It was now time to seek my next big goal: to complete a 100 miler (160km).
[Spoiler] After two years and three attempts that goal is now complete.
The Great Southern Endurance Run was my first attempt over this distance, and an event I really wanted to complete, but a badly injured ankle left me only able to finish the 50-mile event.
Still carrying some fitness into the beginning of 2018, I decided to try again at the Northburn 100 on the South Island of New Zealand. My ankle had healed strong and I was feeling at my best. At 50k in, my brain shut down. My body was fine, but my mind was simply fatigued and absent. By the 70k mark I knew my day was done and I retired.
Hoping to salvage something out of my training from the first half of 2018, I signed up for my usual Mt Solitary, UTA100 combo. I PB’d at Mt Solitary, but then, blinded by a photographers flash 5k into the UTA100, I re-rolled my ankle, ultimately causing me to withdraw later in the race. For an event to rant about its safety and over the top mandatory gear list to then permit flash photography on a staircase is utter BS. I won’t be back because I’m still bitter.
2018 was turning out to be a nightmare year running-wise. With significant renovations underway at home, I decided to focus on getting some work done around the house and park my 100 mile dream for a while. I didn’t start training again until the major construction work had finished, and by December I was starting to run well again, and trained well over the Christmas holidays.
In January 2019, I signed up for the local Sydney Trail Series. Excited by a PB on the 20k course, my 100 mile dream stirred back to life. Two days later I had discovered the Hubert 100 and entered.
The Hubert 100 is set in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, about six hours drive north of Adelaide and eighteen hours drive west of Sydney. It is remote, wild country and simply stunning. For me, this landscape sits amongst the Dolomites and the Kimberley as my favourite places on earth. Unsurprisingly there are geological similarities between all of them.
Based at Wilpena Pound, the course takes in sections of the Heysen trail as well as several other historic tracks in the Flinders.
We loaded up the ute and left Sydney at 2am on Thursday morning. Originally our plan was to make the trip in a single leg, but eventually we decided to spend the night at Burra, about three hours south of the Pound. This meant we could avoid setting up tents in the night and enjoy the scenic drive into the Flinders as the sun rose Friday morning.
Arriving just before lunch, we set up camp, and then went for a short family hike up Mount Ohlssen Bagge – a 7km, 600m climb with great views. We probably should have taken a trail the race actually uses so I could get a feel for the course and understand the orientation, but I only realised this in hindsight.
The final tasks for Friday was gear check, Welcome to Country, welcome dinner and finally race briefing. Gear check was fast and well organised. Sadly we only caught the end of the Welcome to Country as it inexplicably had started raining. Welcome dinner was easily the best I have had and the race briefing was clear and effective.
The 100 miler start was at 10am, a couple of hours after the 100k start. 10am starts are a luxury. No need to rush in the morning and it’s warmer. It is the perfect time to start a race expecting to 24 hours plus, as most people will finish in daylight the following day.
The first six km are reasonably flat before an initial 300m climb up to a saddle alongside St Mary Peak. On the climb I settled into 3rd. Before long we had descended the other side and reached the 17km aid station back at Wilpena Pound. The first leg took about 1hr 50m. Kira and the kids were waiting, quickly refuelled me, and I headed off. It would be another 35k till I saw them again.
I managed to go immediately off course and ended up a few hundred meters further up the hillside on a parallel track. I was able to follow a fence line back to the proper trail, but as I was descending I decided to bounce my hand off the taught fence wire as it seemed like fun.
Turns out it was barbed wire. Damn. My watch was ripped from my arm and there was blood pouring from a gash. Surely my day was not done so early and my 100 mile curse extended. Going off course would become a bit of a theme for me.
Fortunately, after a brief walk and some pressure the main puncture clotted quickly. I was able to reassemble my watch band, and in all, no harm was done. Although it did draw the attention of every first aider at future aid stations.
