Running a long way along wild trails teaches you things. That even when you feel awful, keep going, because things will probably get better. That trailrunners are great people. That blisters under  toenails really hurt. And that sometimes, you can do more than you ever thought possible. (Stick with me to the end – this is a story with a happy ending.)

Last weekend I lined up for the third time for the UTA100 (formerly TNF100) in the Blue Mountains. That’s 100 kilometres of dirt roads, narrow rocky trails, stairs (endless stairs!), one long, long, hard climb up a mountain followed by a scary, slippery descent, amazing views and er, more stairs.

If you are friend or family member who doesn’t run trail and are therefore already going “running 100 kilometres? You are insane”, let me confirm your opinion. Yes, I’m a wee bit crazy. And so are most of my fellow runners. But there’s something about trail….

I am asked questions about that every so often. Why do you run those sorts of distances? Why do you put yourself through that sort of pain? Do you actually find it fun?

I don’t entirely know the answer. I think it is the challenge, and the reward of pushing through something tough. It’s the people – in training and the race, you’re generally going slowly enough to talk to your fellow runners. You make friends, debate life’s big issues, swap recipe ideas (that reminds me, Sarah Waterstone, I’d love to get that loaf recipe!). It’s being out there, in the bush, away from noise and traffic and buildings, and reconnecting with something that will always be a part of me, as a girl who grew up in the country, even if I don’t consciously think of it as anything as formal as “reconnecting”. It’s getting simple joy from looking at wildflowers and animals and pretty rocks and misty rivers and lookout panoramas.

This was year 3 for this race for me. In 2014 some strike of madness saw me tackle the 100 as my first-ever trail race. I was slow. It took me 24:36. But I learned a few things about myself in that race (that’s the lesson about pushing on even when you are miserable). Last year was a bit better, although I left two essential items in Sydney and my super-star crew, my sister Laura, drove back to Sydney on the night before the race to get them. (Lesson: Don’t be an idiot. Write a packing list.). It was a slog (in case I hadn’t figured it out the year before, I got a repeat lesson in pushing on even despite feeling awful) but I was happy to cut over two hours off my time, and to have avoided cramps, which had been a real problem the year before. Still, I swore I wouldn’t do it in 2016. I distinctly recall a moment in the race where I actually said to myself, “You remember how you feel right now. You remember how bad this feels and DON’T DO IT AGAIN.” But then registration rolled around and somehow I signed up for the 100 again….

And what a different race it was.

As part of the entry, we had the chance to sign up for a one-month trial of a training program called Squadrun. I paid up. I had no idea what a good decision that would be. Squadrun is EXCELLENT. Ali (our lovely organiser) and Kerry (our crazy coach) created a great community of trailrunners aiming for the UTA100 and UTA50; we got not only a training program that was tailored to individual fitness levels and flexible so you could work around life and injuries and work, but a great Facebook group where we’ve covered everything from gear choices to music and poop.

Things were going along much as they had the previous years (although no knee problems this year, which was a bit plus – I owe a thanks to my physio, Nathan, at Northern Sports Physio, and massage therapist Natalie at The Treatment Room for sorting out a few other niggles – and I was really enjoying the Squadrun plan) until about two months before the race. And then work went a bit crackers. I was worried that the need to put in some long hours there was really going to hurt my training. Well it did, but all was not lost. I reached out to Kerry for some advice about what to focus on in terms of training, in order to get through the busy weeks as best I could. He gave me some great advice on several fronts, reassured me that I’d still be fine for the race and gave me some very specific instructions about which workouts to prioritise.

And here’s another lesson I learned this year, and I’m mentioning it partly in case reading this helps other people facing challenges – by getting a “priority plan” from Kerry, I was able to feel I was succeeding. Without that, I would have probably done much the same number of workouts, but felt I was failing, because I would have been measuring myself against the original program. Perception and attitude really make a difference.

And ten days out from the race, something very, very unexpected happened. I did a 5km time trial as part of a training session and went more than a minute faster than I had when doing the same thing just over a week earlier. It was probably also an all-time PB for 5km (you’d think I’d know, wouldn’t you! But given I’ve been training for longer stuff for years now, I cannot actually remember what my 5km PB is. But it’s certainly faster than I’ve done it in years).

How did that happen? Well, it was obviously partly the training plan. But that much improvement in one week? I am convinced that what I was eating was a big factor. For the five weeks leading up to the race, Laura and I had embarked on a healthy eating plan. I was eating better than I had in ages (and as someone with a “digestive issues”, making a big effort to avoiding the foods that don’t agree with me), and having fun trying lots of new recipes.

Finally, race weekend arrived.

Twice I had lined up with an injury and either terrified (2014) or worried (2015). This year I came to the start line happy and hopeful. I didn’t know what would happen this year – with less training than I’d have liked, I didn’t expect any major improvement in time, but hoped I might knock 16 minutes off so I could come in under 22 hours. But even more importantly, my head was in a good space. I’d had Friday night fun at the race expo, seeing lots of my trail running buddies and buying a few things (spending money on running gear is fun J ); I had Laura crewing for me for the third year (it really makes a difference having someone “there” for you); I had a warm bed close to the start line, in a house with two friends doing the race, Don and Geoff, and Geoff’s wife Jocie; and heaps of other Sydney trail friends and fellow Squadrunners doing it too; and the weather was warm. I was just looking forward to doing the race.

