR in 9:19

Francois in 2nd place

Ryan in 3rd

Grant in 6th

Nerea in 2nd (having lead until 99k, she got lost and was passed)

Jen in 3rd

When it comes right down to it, I feel 100% confident I made the right decision. As I sit here on the plane, flying home over the ocean, I can still feel the pain in my glute. How much more pain or injury woud I have sustained if I had continued? I knew going in that I had been very lucky to make it through my first three events so healthy and only suffering from fatigue. Even during my R2R2R run, I knew that I was pushing beyond my limits and not performing at the standard I wanted to. I took a risk coming to Australia to race on the heels of so many other things; I had not followed my own plan and framework to have the Devon Day I want to have in A races. Ultimately, I am just super stoked that I got to be a part of such a cool Salomon team event and had the chance to run in some amazing country. I am very proud of myself for being smart enough to know my own limits and strong enough to not push myself through injury.

What is next? That is the question everyone is hastening to ask. Rest, recovery, a break from travelling, time at home, getting my glute sorted out. I will be back to training soon enough on to the next thing. But for now, I am just going to enjoy, at long last, a bit of empty calendar space, a bit of nothing.

That said, I have already started marinating on some awesome adventures for later this year and 2012.