My last big race was the Northface 100, a trail run/walk covering 100kms of trails in the Blue Mountains.
It was the first event I tackled when I arrived back in Australia - a way to get back into the feel of running in the bush as opposed to the English countryside.
I was nervous as I hadn't competed in an event of this distance as a solo runner before and it has been described as one of the hardest technical challenges in Australian trail events. However I was fit enough and certainly had enough gear to cover all possibilities ( the mandatory gear list was very comprehensive to say the least!).
The only thing I didn't factor in was illness- I awoke in the early hours of race day suffering extreme nausea. I managed to eat breakfast and was determined not to pull out of the race.
It was tough from the first few kilometres in. Steep climbs and equally steep and treacherous descents meant a lot of the trail had to be covered at a walking rather than running pace. The weather was faultless- a crispy winter day with blue skies and sunshine. The scenery and terrain was magnificent and extremely challenging.
The continuing nausea meant I was unable to eat even half of the amount of calories I should have been consuming in a race of this length. By 40kms I found myself in a place I had never mentally experienced before- seriously doubting my ability to finish. I have had tough moments in other races but never where I actually considered the possibility of not finishing. By the 50km mark I was having an ongoing debate with myself- I really wanted to keep going and at the same time I really wanted to just sit down and not move a single step more.
Night had fallen, all thermal gear and layers had gone on and headtorches were in place. I came into checkpoint 3 at about 55km and after 11 hours on the go. It was cold at 6 degrees, dark and the temperature was still falling. At my current pace I had another 10 hours or so throught the night to go. Ahead lay the toughest part of the course ( which I had not covered before) and it would probably take me about three hours to reach the next checkpoint, if I reached it at all.
It took about 30 minutes for the first aid officer to convince me that it would be unwise to continue. As I signed the form to say I was withdrawing,I felt a surge of relief . I was done, I didn't have to struggle mentally or physically any longer. My race was officially over.
This feeling lasted until about two hours, a hot bath and a cup of tea later- then the intense disappointment at having not finished set in. It took me several weeks to get past the feeling of failing and to be able to look at it as a positive experience from which I learnt a lot about how much of a race is physical and how much is mental. Sometimes knowing when to stop and save your energy and will power to race another day is as tough as it is to continue when you feel like you have nothing left.There will always be another race - and really, however hard and challenging, at the end of the day it's just a race.
Having said that, bar illness or misadventure, I will be lined up early one wintery Saturday moring next year - a bit more experienced, a slightly lighter pack and even more determined to finish. The Northface 100 hasn't beaten me yet.