Race morning was clear and fine, and not too cold – always a plus. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a princess about a cold start! I headed over to the line with Don, one of my housemates, and Laura. We tried to buy a pre-race coffee, but the wait was long and we gave up. Maybe that was a good thing.

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Heading up to my wave start (I was in wave 5 – this was a bit of puzzle because that was supposed to be for runners who would finish in the top 54-66% of the field; going on last year’s results that would mean a finish faster than 19 hours. I knew that wasn’t going to happen!) I found a couple of my fellow Squaddies, Fridja and Ian, and it was great to start together. The first few kilometres of the race are an out-and-back on the street; that route took me back past Laura, for a final wave, before the course hits dirt. There’s a long descent down the Furber stairs (trying not to think about the fact that we have to come back up them again at the end of the race!), some clambering across a rocky area known as the landslide, a short bit of running on narrow trail and then a climb up the Golden Stairs that quickly reminds you there’s going to be a lot of stairs in the race (if you want to see what the climb is like, watch this. I found this before last year’s race and it gave me reason to smile through the pain of the climb. Was amused to discover, after signing up for Squadrun, that the very entertaining mad Kiwi in it was my new coach!).

After the top of the stairs comes the first checkpoint, and I was ten minutes ahead of schedule. I was pretty happy about that – the descent down the Furber steps was faster this year, being in a faster start has definite advantages.

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From here there’s all sorts of terrain – undulating wide roads with good views (I love the shot above showing me heading up a hill, really sums up what the mountains look like), narrow rocky scrambles, the climb down Tarros Ladders, a few uphill hikes – before the descent into checkpoint two, at Dunphy’s Camp. First mistake of the race here, when I refilled the bladder in my pack here, or rather thought I did – the pressure of all the stuff in the pack on the bladder meant the water line was deceptively high. I didn’t put as much in as I thought I did.

But I had other things on my mind leaving CP2. This leg has a challenging climb and a hair-raising descent. There’s a reward in the middle though. After the long, breathless clamber up the hill to Ironpot Ridge (I don’t know how long it takes, too busy concentrating on Not. Stopping. Not. Stopping.), you do an out and back along the ridge, and along the way the runners pass a group of guys playing didgeridoo and the sticks, and after a very entertaining Welcome to Country at the briefing the night before, it’s a good reminder to appreciate the land we’re passing through. What comes next is a part of the race I just refuse to think about. It’s hairy, but you get there. The course notes are rather understated, describing the two-part sharp downhill as “steep: and “steeper”. It’s sandy underfoot, and steep enough that you can’t really control the descent. You just pick out the safest looking bits underfoot and keep an eye out for trees on the side of the path, in case you need to grab hold if the descent gets out of control!  I prized safety over speed on this and quite happily let half a dozen people go past me. I felt really sorry for a couple of people that I passed in the kilometres after that; the hard climb and the steep descent can really take a toll.

It’s only 14km to from checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3, but there’s enough climbing to slow the overall pace; it took me 2 hrs 40, and I knew with about an hour to go I was running out of water. I was very lucky that not long after that, Don caught up with me. I’d expected him to sweep past way earlier, having started in wave 6 but being faster than me, but found out he’d had some cramping issues. He was running well then, and after running with me for a while and sharing some water – lifesaver! – he pushed on.

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Checkpoint 3 (above), at 46km, is the first one where we can see crew, and I was really looking forward to seeing Laura. As she always does, she had everything neatly laid out so I could grab what I needed, alongside the “Go Kylie” banner she made to surprise me back in 2014. It always makes me smile! I filled the bladder (properly this time!), drank water and the liquid from a instant noodle soup, grabbed some more food and put on sunscreen, made a quick loo stop and headed off. Last year I spent 9 minutes at CP3 and this year as I hit lap on my watch, I could see I’d been there for 14.

As I trotted along shady roads and trails, I was saying to myself that it had been a waste of time to apply sunscreen, but in retrospect I think that extra time was a blessing. I came into the checkpoint  feeling a bit ordinary and thinking I’d gone too hard in the first two legs and was about to pay for it (I was 45 minutes ahead of schedule by this point – the schedule based on 22 hours that I’d given Laura as a guide to when I expected to hit checkpoints.)

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But although I still felt like it was hard work all the way through to the next checkpoint – and Nellies Glen is never, never easy! – I realised that I was still making good time. In fact, after the climb up Nellies, I called Laura to say that I needed her to get a T-shirt out of the spares bag. I’d planned to change at CP4 into long tights and the long-sleeved thermal top we have to carry as part of the mandatory gear, but now I was an hour ahead of schedule, and on a warmer day than the year before; I knew I’d swelter in a long top.

