I feel like a spoilt brat for saying it, but I am totally devastated by my piss-poor performance at the Alpine Challenge. I trained my arse off, I had packed light but appropriately so, and I had prepared an excellent race plan. I still don't know exactly what went wrong, what made me so sick.
I know that getting through the 100 km is a huge achievement—especially for those who signed up for the 100 km, like Todd (whose race went perfectly) and Ruth (who also had some tummy problems but pushed through regardless). It doesn't change the fact that I signed up for 100 miles and DNF'd. Yes, I understand that I was sick and that it would have been stupid to wander off towards Mt Hotham on my own, but that doesn't make me feel any less sad.
Sure, there are plenty of things that I did well. My feet were in excellent shape at the end of the run. I kept warm in the very cold conditions, and didn't overheat when it got hot up on Quartz Ridge. While I could barely eat, the food that I had packed was palatable and gentle enough to stay down… in tiny quantities. I moved slowly, but my predicted splits were actually fairly accurate (excusing the really slow first leg). I used pretty much everything I carried with me, except for my emergency gear. I didn't get lost once. My unintended taper (brought on by being too busy) had left me with plenty of energy to burn. My asthma didn't play up, nor did my allergies. I finished the run with excellent balance, my core still strong. I wasn't affected by the altitude. My crew was brilliant. (Thanks, Matt.)
But none of that matters when you vomit before a race and can't eat during the race. I'm surprised I even made the 100 km. I wrote a list of what I ate, and it comes out somewhere around 5000 kJ. Yep, not even a normal day's worth of energy (7,300–12,500 kJ), let alone a mountain run in cold conditions.
And here's the really scary bit. I only drank about 5L of fluid, of which about 2.5 L was water, 1.5 L was soft drink and another 1 L was tea.
I nearly missed the cutoff at the first checkpoint, only 15.5 km in. With no sugar and no caffeine, I had nearly fallen asleep going up Spion Kopje Fire Track. RD Paul Ashton asked what had happened, and I told him. The medics were concerned, but I was still clear-headed enough to make it clear I could keep going: I told them that if I was still crook on the summit of Mt Bogong, I'd call Matt and get him to meet me at Mountain Creek campground, and take a shortcut down there. At that checkpoint, I managed to eat half a cookie and drink half a cup of tea and a little bit of ginger beer.
I missed the cutoff by a couple of minutes on the summit of Mt Bogong; technically, I was instantly in the 100 km race, but if I made it to the next checkpoints in time I could continue on the 100 mile course. I called Matt to update him on my times as I strolled across the summit, enjoying the glorious view despite feeling ill. (There is 50 km or so between the checkpoints, so it can be hard to pace-predict.) Matt told me Ruth was only 15 minutes ahead, so I pushed hard down Quartz Ridge to catch her. When I saw her ahead, I yelled out, 'Ruth! I am so fucking happy to see you!' She was having tummy troubles of the other variety.
We made it to Langford Gap in enough time for me to continue on the 100 mile course, but I was a mess. I couldn't even think straight to get changed into warmer clothes. I knew I had to do it, but I was confused by the whole process of taking shoes off. By this stage I had managed to eat a little bit more, and I had even urinated once. Yes, once, in the 14 hours I'd been running. And I'd managed to crouch down in burrs, so Ruth had to pick them off the arse of my tights for me. That's what friends are for.
I was fuzzy, no doubt as a result of low blood sugar and fatigue. Matt was concerned about me heading off on my own across the high plains; I still couldn't really eat. So I dropped to the 100 km and ran the rest of the course with Ruth.
From Langford Gap (something like 60 km), I started eating pairs of chocolate coated coffee beans whenever I felt slightly more human. I drank some more ginger beer to wash down the bad taste in the back of my throat as my body tried to reject everything I tried to put in. I topped myself up with tea and cuddles at Tawonga Huts before shuffling to the finish past Keep Left signs that only I could see.
Needless to say, I was looking a little skinny. But Ruth had finished and I had 'finished' in 24:47:38 with the key achievements of not being beaten by 100 km walkers and not being beaten by the first 100 mile solo runner; they were less than an hour behind us, though.
I don't know what made me sick. I did everything the same as what I'd done in my training runs; I can't think of anything that Ruth and I ate that the others didn't. The illness persisted for a bit; Ruth and I got carsick and we both had night sweats on Sunday night (which I've never had after an ultra before). I've had a sensitive stomach since then. So maybe it was just an incredibly poorly timed tummy bug.
I feel very fortunate that I was well-hydrated and well-rested going into the event, which is the only reason I got as far as I did.
I know I made the right decision and I never could have gotten through an extra 15–20 hours of death march, but that doesn't make me feel any better. I have to wait another twelve months before I can try again. No other hundred miler matters like this one. So I guess I am a spoilt brat, but I just want to have a cry.
Update: a few days later, I'm getting over it. But I'm so fit that the urge to prove myself is strong. Grrrr.