Always keep your door open
By Fiona Hayvice on 28th November 2017 Race Reports
The Feral Pig Ultra (50 Miles)
Perth, WA, Australia 11 Nov 2017
If I had to select a life lesson that encapsulates 2017, it would be - one should never brush-off or underestimate even the briefest of encounters. On at least two occasions this year, I've had doors quite literally flung open, as a result of only a few friendly words. Back in February, within the first few kilometers of the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, under the glow of headlamp, I conversed with a bearded, somewhat brazen Aussie bloke. Our accents differed, yet we had a common Coach, and obviously shared a passion for running trails. Our chat was typical of a race; short and sweet, enjoyed in the moment before moving on.
Fast forward three months, "G'day Fiona, I met you briefly whilst running at Tarawera ..." totally out of the blue Event Director, Shaun Kaesler invites me to his Feral Pig Ultra in the Perth Hills. I'd never been to Western Australia. Treading new territory was a major drawcard, what's more Shaun considered me worthy of the title, female race ambassador - another first. So, I gleefully signed up for the Boar 50 Miles (85km, +/- 2200m)! Yes, the event name was a little peculiar. However, I wasn't deterred by the likelihood of encountering wild beasts, or the fact Perth temperatures would be 10 or so degrees higher than at home - in hindsight, perhaps I should have been!
50 Mile course from Sullivan's Rock (green flag) via two aid stations (brown flags) to Perth Hills Discovery Centre (red flag)
I allowed myself 8 days to acclimatise in Perth. A fairly reasonable lead-in I thought, as I'd trained in an environmental simulation suite (at 34 degrees and 2600m) for three weeks before I departed. However, as race day crept closer, the forecasted temperature rose and rose towards 40! In some respects it was a blessing, especially for those of us Glamping at the race HQ / finish-line. At night it hardly dropped below 20, so my beanie and fleece never made an appearance, and there was certainly no need for any extra layers on the 3:45am bus ride to the starting point (at Sullivan's Rock).
In the past, I haven't been a huge fan of group transportation to start-lines. However, the hassle free, timely experience at Feral has left me a convert. On race day, registration (including gear check and collection of race bib) took place only a few hundred meters from my tent, just before we jumped on the bus. This meant the evening prior had been totally clear for final gear and food prep, chatting with new friends over a barbecued chop, and snatching as many hours sleep as possible, before my 2:30am alarm clock.
Motoring down the dark, straight highway for 1.5hrs allowed ample time for; listening to Race Director, Roger Millet's briefing, chatting with comrades, and even some more shut-eye. By the time we reached Sullivan's Rock dawn had broken and the 100 Milers (who'd started running just after midnight) were beginning to trickle through the aid station (42km lapsed). Cheering them on helped pass the 45mins or so, until our scheduled start-time. Bang on 6am, Roger fairly casually called out "alright, off you go" and thirty of us happily left the highway behind, and headed into the bush.
Filling in time at the start-line with new trail sista, Nicole Smyth
Almost immediately, we were confronted with our first climb of the day - 200m up and over the face of Sullivan's Rock. There was no gentle ease in, yet we warmed-up pretty quickly! Words of wisdom from Coach, Scotty Hawker popped into my head, "enjoy the scenery". So, I took a moment to look up; bush tops for as far as my eye could see, cast in a soft, pink hue and not a cloud in the sky - "how lucky am I to be here?!"
For the first seven or so kilometers, we scaled and descended a series of three rocky outcrops (Sullivan's Rock, Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert). The top of each arguably presented the best views of the day. Underfoot was slightly technical, dictating a pace that allowed for a bit of a chat with an Italian accent (eventual second place, Sergio Gustinetti). However, given the low number of starters, it wasn't long before I found myself completely on my own, and it basically stayed that way for the remainder of the day. During the first half of the course I did come across a few 100 Milers. It was fun to hear how their day's were evolving, and to offer-up encouraging words before continuing on my way.
Expansive views from the tops (highest point Mt Cuthbert, 510m)
By the time I approached the first water station - rainwater tank only, at an unmanned Monadnocks Campsite (7km lapsed) - I could already sense my core temperature rising. So, I decided to duck-in and dampen my head buff. I may have startled the lone hiker, sitting on the porch of the hut, quietly sipping his morning brew. But, I certainly didn't seem to phase him as he was on for a right old chat. I had to politely excuse myself.
Unexpectedly, finding my way back onto the course proved quite difficult. It was the first of many occassions where I was very thankful I'd loaded the full course onto my GPS watch - many thanks to local Glen Smetherham for his help. Yet, another first on this adventure; until Feral, I'd never used the navigation function before. In the future, I won't hesitate for a second - using a dot and a line to stay ontrack is a lot simpler than diligently watching for signs and tickertape.
At Canning Campsite (23km lapsed), I could see a hut a hundred or so meters off to the left. I considered using the rainwater tank to dampen my buffs again. However, I guess you could say my competitive streak got the better of me. As I spotted a couple of guys just up ahead who weren't stopping, so I decided to draw on their presence for energy instead. I set my sites on the top of the rise, and whilst they walked, I continued to jog and coasted by. Mind of matter really is a marvelous tool.
Not so marvelous, was the fact I ran out of fluid with at least 5km until the aid station. Thankfully the 4WD track through this section was fairly smooth underfoot, shaded by surrounding trees and the last couple of kilometers were downhill. Still, I was fairly hot and bothered, when I pulled-up under the gazebo at Brooklyn Highway Aid Station (32km, 3hrs20 lapsed). A liberal sponge bath, plenty of ice down my arm sleeves and the back compartment of my hydration vest, a replenish of fluid and nutrition supplies (from my prepacked drop-bag), and I was ready to embrace the heat again.