More hot soup, water and nutrition refills for my pack, a change of clothes, new shoes and socks and clean teeth, a hug from Laura and off I went. Very lucky at this point to run into a fellow Squaddie as I left the checkpoint, and we ran together most of the way to CP5. Paul, thanks for keeping me honest. Quite a few times when I would have slowed down you said something encouraging about pushing on, so I did!

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It was great to be leaving the Aquatic centre in broad daylight, too. I got to see views that I missed in previous years, running in the dark. The Blue Mountains are truly beautiful and running through them is such a special experience, from the rocky outcrops of Ironpot to views across the valleys.

This year, there was a water station at 69km, at the Fairmont. And just as we were reaching it, I came across one of my tri club buddies cheering on the side of the road. That was a nice surprise. Things like that really do help to keep you feeling happy and mood makes a big difference out there in the night. Thanks for sticking around to see me go past, Cathy!

Last year I had one of my low periods on this leg (the “you remember this” moment!), but this year was much better. Seeing Cathy, running with Paul, and just taking less time to do the leg all made a difference. (One thing has been the same every year, though – this is a really well-organised race and the volunteers do a great job!)

Into CP5. I spent 12 minutes here last year, but this time I was in and out in 8 minutes –  and not because I was trying to shave off time. I’d grabbed a hot soup, and started swapping lights and other stuff, when the following happened:

Me to Laura: “What’s the ruling on whether we have to take the fleece?”

L: “I don’t know! I’ll find out.” (I had forgotten to let her know she’d need to check)

L: (rushes back) “You don’t have to take it if you leave before 9pm”.

Me: “What time is it?”

L: “Five to!”

I was outta there fast!

I had two aims for this last leg – the first was to go down Kedumba at under 7 minutes per kilometre.  That’s a big hill that comes not long after CP5; it’s not scary-steep like the descent off Ironpot, but on tired legs in the race last year, I was ridiculously slow on that downhill. I’d looked at my watch repeatedly and even though it felt like I was running normally, I was going down at around 9 minutes per kilometre. Coach Kerry had pointed out I wouldn’t need my downhill legs after Kedumba and the descent that follows it – and that he’d come after me with a cattle prod if I went slower than 7 per k. Made me smile and gave me something to aim for. I did a training run on this section with Don about a month before the race and we very comfortably did around 6-minute pace down the hills, which was great for getting my head around the fact that that pace felt perfectly safe. I also had a brand new super bright Ayup headlamp for this leg and that helped too. (Lesson: train on course if you can.)

No cattle prod was needed. 🙂

Aim number two was to try to cut my time on this leg by a little bit. It took me 6hrs in 2014 and 2015, and as one fellow runner said, “I just don’t understand how it could take you that long”.

On my original schedule, I’d aimed to cut 12 minutes off this leg, taking into account the faster downhills I was aiming for. And I figured out after leaving CP5 that if I managed that, I might just break 20 hours. But I knew how hard this leg had been before, and I kept thinking the wheels would fall off, that I’d pay for pushing things in the earlier legs, and for the dehydration (I didn’t feel dehydrated, but I knew I was). So didn’t really dare to think about it too hopefully. After that, I was too busy concentrating on pushing it downhill, and then hiking hard up hill, to think about finishing times for quite a while. I had poles this year, which I’d picked up at CP5, and I really think it helped using one of them on the long climbs. (A few more lessons on this leg – if you pop a little packet of Smarties in your pack in case things aren’t going well and you need a treat, squash the box. They rattle like crazy when you run downhill. And if you have to duck into the bushes, remember to turn your headlamp off. Thanks to the lady coming along behind me who shouted out a reminder!)

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At one point I did some math (I often do pace calculations in my head to distract me during long runs!) and realised I’d shaved quite a bit more than 12 minutes, but it just didn’t seem real. I kept running, and then suddenly I saw a “3km to go sign”. And then “2km to go”. And then I was at the stairs. Climbing up Furber stairs just isn’t fun. There was a lot of using of hands to help haul myself up, and I let someone past at one point. But even this didn’t feel quite as bad as last year.

As I got to the top and looked at my watch, I realised that if I got to the finish in under four minutes, I would have cut four hours off last year’s time. Deadlines are quite motivating, even on tired legs, so I ran. And made it.

 

 

Races aren’t just about times. They are about all the magic moments, and the people you meet, and the challenges you overcome.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my time made me very happy. I finished in 18:12, a time that I never dreamed of.

I think I’m going to pay for it in toenails. While my legs recovered amazingly well, I had blisters under both big toenails. This has never happened before – I guess I can add how to deal with blisters to the lessons I’ve learned! (That, and the importance of wearing your shoes in really well before a big race).

If you made it this far, well done. You just might have the endurance needed to tackle the UTA100 yourself!

