DN F’ing Hounslow

I wrote this intro several times whilst my mind was blown over and over again running through the phenomenal environment that is the Grose Valley of the Blue Mountains. Constantly thinking words would not do this race justice, I figured I had better make a mental note of what I wanted to say at the time.

Everything was going well early on. When I reached what I thought was the top of the first climb of the day I was thinking it wasn’t so bad. Then I looked up. A steel staircase hung suspended from the mid-point of a shear cliff face.

Everything desaturated; the vivid, lucid colours disappeared and I was surrounded in grey. Just a single monotone… Snap.

The Hounslow Classic is run over ground that had never been raced before. Brand new for 2015 and run by the same team that runs the Buffalo Stampede. It was a no brainer to sign up the day entries opened.

68k of epic running through the Grose Valley was the promise.

The truth is: the Hounslow Classic is brutal. (although I’m sure the promise holds true)

I made it a mere 16k before falling to pieces and eventually retiring at about 26k.

But I am not about to end this blog here… there is a back story, lessons learnt, and one absolute resolution:

Resolution 1: I am going to nail the Hounslow in 2016.

My leadup to the Hounslow just didn’t happen. Things were tight and everything needed to be perfect between Sydney Marathon and the race. It wasn’t.

Resolution 2: I will not be inside the same premises as a sick person within 14 days of a key race (2016 this means Buffalo Sky Marathon, UTA100 and the 2016 Hounslow)

The biggest issue was 2 weeks before race day when my daughter came home with the flu.

1.5 weeks before the race my wife came down with it. Headaches, coughing, snot, and nausea — as good as it got.

One week to go the virus made the leap to my son and I — it became man-flu.  It was every bit as bad, probably worse. Actually, I more than likely had the most mild case in the family. I missed a couple of days of running, struggled through a hike, and then had a couple of final short runs. I suffered, before resting up for race day.

I thought long and hard at the time about switching races to the shorter event.

Come race day, we were all seemingly better and headed up to the mountains however the sickness had left me empty and tired. My normal preface twitchiness and focus replaced with tiredness.

Resolution 3: Meticulous preparation is key (and buy more La Sportiva gear!)

Normally my planning is meticulous: checking everything multiple times, arranging spares, everything to an almost OCD level. This time… well… I was complacent. This meant a Friday run around for my wife to get some Hammer Nutrition from Pace. But it really manifested itself when — 30mins from home — I realised I forgot to take my trail shoes.

Luckily with Mountain Equipment and La Sportiva backing the race, I secured a pair of very nice La Sportive Helios shoes. I had looked at La Sportiva before and dismissed them. That was a mistake.  The shoes are great. So great I want another pair.  The rest of my quiver of trail shoes is almost forgotten, or demoted to walking duties.

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Resolution 4: Be realistic

My underestimation of the race continued with my race day planning. It had been said the 68k would take as long as the TNF100. I didn’t believe it. I hadn’t trained on course and my expectations were all wrong. With my wife and kids crewing for me, I gave the following target times…

Start:                         7:00am
Refuel 1 @ 17km     +1:40hr – 2:00hr
Refuel 2 @ 51.9km  +3:00hr – 4:00hr
Finish @ 68k            +2:00hr – 3:00hr
Likely overall time:   +7:00hr – 9:00hr
Finish Time              2:00pm – 4:00pm

How wrong I was.  At this pace I would have been in line for the win! I should have been going with a 12hr plan… not a 9hr one at worst!

I started the race thinking my timing estimates were realistic. For the TNF100 I had planned to cruise for an hour… blast for 6hrs and survive the rest.  This time my plan was go hard on the flats and downhills and grind the ups… Buffalo Skymarathon or 6ft style. An approach that is fine for 4-6hr races. That will need to be revisited for sure! Like I said the race is brutal.

Wrong timings however manifested themselves in a distracting level of angst whilst trying to just survive. I got it totally wrong.

Resolution 5: Listen to your body and don’t take risks.

Up until everything went grey, I felt really happy with myself.  I found a good bunch to run in and had even pulled away a bit on the first section of the climb.  But once it went wrong, I don’t remember much.  Only recalculating timings over and over.  I heard Brendan Davies approach from behind and ask if everything was OK, and I remember the grind up the metal stairs.  My HR topped out and never came down. I arrived at the checkpoint back at the start-finish ready to pull out. After a chat with my wife, listening to her enthusiastic support and the encouragement of my kids, I pressed on, departing with the quote… “I will be a long time”

I ran off and once out of sight started walking. I cracked open the Shot Blocks and inhaled the entire pack with almost no effect. I did manage a bit of a run and eventually built some momentum. But I was still surrounded in grey.

Before long, I went off course.  Two others behind must have seen me and followed. This cost me a lot mentally and probably 20 mins.  Post race I noticed one of the place getters also made the same mistake. At this point I knew my day was over. It was time to listen to my body and accept that it wasn’t wise to push on into the Blue Mountains wilderness in poor condition.  This was the one right thing I did all day.

At the Perry’s Lookdown CP, I withdrew. The CP staff were absolutely amazing and super attentive. I was disaapointed. The truth was that I was pretty much fine physically, as long as I wasn’t exerting myself.  But the Hounslow required a level of exertion my body couldn’t provide at that point in time.

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Once the course departs Perry’s Lookdown, it’s kind of like a Sydney Hobart yacht entering Bass Straight. Even more serious. If everything isn’t perfect it’s game over. I know I made the right call

Final Thoughts

Other than that all I can say is the race is awesome.  Like the Buffalo Stampede, the organisers Mountain Sports absolutely nailed it.  Even more so this time. The course is serious, brutal and amazingly beautiful. Do not attempt it, however, unless you are 100%.  It will very quickly reveal any weakness.  For me, my flu wrecked me.  One week later and, well, things were back to normal. Go figure.

I leave you with the last image taken of me at the Hounslow.

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