This is the question I was asked when I nervously broke the news to my family and non-running friends that I was going to run in The North Face 100 this year. Whilst I feebly tried to explain my reasons for doing so, I could see eyebrows rise slightly higher with each word I spoke. As if I was lacking in some understanding, they geographically explained how long this was, “That is like from Katoomba to Penrith and back!” “Yes”, I would nod, ”I get that, thank you.”
Having now run 100km I am eager for someone to ask me why I did it.
As I took the start line on Saturday, I felt calm but excited. I had been working hard in training to reconnect to the reasons I run after feeling a bit disenchanted with it at the end of last year. For the past few months I have been leaving my watch at home, running only trails that I love and truly listening to and hearing my body. I have been resting when I‘m tired, even if it wasn’t on the plan, changing the way I eat and truly nurturing my health and my body, the vessel that allows me to do what I love. I was excited to be running my first 100km race, but even more than that, I was eager to take what I had learnt and live it on the trails in this amazing event.
I chose not to wear my Garmin. My only game plan was to run within myself, I was really focused on my breath and my body and tried to stay in the chat zone. (You know, where you can chat and run at the same time) When I felt myself working harder than this I just pulled back.
The first leg I knew well, these spectacular trails through Leura and Katoomba are ones I run often and feel at home on. I was expecting to be quite swift along this leg, however, I wasn’t quite prepared for the banking up on the stairs. I asked a few people if I could pass them, which I did, but I felt quite rude and was enjoying the company so I decided to just roll with it. I figured it was probably better to use this section as a warm up anyway. As I negotiated the landslide the exceptionally talented and very lovely Gill Fowler came up behind me, she kindly chatted with me for a bit before nimbly making her way over some rocks and disappearing into the overgrown single track.
The next few hours where relatively uneventful, I had some calf cramps on Narrowneck, but upped my electrolyte and water intake, then focused on getting in some good oxygen for a few minutes. The cramps then eased quickly and I felt comfortable again. My nutrition was working out well and most importantly, I was still having fun!
Ironpot was an unknown for me, but fortunately was actually not as big of a climb as I has imagined in my mind. I hiked up the steep part with Tim Cochrane who had an ITB that wasn't playing fair. He was such a fast walker, I was running behind him as he was power walking...and he was pulling away from me. (Slightly embarrassing) He was truly amazing and even though he was clearly uncomfortable, he expressed that he was determined to finish, pretty tough guy. I loved seeing familiar faces up the top of the climb and the sound of the didgeridoo as I ascended gave me goose bumps. Surfing off the side of Ironpot was quad shredding good fun, I found myself grabbing trees to slow me down, and was definitely quite out of control at some points, which again, I found really fun!
Coming into CP3 was special. Hearing the crowd cheer, I spotted my husband (Man Joe) and friends jumping excitedly up and down. As I ran towards them I felt reenergised by their smiles. Joe started to offer me things from the buffet he had set up, I gratefully declined grabbed my bottles, waved goodbye and was off again.
Nellies was Nellies, tough of course, but I do like the rhythmic nature of climbing stairs and find it a good time to drink some extra water, so it was ok. Coming into CP4 I saw so many familiar faces cheering me on. After a quick bottle swap and a drink of coke (mmmm...coke...) I left the checkpoint ready to descend into the Jamison Valley. I felt like I knew exactly what was ahead of me, I had run this many times in training and in the pairs last year, I took some really deep breaths, and reconnected to my mantra “run within myself”.
After the descent into the valley I found I was walking some of the hills, I had to keep alternating between running and walking as walking was proving really slow and hard…clearly I need to add this into my training. A few km’s from the top of Kedumba I spotted Shona. We exchanged hellos and then I kept my head down and my energy within. “Run within myself”
As I approached CP5 I gave a little jump to alert Joe it was me and again I felt uplifted by the support of the crowd cheering. My crew helped me get some warmer gear on then it was one final kiss to Joe and on to the last leg.
I ran up Tableland road, and passed Shona just before we turned onto the trail. I felt elated on this section. I cruised along chatting with a guy who was sharing my bright fancy new light. I really didn’t care about my pace anymore, I knew I was close to the end and just wanted to enjoy myself. I passed my friend Mick with about 4km to go who was having a tough day at the office. “Jo! How you feeling?” He asked. “Really good mate” I replied in a surprised voice. I was feeling good, affirming this out loud made me smile, this was always my goal…to finish feeling like I wasn’t broken and at this point I realised I was going to do this.
With 1Km to go Shona called out to me from about 100m back. My light sharing friend jumped aside and told me to take off, “it’s cool” I said, “I’m really fine here”, ”Just GO” he said…so I took off. I could hear the crowd and I was starting to well up with the image of my children and husband in my mind. My stride lengthened and I found myself moving at what felt like my 10km race pace. As I ran up the stairs I saw my 3 children, I crossed the line and I think I rambled about how fun it all was…which it really was. Then came the moment that I will treasure forever…my children ran to me and I hugged my family.
At no time in my life do I feel more connected than when running. I feel connected to my body, my spirit, the bush, the trail, and my community. Most importantly I feel connected to the people I love. Everything is heightened. When in daily life do we look at our family, wrap our arms around them so tightly and start crying with joy just to see them? Running reminds me of my values, it keeps me fit and strong and it challenges me to see what I’m capable of.
The North Face 100 was my first 100km…but it won’t be my last.
Congratulations to all the runners on the day, with special mention to my dear friend Brendan and the talented and humble Beth for their record-breaking achievements. I take my hat off to every single person who toed the start line on Saturday. It’s not all about the result, or even about finishing; every person who dares to try and takes a leap is adding value to our world.
For this gift of running...I am truly grateful.