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Today’s loaf is brought to you by … hmm, that should be despite. Today’s loaf is brought to you despite the challenges  of buying a new phone half way through the breadmaking process and finding it trickier than expected to get pics out of an old phone that no longer has a connection and a new one that didn’t have email set up. Well, it does now, and here we are…

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A few weeks ago I spend a wonderful afternoon making bread on an apple farm south of Sydney. Spending five hours or so making bread is always always going to be fun for me, but this was extra special. I was attending a breadmaking class run by the lovely Tara Mills of Mill Lane Workshops.  The workshops are held at Glenbernie Orchard, a farm run by the Fahey family, with a lovely rustic shop selling apples from the farm, potatoes, eggs, honey and more.  You can read more about how Tara found the right place to realise her workshops dream here.

The classes are held in a tin shed just a very short stroll from the farm shop – very handy for wandering across and picking up some fresh produce during a break in the breadmaking! There are hay bales with padded hessian seat-tops around a wooden table in one corner; apple crates along the walls; long wooden tables for work benches; boxes of preserving jars for sale; and flowers and herbs from Tara’s garden tucked here and there.

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We were welcomed with a cup of tea and a slice of cider fruit cake – a recipe I tried to wangle from Tara as it was superb, just the sort of old-fashioned, hearty fruit cake, not dry, not too moist but just right that I love. It’s an old family recipe apparently, and I hope that if Tara ever writes a book, she’ll share it there!

 Tara – a self-taught cook who previously ran a micro-bakery for a year – teaches breadkmaking and pastry classes, as well as a one-day workshop on creating an edible garden. She’s planning to add others later in the year. She’s an excellent teacher, reassuring to the beginners in the class, full of good advice, funny and knowledgeable.

I was there for the a class in making French breads. Essentially, a dough made using a poolish (a pre-ferment, where some flour, fresh yeast and water is mixed up and allowed to ferment for 12-18 hours; the rest of the flour, water, yeast and salt is then added, before kneading, rising, shaping and proving). We turned two batches of dough into fougasse (that’s Tara showing us how to do it, below), epi and an eight-roll loaf. There was kneading instruction, tips from Tara on fitting breadmaking into your day by using the fridge and freezer, shaping, baking, chatting and eating (more tea, more cake).

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The day ended, while the last of our loaves baked, with a cheese platter, bread Tara had baked earlier in the day and glasses of bubbly or cider (made using apples from the farm). And we were sent on our way with a bag with class notes, flour (in a lovely little branded calico sack – you can see that above, ready to be put to use in my own kitchen), some fresh yeast, a dough scraper and all the bread we’d made during the day. Those are my loaves below.

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So today I used Tara’s recipe to make a plaited tin loaf – started the preferment last night, made up the dough this morning, let it rise while I went shopping for the new phone (which took a lot longer than expected – a good thing it was a coolish day and the dough didn’t hurry along too much!) and shaped it when I got back.

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Above you can see the preferment at the top, and then the dough mixed up the next day, before kneading.

Tara taught a method of kneading I haven’t used before, a kind of grabbing and slapping down on the bench. It’s very satisfying, and effective, although I’d best not test the neighbours by using it if I’m making bread late at night or early in the morning! This is the dough, below, after several minutes of slapping, and then several more minutes of stretch-and-fold kneading.

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After the longer-than-planned rise, it was actually at just the right stage for shaping – divided into three, rolled into three long pieces and plaited, then tucked into a tin.

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And there we have it – a loaf created either side of a shopping expedition and posted here despite camera tech challenges! I thoroughly recommend Tara’s bread class if you’d like to learn how to make bread, or if you love breadmaking and would like to pick up some new tips and tricks. If you’d like to see more of Tara’s baking, you can also find her on instagram as @mysouthcoastkitchengarden

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The North Face 100 2014

 

About 18 months ago, I got the urge to do something a bit crazy. Two weeks ago, I did it – the North Face 100 ultra.

The race took me a bit longer than I expected, and so has getting this race report together, partly because I wasn’t going to do one, until I started reading those of other runners, and partly because I had a small hiccup in getting my race images. But here it is.

TNF100 had ups and downs, both physical (stairs, stairs, stairs…) and mental (er, stairs there too, actually…) but it was one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever done. Big thanks to Geoff Evison and Lisa Brentnall for encouraging me to go for the big one, rather than the 50km option. You see, outside some runs around the paddocks up at the family property in Qld, I’d done no trail running whatsoever when I entered TNF.  I hadn’t run further than 42km either, and I’d only done that twice, in two road marathons. So no trail experience, and I was going to do 100km over the ups, downs, ridges and creeks of the Blue Mountains…

Things didn’t start well. As Christmas, and the temptation to do less and eat more, approached last year, I came across an online run challenge: run every day from Christmas to New Year. Great motivation to keep active, but on New Year’s Day I woke up to discover my right knee was protesting this unusual running streak very, very loudly. Four days off to rest and all felt ok. Until I ran. A week off, and the same result. Another thanks goes to Lisa here, as she recommended a chiro who she said was brilliant with knees (Brett Edmunds at Paramount Sports) – and he was, although he was on holidays and I couldn’t get in to see him until the end of January. Between Brett’s magic hands and a careful return to running, I was eventually able to return to a decent training load. I was a good six weeks behind on training, but I was just happy that I was going to be able to toe the starting line, something that had looked pretty doubtful for a while.