Leaving the road-side festivities someone called out " you're 3rd (overall)". Really?! It was exactly the jolt I needed to refocus, and pull myself up the next long stretch of exposed dirt road. Just as I was settling into a rhythm, the course took a sharp right hand turn, and I was back under the bush canopy. The trail weaved through the trees, soft pine needles underfoot, I returned to a happy space.
Up in front I could see the back of a head I knew - male ambassador, David Turnbull (leading the 100 Miler). He seemed in reasonable spirits. Although, I was a little concerned when he asked me "how far to the next water tank?", when we were barely a kilometer on from the aid station. Turns out that my hunch was sadly right, as I later learned that it was through this section that Dave's day spiraled towards its demise. He certainly wasn't alone, only 8 of the 23 starters finished the 100 Miler.
This second of three legs was 24km through to Beraking Campsite aid station. On paper it hadn't appeared particularly adverse, but when you add in temperatures soaring towards 40 degrees and running out of fluid again (this time with approx. 7km to the next possible source), your pace slows considerably.
4WD tracks meant a lot of very runnable course
Just as the trail started to become more exposed, I spotted an old water tank, right on the course - could this be an additional source that hadn't been included in the race manual? I tried desperately to turn the tap on, and even circumnavigated the tank, just encase there was an alternative exit point. Sadly, to no avail.
I continued on. Up the next rise I came across a guy (Sergio) walking. As I passed, I checked in; he assured me he was ok and said the leader had just dropped, so I was now in first place. Normally, I would have been ecstatic. However, I knew I was still at least 5km from the aid station and if I wasn't careful, I could be the next casualty.
I shuffled on, running as much as I could, as I figured that way I'd at least get to water quicker than if I walked. Faced with one of the most exposed sections, and the longest climb of the day, I sought out any shade I could, and concentrated on not overexerting myself.
Finally, just as my mind was starting to falter, "if someone offers you a lift, take it!", I almost stumbled into a post. A flimsy piece of A4 paper was taped onto it, with a handwritten welcome message "come visit us ... (200m side-shoot)". Hooray! I'd made it to Beraking Aid Station (56km, 6hrs lapsed).
Coming to a stop I had to lean on a table, so as to not loose my balance. The hut provided much needed reprieve from the sun, and the volunteer's encouragement was music to my ears. Judging my ice consumption, one of them immediately suggested retreating back to HQ for a restock. I left Beraking feeling revived, back in control of my mind and ready to get the job done!
Sadly, it wasn't long before the heat started to debilitate me again. At Waalegh Campsite (64km, 7hrs20 lapsed) I stopped to use the long-drop, as it was right beside the track. However, I couldn't see the hut, so I decided not to pursue the associated rainwater tank. Helena Campsite (74km, 8hrs50 lapsed) was a similar case. The hut was supposedly a few hundred meters down, which inevitably meant having to come back up! Consequently, I made a definitive, yet possibly not a wise choice, to stay on course.
Not long after, I found myself out of fluid again. This time I probably wasn't much shy of 10km to go. Thankfully a pre-race recce meant I knew there was a rainwater tank 3km from the finish-line, that was right on the trail. So, I set my sights on that and continued to make what felt like incredibly slow progress through some of the most technical terrain of the day.
With a wearying, dehydrating body it was little wonder that my mind started playing tricks on me. I was certain I could hear voices approaching from behind. I moved as quickly as I could, hoping they were struggling as much as me, and that I'd be able to hold them off.
Reaching Ball Creek Campsite (82km, 9hrs45 lapsed) I made a beeline for the rainwater tank, skolled back 1.5L and poured at least the same amount over my head. Semi revived and with 500ml on-board, I made a last-ditch effort to the end. Popping out of the bush, the finishing chute in my sights, I air punched and hallooed with joy - almost startling the handful of spectators who had obviously been waiting quite some time to see someone cross under the finishing arch. There was no ribbon to break and very little fanfare which beautifully summed up the grassroots nature of this event.
My time of 10hrs 10mins was longer than I'd anticipated, yet reflective of the scorching conditions on the day (30% of the 50 Mile starters did not finish). And it turned out that my mind had been deceiving me as it was an hour before I welcomed Sergio across the finish-line.Â Provisional Results
Shaun had offered a very rare opportunity to run on the Bibbulmum Track (only one other race in the last five years has gained approval). He had a vision to showcase this world renowned trail (only 45mins from downtown Perth) and the unique character of his Ultra Series WA events. My experience was all of this and a great deal more. I'll never forget the generous, genuine Western Australia hospitality, and the joy on the faces of fellow runners as I placed medals around their necks, and dosed them with icy sponge baths. Cheers to Shaun and his army of selfless volunteers. And here's to remembering to always have your door open - as things happen when you least expect.
Race Day Outfit
Shoes - Salomon Sense 6
Socks - CEP Calf Sleeves and Ultralight No-show
Shorts - Salomon Agile (soft, lightweight internal short (no briefs needed) and superlight outer shell)
Top - branded Tailwind Nutrition
Bra - Salomon Medium Impact
Visor - Salomon XA
Race Vest - Salomon, S-Lab Sense Ultra Set
Tailwind Nutrition (1,100 calories)
Spring Energy (1,090 calories) - 100% natural, real food gels
Vespa (x4) - naturally-occurring "wasp extract" that helps your body burn "fat as fuel".
Water (approx. 7L)
My Boys (Todd and son Spike) - with me in spirit at Feral, yet I still had their absolute support
CEP Sports NZ
Tailwind Nutrition NZ
The Healthy Runner (NZ distributor of Vespa)
Back To It (Fascial Stretch Therapy)
Coach Scotty Hawker of Mile27