I was really happy with being in third and enjoying a comfortable pace, taking in the scenery. The Wilcolo track aid station at 31k came quickly. At Wilcolo, the 100 mile course turns right taking a loop in the opposite direction to the 100k. As I left the aid station I heard one runner had missed the turn.
I was now in 2nd.
This next section was amazing country. It reminded me of the Dolomites in places, especially amongst the trees. The stone is in fact Dolomite. Wonderful course design by the organisers to let runners in the miler do this section in daylight as in the opposite direction it would have been dark.
I reached Trezona and once again the family was there to crew for me. I was feeling great and happy. The leader was about fifteen minutes ahead at this stage, and the tracker showed the 3rd place runner miles behind. As I was progressing well, my family decided to come to the next aid station at Aroona, another 16k along.
I was still moving steadily, happy with my pace and place. The sun slowly set during this leg and by the end it was well and truly dark.
I took the time for a proper refuel at Aroona, affectionately known as Temptation Station on the course notes. Wonderfully over the top with great supplies, flashing lights and lounges. I also got very cold for the first time and spent a moment warming up in front of the fire.
It was the only moment I felt like “I am having the best day running, do I really need to run through the night?”. I said as much to Kira but she urged me on. Temptation Station is real.
The next leg is 38k out and back, with an aid station at the turn around. I had discussed with Kira taking a 30min rest next time I came through Aroona.
Now there are two things to note about this next leg. Firstly, based on cut-offs, everyone will run the out and back in the dark. Secondly, despite it following a dry creek bed for the most part, navigation proved extremely difficult. Ben, the RD, had stressed the importance of the guru maps course everyone was required to have on their phones and he was right. For me even the simple act of drinking or checking my watch was enough to go off course.
As such I don’t want to sound critical. The notion that the race has a navigation component to it is one I can accept and embrace, and at the end of the day everyone raced under the same conditions.
However, despite the clear amount of time and effort gone into marking the course, the markers themselves were silver ribbons which appeared black most of the time, unless they were moving or hanging perpendicular to the beam from your headlamp. Fortunately, there was a breeze so most were rustling and reflecting traces of light. The permanent trail markers, were retroreflectors and could be seen from a long way off. I wonder whether it might be better using half as many retroreflectors in key spots than lots of difficult to see pieces of ribbon. Maybe an opportunity for improvement?
As I approached the turn around, I became more and more curious about how the leader was travelling. Surely he should have come past me by now on his return leg? Maybe I had missed him on one of my many off trail adventures?
I caught up with him at the turnaround where he was sitting by the fire. He had withdrawn, meaning I had pulled a Bradbury and moved from 3rd to 1st.
After a noodle cup and quick refuel it was time to get going again. Heading back, I passed second about twenty minutes out of the aid station, so I figured I had around a forty minute lead. I must admit it did affect me mentally. Instead of feeling comfortable and content doing my own thing in second, I now felt pressure to maintain the lead and push on.
I didn’t have the same navigational challenges on the return leg. I mentioned this to the Race Director at the finish that it was like the course had been marked in this direction and he confirmed this was the case.
100k passed quickly and I arrived back at Aroona (106k) leading and feeling amazing. The aid station staff noted this as well. The decisions I made and actions I took ultimately defined what would follow.
Firstly, I decided I wasn’t going to have a rest as planned. I felt great and was winning. No way was I going to allow myself to get passed in the aid station.
Secondly, my watch had gone flat a couple of km before Aroona. I had a charger in my drop bag so I planned to put a fresh battery in my headlamp and use the depleted one from the charger TO DO WHAT?… only my Garmin refused to reboot and the fresh battery refused to work in my headlamp. Now I was back on the old battery for the headlamp and sans watch.
Finally, I had been generally comfortable up till now and decided not to take an extra layer from my drop bag. I simply hadn’t contemplated it getting colder, so I continued to run in short tights, a t-shirt, leg warmers and the thinnest thermal shirt on the planet.