In the lead up to the race I had a lot of fun buying gear – the mandatory gear list for this race is looooong, but I kept finding bargains. Very satisfying. I did pay full price for my new hydration pack, the Salomon S-Lab 12 Pack, but it was worth every cent. Love that thing.

So on to the race weekend…

My sister Laura was my crew for the race, and we drove up to Katoomba together on the Friday afternoon. We went straight to registration, and that’s where the nerves hit.

It had occurred to me several times during the week before the race that given my lack of training (only two excursions to the mountains, and only one run over 40km), swapping down to the 50km race would have been the sensible thing to do. And it occurred to me again at registration. Because here I was, undertrained, doing my first trail race, and with no experience of about half of the course, and around me were all these fit, confident people who clearly knew exactly what they were doing. I felt physically ill. But I completed registration. When we came back later that evening for the pre-race briefing, I felt sick again. But a stirring “welcome to country” helped rekindle some of the enthusiasm, and surprisingly, that night I slept fairly well.

On race morning, Laura and I, and Lisa and her support crew, and “Tall Geoff” Evison, who’d snagged a last-minute entry – we’d all shared a house ­– headed up to Scenic World. A huge thumbs up for the start/finish, lots of music and a great atmosphere.

Laura and I at the start. It was a bit chilly!

Laura and I at the start. It was a bit chilly!

 

I didn’t know anyone starting in my wave, but I was soon chatting to a gal beside me called Justine. And then we were off. Less than 2km later I realised I had forgotten to apply Body Glide, and given the length of time I was going to be out there, is seemed like a pretty bad omission. I stopped to put some on – if I’d realised there would be bottle necks at the stairs and the landslide, I would have done it then. Beginner’s mistake. But it was good to start with a few kilometres of road to get the legs moving.

Only 90-something kilometers to go...

Only 90-something kilometers to go…

We were soon through Checkpoint 1, at 10.5km, and I was right where I expected to be. Somewhere not long I tripped – on a flat piece of road – but there was no major damage so Justine helped me whack a plaster on my hand and on I went. I knew that after Checkpoint 2 there was a challenging climb ahead and my fantastic dietician, Rebecca Hay, had warned me I should eat before I got there.  I had made a mental note (actually, I’d made a note in bright red bold type on the little race plan I carried with me, detailing distances, expected arrival times, cut-offs and what would be available to eat. Yes, I do like a list…) to eat plenty at CP2. I filled my water bladder, went to the loo, ate some fruit and a muffin, and headed out, feeling fine. It didn’t last. There’s a small hill just out of CP2 and I think the combination of sudden effort after a break, and an over-full stomach, meant digestion didn’t kick in properly. By the time the climb up Ironpot started, I was feeling odd – not nauseous, but vaguely light-headed and with no energy. I fell over again. And my calves cramped on and off the whole way up, and along the ridge too. That doesn’t feel like the safest place for your legs to be doing unpredictable things! But seeing two guys up there, playing the didjeridu and the sticks, in front of an amazing view, reminded me what a privilege it was to be out there, in such fantastic surroundings.

One of the other brilliant things about this race was the other runners. I am just so amazed at what a friendly, helpful, lovely bunch ultrarunners are. Everyone seems to be out there to have a good time and, even when they are suffering themselves, offering encouragement. I ran most of CP2 to CP3 with the same small group and it was fantastic to share stories and hear about how other people had ended up doing this race.

CP3 was a welcome sight, as it was the first time I’d see Laura since the start. Laura is officially Super Support Crew. I’d packed everything in three separate labelled bags, one for each checkpoint she could come to, and asked her to put everything from the appropriate bag out on a blanket so I could see it all easily. (I read that somewhere; I can’t remember where, but I’m so glad I had, as it made checkpoints very low-stress. I saw quite a few people pawing through one big bag trying to find things, and looking various degrees of frustrated and desperate). I also made a list (like I said, I like a list!) for each checkpoint, so both of us knew exactly what I needed to do/eat/take each time. Laura not only put it all neatly out, she made me a banner that said “GO KYLIE” and managed to make me drink plenty at each checkpoint. That was the item on the top of each CP list. (At the bottom of each list it also said “forgive me if I am cranky”. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that!) She got me in and out of each checkpoint feeling happy and I got everything I needed each time.

The perfect check-point set up - with banner and all! This is at CP4.

The perfect check-point set up – with banner and all! This is at CP4.

CP3 to CP4 wasn’t too bad initially; mentally I was feeling fine after seeing Laura and then passing through some nice spots, including a very unexpected farm. But then we got to Nellie’s Glen…

My plan had been to eat several kilometres out from the foot of this 500-stair climb, and I did, but at the bottom I tried to eat something else and suddenly everything made me gag. And as soon as I started climbing, the cramps in my calves came back.

