1st-3rd September 2017 – Race Report
Well better late than never. This event was the dream goal, but dreams, when turned into reality sometimes becomes something of a different reflection on life. My story may be heartbreaking but I know deep down I did achieve my dream of running this ultimate event.
No words could describe this event and the surreal feeling of crossing the finishing line.
It was a dream come true yet the lead up into this event was something I had not or ever could have been prepared for. For all that are thinking how and why what drove me to this challenge was a story on its own. In 2015 I decided to attempt my first 100 miler and for anyone who know me well I always choose something challenging. So the Alpine Challenge in the Victorian Alps (an unmarked course) was chosen. Being close to my home state and always keen to see Mt Bogong from the top, the views sounded adventurous. Along with some encouragement from a fellow trail runner planning to do the same event. (I am truly Thank you Stuart Wright) In our training during ridiculous hours he mentioned the UTMB (the ultimate world trail event). Me being always curious did the research and thought how crazy is that and my adrenaline started pumping. I rang my father who soon did the Mr Google search and said ” Are you crazy, we laughed..but what a challenge and how awesome would that be”. So there it sat in the back of my mind whilst in training in up to the event. During the Alpine Challenge I finished with the support by a runner who had just completed the UTMB. He (Matt Piper) had spoken of the excitement and venturous experience he had. By the time we had crossed the finishing line he told me if I could survive this race I could do the UTMB. So the challenge was set.
My challenge did come with sacrifices. Finding qualifying races and long intensive training programs all demanding on your personal everyday living both emotional and financial. I could not have achieve this goal without a very supportive husband and financial suffice. In stating that we did see the world and met some amazing people along my journey. I remember being presented with my trail passport certificate by the UTMB race director Kathy at New Zealand Terrawerra, 106km, I told her “I will be at the UTMB start line one day, she responded in her very little English…I believe you will”.
When I received the email that I had been accepted into the event I had just moved from my country town Rockhampton after 23years to the suburbs of Brisbane. I had just started employment back into my comfort zone with a company I was overwhelmed to become part of. It did come with some travel time and long hours but did not stop my passion for running the trails several times a week. So my dream suddenly become true in parts of my life. But I soon found work, my husband working away during the week and new work demands doubting my abilities and possibilities of achieving such a dream. My father was in his last stages of fighting cancer and family demands was also mentally challenging. My training soon become my survival to life in itself, now the realization that my father was not going to be here when I stood at that start line was heartbreaking. I was being attack by the worse, the mental challenge. My father fought for our country and paid the ultimate suffice from being a Vietnam Vet. He suddenly become fallen to the evil disease, prostate cancer which he fought for 5 years. I knew my determination came from him. In July only a few weeks before I stood at the UTMB start line my father passed. My hurt was indescribable, my heart ached and my training become hard and bought tears. I felt broken, lost and now lost my biggest fan. I was falling apart yet my ultimate dream was at the doorstep. Then suddenly to just push the last button, my bank account was hacked. Suddenly I was broke, all my savings stolen. No amount of empathy and security from my bank through insurance could comfort me. No guarantee of ever seeing the full return of these funds was unforeseeable. I was now mourning for the loss of my father and for my hard earned saving for the adventure. I will never deny my training sessions often ended in tears and I started to doubt my ability. I never thought my heart could ache and hurt so much. Deep down I knew I had to achieve my ultimate goal knowing my father was still going to with me all the way.
Fate was not going to make it that hard. After 12 months of moving to my new township I had grown some amazing friendships. My local running club Springfield Runners Group and Brisbane Trail Runners soon become my support. Some amazing people come to assist in raising funds along with some amazing support getting me to the UTMB start line. I soon realized I may have lost my biggest fan and father but had been given a huge family right at my front door. Their support was amazing and to be honest they kept me strong throughout the tough times of the event and their ongoing supporting words from across the world throughout the event kept me positive and determined to cross the finishing under such extreme conditions. I crossed the finishing line on Australia’s Fathers Day, I shed tears that day. I was tired, fatigued, my body ached but at no time did I not believe I could not finish. At times I believed he was pushing me, giving me the mentally strength I needed to get there. Here I was at my dream goal in tears fighting climbs in sleet, snow and blistery winds but when the sun did shine so did I knowing that finishing line I will cross.
During the race I watch participants withdraw in tears either due to injury or under the decision of the race organizers. I soon become determined not to become one of them. The language barrier was a big hurdle and with changes in the course due to weather conditions made it difficult to know what was happening throughout the event. At times I felt alone even though I was gridlocked on climbs and descents in the first 24 hours all attempting to keep within cut off times, knowing the next climb was going to be just as tough and weather conditions were playing a bit factor. It was a game with Mother nature playing the cards. On the second night I left the check point tent entering yet another night of rain and coldness on the tops. I had quickly re-layered with additional night warmth knowing fatigue was going to quickly cause my core body temperature to drop. I left with a Canadian named Tara suffering with shin splints (later finding out she actually had a fracture). I was comforted by finally hearing the English language and that we were both about to go through our second night with the night demons. We fought through the night together talking about anything to keep us awake and focused. Tara become an inspiration talking about her career and her travels as an ultra runner. She is an amazing woman to be able to cross the finishing line with a fracture. We had visualized crossing the line together but parted prior to the final checkpoint due to Tara having stomach issues and concerns with the cut off times. I left her with tears and the anxiety waiting for her to cross the finishing line before cut off was emotional. Once I heard her name called I could not wait to see her. We were both in pain but hers was intense yet her smile of achievement was amazing. Tara I am truly grateful to have spent the time we did on the trail. We both fought demons that night and succeeded. Thank you for the photos of the snow, where you were able to take off your gloves and I was still hallucinating and more thinking of warm soup and the warmth of Italy at the bottom of the Swiss Alps. :-).
I drank soup so salty that you would usually return to the chef or pour down the drain. Bread so dry that seemed amazing at the time. So much swizz chocolate ( so please hold yourself back from sending me chocolate as a gift), cheeses and crackers and coffee shots become part of my checkpoint necessary survival. Crossing the finishing line that day was so emotional no words could describe it. I cried with happiness. My body hurt, I was tired beyond imagination. But that was not what the tears were for, the tears were for the Facebook message to my father saying “I Did It” I just crossed the most amazing finishing line. Deep down I know he was with me the entire way. I miss you so much Dad beyond what I ever thought it to be. I believe every finishing line will hurt but will be more satisfying knowing you will still be with me and no longer will you be in pain.
I never dreamed of going into a summer race fighting Sleet, Snow and blistery winds off the Swiss Alps. Running above the clouds, watching the ground turn white from snow and feeling the sun hit your skin as it rises in the morning on the summits. If that is not a beautiful dream enough nothing will be. Recovery has been longer than ever anticipated with a bout of pneumonia and chronic fatigue but my passion for the trails is still under my skin. I have been asked many times since my return, “So what is next?”…to be honest I have no idea. I reach my ultimate goal at 45 years of age. I will still be seen on the trails but now it is time to payback my gift to others. Giving is so much more satisfying than receiving. As all runners know racing at qualifying levels comes at a cost at all levels. At some time you know when its your time to step back and just give.
I still have so many words to describe this amazing event. That will be a story on it’s own.
I have so much writing of my journey that will be a challenge in its self. I have met so many amazing, inspiring people who need their stories told and how they have inspired me to follow my dreams. I believe my Kathryn’s Running Tales have just began.
#Love my Running 🙂