The next leg back to Wilcolo is all on road. Corrugated wide dirt road.
Without a watch, the only way to track my progress was occasionally checking my phone… which meant taking off my poles, taking off my gloves, getting things untangled from my high vis vest. It wasn’t something I wanted to do frequently, but I also didn’t want to risk missing a key turn.
The road was now taking its toll on my quads and I was feeling extremely chaffed on my undercarriage. I stopped to reapply some lubricant and OOUUUCH. For the next twenty minutes my crotch was on fire. It was around this point I noticed lights in the far distance behind me.
About 3km before Wilcolo I lost my lead. I couldn’t even hang on for even a moment. Zoe, the eventual winner, was moving fast and smooth.
I arrived at the Wilcolo aid station as the leader departed. My plan was a quick refuel and then get moving. I didn’t have an extra layer in my drop bag (the previous 3 bags I did), but I was okay.
When I stood up to depart, my quads had frozen solid. I made it twenty metres out of the aid station before returning and taking a longer break to warm up my legs. Eventually I got going, although it was now a case of slow and slower. I kept waiting to be passed and shortly after daybreak third place cruised on by.
By now I was cold. Seriously cold. I couldn’t move sufficiently fast enough to warm up, and I was scared that if I stopped I would literally die. Probably a bit irrational but when you’re deep into an ultra your mind isn’t operating the way it should.
I eventually limped my way to the final aid station around 7:30am, shivering uncontrollably. I was done in my mind, but the first aider (I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name) and Kira were having none of that. The last 17k is the reverse of the first 17k and the climb, at least in my head was insurmountable. I was wrapped in blankets, given food and drink, and set in front of a fire to warm up. The race could wait.
My lovely wife and children stayed by my side as I had a 30 min nap, which had turned into a two hour recovery by the time I woke and stretched my legs. I had plenty of time and the reality was the climb was really only 2k of the leg and the last 12k was basically downhill. Another person at the aid station offered to catch up and walk with me for the last 17k, which I gratefully accepted.
I grabbed my poles, walked out of the aid station with a foggy head, and straight off course. Which meant my helper overtook me and caught up to someone else. I was 50m above the track on an alternate path of my own making by the time I realised I was going in the wrong direction. Between me and the track was a scree slope/cliff/impassable scrub. Now I had to bush bash my way back to the trail before I could start the final leg properly. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound!
Eventually I got back on track and into the real climb. The feeling once I reached the top to overlook Wilpena Pound was amazing. Only 12k downhill to the finish.
The last leg moved slowly, initially because the track is so rocky and then because I would only ever manage a couple of hundred meters of running at a time. With trail markers every 200m I would run from marker to marker and then walk for a while. But I was moving forward and soon 10k became 5 and then 3k. Around this point a runner approached. It was the leader of the 50k race… phew!
Soon enough bells were ringing and I was approaching the finish arch. Crossing that line has never been so sweet.
Getting to race in such an amazing area is a privilege. Ben, the Race Director has conceived an outstanding course, thoughtfully put together with well-spaced aid stations and a wonderful team of volunteers. The atmosphere is excellent. A few carefully placed retroreflectors on the Aroona to Parachilna Gorge turn around would be a nice luxury, but really this leg was true to briefing and the navigation element was the same for everyone.
Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Ranges are a must visit. I wish I could have stayed longer.
In terms of my performance. I am proud to have led the race if only for part of it, and very pleased with my first 120k. The thing that disappoints me most is that I left time out on course – I wasted several hours between leaving Wilcolo and the finish because of the mental impact of unexpectedly leading, making silly mistakes, and through not believing I could make it to the finish.
But finish I did. A two year project completed. That in itself it a huge reward.
Will I run another 100 miler? I don’t know. It carves big holes in your year in terms of preparation and recovery. The difference between 100k and 100 miles in terms of sensation and experience are substantially different. A lot of me would like to focus on the daytime distances sub 100k. And that’s probably what I will do for now. I would love to come back to the Flinders Ranges and give the 50k a crack.