This was the low point in the race for me. It was a very slow ascent, and many times I thought “I can’t walk and I can’t eat, how can I possibly go any further.” But I was lucky to have someone behind me who kept encouraging me the whole way up. I was worried I was holding people up and she kept assuring me they didn’t want to go any faster and I was doing a good job. Thanks “other Kylie”!

The camping and inability to eat continued after the top of the stairs, but on the way into Katoomba for CP4, I had time to convince myself that if I wanted to quit, I could do it at CP5, but right now I had to keep going. I told myself Laura hadn’t taken time off work to come up to Katoomba so I could stop at 50km. And a few more personal things that reminded me giving up right then just wasn’t an option.

There’s also a small downhill section of bitumen on the way in that gave my legs a break and the cramping stopped. Thankfully, that was the last time I had to deal with that.

I tried to eat some of the supplied food at the checkpoint but that still wasn’t a happening thing. I filled my water bladder, drank some of my home-made sports drink (I’d made plenty to leave with Laura because I knew from experience it was one thing I could get down even when I didn’t feel good), changed into warmer clothes and finally managed to eat a bit of banana. So I grabbed another piece of banana, and a crust from one of the loaves of bread on offer, and headed off into the night.

This is where I got very lucky. I ran into a gal called Hailey who was limping a bit, and we decided we’d both be very happy to take it a little bit slower and we’d travel together to CP5.

Hailey's TNF pic

Hailey and I, heading down stairs… boy, were there a lot of stairs on that leg…

There are what feels like never-ending stairs between CP4 and CP5 and poor Hailey couldn’t climb them easily. Her injury was getting worse and worse, but she’s one strong woman; she just kept going and going, and she never complained once. By the time we got close to CP5 it was clear the pain must be pretty bad, but she just kept moving. When we popped out onto the road leading into the checkpoint, I asked if she would mind if I started running. The road was well marked and I could hear some other runners behind us, so I thought she’d be okay to make it in from there. Having taken things slowly, I’d gotten over the problem with eating, and been able to take in plenty of fluids, and my legs were feeling fine too. She waved me on, saying she was going to have a lie-down at the checkpoint and see whether things improved. I discovered later that she wasn’t able to go on, but she should be hugely proud of the guts she showed in getting to CP5. And I know she’ll be back next year to go all the way. Thanks for the company, Hails!

I trotted into CP5 feeling positively perky. Poor Laura had been out in the cold for ages waiting for me, but she was up and in Super Supporter mode as I arrived and helped me stock up, don another more clothes (including a second layer of gloves, nifty fingerless woollen ones knitted by my other sister, Allison) and get going again.

Progress wasn’t fast on this last leg, and the lack of training was pretty clear on some of the long climbs, but there was something really special about being out there alone in the night. I did pass a few other folk and we exchanged hellos, but for most of the last section I was by myself. We’d been very lucky with the weather, so it was a still, full-moon night, quiet and calm and not too cold. I guess that’s one bonus of being slow – the fast folk finish don’t get the chance to enjoy those quiet hours just after midnight.

The North Face 100 2014

Alone in the night… huge thumbs up to the photographers who set up all the cameras in scenic spots for the night shots.

By the emergency aid station at 91km I had realised I really didn’t need the extra layer I’d put on, so I stopped to strip it off.

Then it was a matter of counting down the kilometres. They felt like some of the longest kilometres I’d ever run, not the hardest, just long. But eventually I got to the bottom of the Furber Steps. I had to stop a couple of times on the way up, but near the top some folk had come down to encourage us back-of-pack runners who were trickling in after dawn and it was wonderful to hear the words “you’ve only got a few steps to go”.

Then it was along the boardwalk and into Scenic World, with a brief smile for the wit who’d put up a handwritten sign that said something like “the last stairs you have to climb” beside a small set of about five stairs on the way to the finish.

And suddenly it was all over, with Laura there to hug me and Tall Geoff there too, unexpectedly.

I'd say that's about 99.99 kilometres...

I’d say that’s about 99.99 kilometers…

It took me 24 hours and 36 minutes.

As we were walking back to the car, Geoff asked me if I’d do it again. “Ask me again in a day or two” I think I said. It only took one. I can’t wait. Bring on 2015.

Why? Because that was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The organisers and volunteers did a brilliant job (one of the many nice moments in the race was running into a former work colleague, volunteering at the 66km aid station), the checkpoints were all really well organised, with heaps of food even for those of us at the tail end, and the course was very well marked. The other runners were the friendliest bunch of people I’ve ever spent a day with, and the scenery is amazing. And because I want to do it faster, next time.

 

PS. I mentioned at the start that initially, I wasn’t going to write a race report. Then I read lots of others and it helped make the week after the race almost as much fun as the race itself. In one of those reports, the runner said he wanted to write it so he could thank a bunch of people. That was one reason I changed my mind and wrote this. A pile of people helped me get to the start, and to the finish: lots of fellow runners, including Denise, who loaned me equipment and gave me good advice, Matt M, who was so patient with my plodding pace on a training run  – I was SO glad to have done that second half of the course – and Lisa, who did a brilliant time and deserved it; Brett and Rebecca for the expert advice; David Jones, my personal trainer – all those kettle ball swings and squats definitely helped; Ant, for the bars; Pace Athletic, for getting me a Salomon pack when there were none to be had, Australia-wide; Geoff, for telling me there really wasn’t an excuse for not finishing, because the cut-off was generous and people could walk most of it and still finish in time – you probably didn’t expect me to take you quite so literally!; all the runners out on the course with me, especially Hailey; all the family and friends who thought I was crazy but wished me luck anyway, especially my Mum, who listened to me talk about the race for months and months and months; Allison, for the mittens, and the Facebook posts during the race – it was lovely to read after; and especially Laura, for lifts home after training runs, and for giving up her weekend and being calm and organised and everything else you could want in a support crew. And finally my Dad, who is often with me when I run. Thanks all.

(Pics during race by Aurora Images)

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Gluten-free bread making is challenging. Likewise, bread made in the breadmaker – my breadmaker, anyway – is a bit hit and miss. I’m usually happiest making a sourdough loaf, kneaded either by hand or in my trusty Braun mixer, then baked in the oven.

But I am a gadget girl and a few years back, I scooped up a bargain on eBay – a Breville breadmaker for, if I remember correctly, about $50.

So today I decided to use up some of the many odd flours I keep buying on impulse in the health food shop, and make a loaf of gluten-free bread in the machine. I don’t have to follow a gluten-free diet, but I do think it’s healthier not to eat wheat, wheat, wheat all the time.

I liked the look of this recipe by autumnmakesand does. I didn’t have all the flours she used, so instead my flour mix consisted of:
175g brown rice flour (in place of the millet and teff)
75g lupin flour (instead of the oat flour)
100g sorghum flour
50g tapioca flour (“arrowroot” is often actually tapioca)
25g potato flour (recipe says potato starch, but I used what I had)
1 tab (8g) xanthan gum
1 1/2 t salt flakes

I made a few other substitutions – a light olive oil in place of the canola oil; a tablespoon of white chia seeds soaked for 10 minutes in two tablespoons of water in place of one of the eggs – so two eggs, plus one “chia egg”; 1 teas of rice wine vinegar, instead of the tablespoon of vinegar in her recipe; and 2 teas (7g) of dried yeast. I also added a quarter cup of sunflower seeds and 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds to the dry mix.

My bread machine doesn’t have a program with a long rise, which is what she suggests, but it does let you set a custom cooking program, so I played with the times to create a program that mixed for 25 minutes, rose for one hour 55, skipped the punch down (two rises, with a knock back or punch down in between, is great for gluten-based breads but a destroyer for gluten-free ones, at least in my experience); and baked for 35 minutes. The baking time was a guess based on the times the breadmaker gave for other loaves. Just in case that wasn’t enough (and because I like the crustiness you get from oven baking) I turned the oven on to heat to 200C towards the end of the baking time.

I followed her method for putting the ingredients into the breadmaker. When it had been mixing for about five minutes, I used a spatula to scrape down the sides, so all the dry mix was then incorporated, and about ten minutes later,  smoothed out the top a bit . Just before the end of the mixing cycle, I sprinkled on another two tablespoons (14g) of sunflower seeds. I think it’s important to do any of these playing around steps before the rising starts – after that, every time you open the lid you let heat escape.

This is what the bread looked like once the breadmaker was done:

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I removed it VERY carefully from the baking bucket (I’ve had gluten-free breads shrivel in front of me when tipped out – but this one was actually quite sturdy) and gently removed the mixing blade from the bottom.

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I decided to give it ten minutes in the oven – here’s the final result:

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I Like this bread. Sure, it’s not the same as a wheat or spelt based bread, or even a rye, but for a gluten-free bread it gets a big thumbs up. It’s quite dense, but not sticky or gummy, as some gluten-free breads are. It’s not crumbly, or eggy, and it has a gentle flavour that’s vaguely reminiscent of a rye bread. It’s also surprisingly bendy for a gluten-free bread:

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It is a touch sweeter than a “normal” bread, but I had some for lunch with a mustard-based spread, ham and tomato, and it was just fine. And it is really rather more than fine schmeared with some butter or dairy-free spread and a good swipe of golden syrup!

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i made Anzac bikkies. That’s all.

Oh okay, you want the recipe? I used this recipe. Changes? It’s me so yes. Wholemeal spelt flour. And added 15g ground flaxseed and 20g white chia. Done. Off to eat another one.

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It was the littlest makebaker’s birthday earlier this week, so when she flew in from interstate for a visit yesterday, I made her a cake. Any guesses as to what sort of cake it is?