Huge thanks to Kira, Ned, and Isla for their time and encouragement. I wouldn’t have made it without them.
The first aider at the last aid station saved my race and I owe him a huge debt. Ben and the URSA team also did an outstanding job. I might have to seek out one of their other races some time.
Hubert 100 Hot Tips
When researching the race there wasn’t a lot of info out there on the net so I figured I would share some:
- Due to a reporting delay of around 15 mins, the tracker may not give your support crew an exact up to date location of where you are. Make sure they know you’re ahead of the tracker at all times so they can get to the aid stations ahead of you (this is especially important for those running at the top end of the field).
- You will definitely need warm gear in your Wilcolo and Aroona drop bags. I am a big fan of the race not requiring excessive gear the whole way and hope this doesn’t change. If you have two rain jackets put one in both bags as this alone should keep you warm with the mandatory thermals (there was a consistent southerly blowing overnight).
- Shoes don’t need a massive amount of grip (at least if it’s dry). I used Salomon S-Lab Ultra’s. I might have preferred a cushy pair of road shoes especially on the road section (thinking my Hoka Clayton 2s).
- If you can get navigation on your wrist, do it. I am not sure the current Garmin offering is quite adequate though since the leader on the first leg had the map on his Garmin and stopped once believing he was off course when he wasn’t, and then went off course at Wilcolo. I have been training with an Apple Watch and had Workoutdoors on it with the course map loaded. I didn’t use it in the race as I hadn’t tested charging while running but given my complete Garmin fail I regret not using it.
- Aid station times:
- Outside Track (outbound): 2hrs (17k) ~ 12pm
- Wilcolo (outbound): 2hrs (15k) ~ 2pm
- Trezona: 3hrs (23k) ~ 5pm (Sunset)
- Aroona (outbound): 2hrs (15k) ~ 7pm
- Parachilna: 3hrs (19k) ~ 10pm
- Aroona (inbound): 3hrs (19k) ~ 1am
- Wilcolo (inbound): 3.5hrs (20k) ~4:30am it gets REALLY COLD NOW
- Outside Track (inbound): 3.5hrs (15k) ~8am I was suffering over 3min/km slower than outbound
- Finish: ~2-3 hours (17k) if on reasonable pace Note: I finished SIX AND A HALF hours after arriving at the Outside track aid station – holy meltdown batman!
My overall time was 27:42. Adjusting the final three leg times above accordingly should provide you with a decent ballpark for a 24hr race.
How to get Yellowbrick data into Strava
“If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen”
My Garmin completely crashed and lost my run L Sometimes you can recover the file manually using USB Mass storage mode. I couldn’t. You can apparently request the data from Yellowbrick in gpx format, however I’m not sure how long that would take and I wanted to analyse my race ASAP.
My solution was to download the race kml file. This file is at the same link as the tracker page with a .kml on the end. I could the delete all the other runners using a text editor and load it in google earth. From there I resaved the kml and used an online kml to gpx converter. This gave me a file I could manually load into Strava. I couldn’t get the online converter to work with the manually edited file directly. I’m not sure why.
Unfortunately the data isn’t great. Yellowbrick reports in the kml file every 15 minutes, so over a 24 hour race you end up with about 100 points. My 160k track ended up being reported as 137.2k in Strava so 22.8 km got lost in cut corners etc.
Is there a better way? One idea I had was to match the points to the course gpx and interpolate speed between points. This would get the distance correct but might give some strange pace results for example when a ping occurs either side on a hill or during an aid station stop.
I wore my Stryd which would potentially give very accurate offline data for 20 hours worth of distance and pace. This could also be synced to the track but again there would need to be corrections since I went off course at times. One day I might play around to find a solution, but since I don’t have any ultra’s planned for the near future, it might not be for a while.