Cake slice

Nope, not banana, although there are fresh banana slices in between the two layers. It’s actually a flourless honey cake. And when I say flourless, I mean totally grain free. And dairy free. Win-win for folks with food intolerances. I used this recipe (you have no idea how close I came to actually throwing my laptop at the wall at this point in the post. Windows 8 is just +##%$##. Grrrr. I can’t actually get it to operate the create link function on WordPress. Not just a WordPress problem. So many things Windows 8 won’t let me do. Okay, I’ll stop now. But Grrrr. Finally resorted to inserting link via iPhone app)

Making a double recipe needs 3 cups of almond meal/flour. I had brazil nut pulp left over from making nut milk (not my fave, to be honest; macadamia milk on the other hand – yum!), so I thought I’d use that, and make almond meal myself using some of the big bag of blanched almonds in the freezer. But I suspect I didn’t leave it long enough to come to room temperature, as it wouldn’t grind finely, but instead ended up something like grains of sand:
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So in the end I used a mix of brazil nut pulp, almond ‘sand” and coconut flour. Which brings me to interesting cake diversion/drama number two. I’d popped a jar of coconut oil in warm water so it would liquefy. Which it did. Unfortunately, the jar tipped over and the lid wasn’t completely airtight so I ended up with jar of watery oily coconutty stuff. But since the recipe said to “pour the batter” and my mixture was more like cookie dough, I added some in anyway until the mixture looked more cakelike, then popped it into the pans and into the oven.

Twenty five minutes later, and I was feeling optimistic:

Cake in tins

And indeed, the birthday girl seemed to rather like the end result:

With candle

It’s frosted with a Nuttelex-honey-icing sugar frosting (inspired by the one on comfy belly website, but with loads of icing sugar added).

best eaten on the day if you are using fresh banana as it will go brown – but the birthday girl said she thought fresh strawberries would also go well in or on the cake, and I think she’s right. It would add a nice bit of color too. Of course, I’ll never be able to make this cake exactly the same again, as who knows what the water to oil ratio in that jar was – but I’m very happy I found this recipe. Thanks Erica for sharing over there at Comfy Belly (where you’ll find lots of good recipes if you are following a Paleo/GAPS/SCD or gluten-free diet).

Rhubarb & Orange Jam

I’m lucky enough to have not one but two farmer’s market within a short drive of where I live – even better, one is on a Saturday and one is on a Sunday. I haven’t been going that often the past few months – mornings have more often been devoted to biking and running! But today the weather was grey and drizzly, so the ride got done on the trainer in the garage, before a quick trip to the Saturday market.

I wanted to make a little thank you for a friend who helped fed my cat when I was away for a few days recently, and one for her father who every so often sends me a carton of eggs from his happy, free-range chooks. I decided to make jam – it keeps well, so it doesn’t matter if my friend isn’t heading home for a visit for a while. And I wanted to try some more microwave preserving – yes, you can make jam in the microwave! And to be honest, although I’ve only done it a handful of times, I’m a convert. It seems to be less messy, and require less active attention during boiling.

I grabbed two lovely big bunches of rhubarb at the market:

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It looks lovely with the green leaves still attached, but I must admit two big, long leafy bunches aren’t quite so easy to carry around a crowded market as the top-lopped stems I usually buy!

After chopping the tops off, I gave the stems a quick wash and scrub, using a recent purchase – an environmentally friendly vegie brush purchased from a great little company called Minimal Impact. I picked mine up at their stall at my Sunday farmers market, but you also find everything from bamboo toothbrushes to goat milk soaps at their website.

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(Yes, this picture is upside down!  I updated to Windows 8 the other day and I can’t figure out how to do ANYTHING since I did so. All my programs have gone, including Photoshop, and if I wait until I can reload it,  well, I know what happens when I think “I’ll post about that later, just take pics for now.” It doesn’t happen. So instead, I’m blogging within 30 minutes of screwing the lids on my jam jars. Post with dodgy photography beats no post, eh?)

The recipe I used is from a book, and I like to respect copyright, so I can’t share it here. However, I do want to share how very easy it is to do – basically, chopped rhubarb, orange juice and peel, sugar and water, cooked in the microwave! Even sanitising the jam jars is done in the microwave. The recipe was from a book called Microwave Dried Fruit & Other Fruit Delicacies. It seems to be long out of print, but it’s worth picking up if you see a second-hand copy. You can buy author Isabel Webb’s more recent book, 5-Minute Microwave Bottling, though. It does take longer than five minutes to make a jar of jam, obviously (the title refers to the fact that some recipes  involve only five minutes of actual cooking!), but this is a great little book, summarising 20 years of experience in making jams, chutneys and sauces in the microwave.  It’s full of handy information, from adjusting cooking times depending on the wattage of your microwave, to how to substitute honey, golden syrup or other sweeteners for sugar when making sugar syrups (using in fruit preserving).

It took me only about 45 minutes to make four jars of jam using this method, and less than half of that was hands-on. I sterilised the bottles in the microwave while chopping and washing the rhubarb, and then was able to head off and do other things while the jam cooked.

Of course, I haven’t put it to the final test – opening a jar and seeing how well it set! But it certainly passed the taste test – tart but sweet, with the orange adding that little extra bit of flavour.

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Next, I think I might try Webb’s recipe for Pineapple Salsa with green capsicum, ginger and mustard. Sounds like nothing I’ve ever had before, and that’s always intriguing!