Climber Than Most.
Updated: May 23
Neverest Race Report:
Start. Down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up down up. Finish.
The 2018 Alpine Challenge was in some ways a disappointing event. Yes, Hardrock withdrew the qualifier status of the race based on course changes, but that the elevation was reduced made it a hard race to enjoy. Elevation gain is my game.
For Neverest my training plan is just to train on hills as much as possible, but this is only really feasible if you’ve got a hill very near your home. And since Mutsumi and I move around a lot, sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. In January we do. Then in February we don’t, so I turn to cycling hill repeats. If hills are involved it counts, I figure. I never miss a day and depending on our digs, I’m running or riding Mt. Jerrabomberra, Black Mountain, Mt. Majura, Mt. Rogers, Tralee Hill, Isaacs Ridge, Mt. Mugga Mugga or in the Wanniassa Hills. Probably smiling.
Since Matt’s preparing for the CBR24hr track race at AIS on March 16-17 we haven’t been running together much. The deal is I crew for him and he crews for me. Despite the opposed training plans, we do hit the track together a couple of times. He’s talking about laps and pace and a goal of 200 kilometers. Whoa, I think. I’ve never done that. “What’s your plan,” he asks. “Simple, 500 meters of elevation gain per hour.” I’m enjoying running on the track like I enjoy motion sickness. “I’m feeling strong on the hills,” I say, “I reckon a podium finish is possible”. Without turning his head Matt just says, “If after 6 hours it looks like you’re not going to win, I’m going home.”
At the CBR24hr Matt gets his 200km - of course he does - nabbing 3rd place. But it’s hard. I don’t know how many times I told him to put on the Vaseline, the sunscreen, to eat more. But he finishes chafed, blistered, cramped. He's left everything he had on the track: a truly impressive effort. He needs assistance to stand. He vomits. It’s hard to see him like that. Is this what’s going to happen to me next weekend?
1. Action shot. 2. Matty G gets the 200km! 3. With baby Gabriel: "that's where I spewed."
It’s a busy work week, and the tiredness from crewing is still with me on Thursday. After work on Friday I drive to Mt. Ainslie summit, picking up Mutsumi in town on the way. It’s a little early, but there are a bunch of other runners already there setting up. My parents have turned up to cheer me on. They’ve already been for a walk to checkout the course. A guy sets up next to me and starts talking. He says he’s just going to take it slow and aim to finish in 18 hours. Either he hasn’t really thought through his plan, or the field is stacked with world-class mountain runners.
Photos are taken and the race director says “go”. The first few laps are quick and strange. My watch won’t find a GPS signal, there are a couple of guys out in front, Jack and Travis, who appear to be sprinting. I talk to a few runners as I overtake. Dave, a local, tells me that last year only he and one other guy finished. Roy, who has come from Sydney, tells me he’s taking it slow, just 4 ascents per hour. This would have him finished in 13 hours 15 minutes. I’m not good at race planning but I’m starting to feel like I’m better than some. After a few laps Matt tells me I’m in fourth position. That’ll do for now, I think. After lap 12 he says, “you’re now in 3rd”. After lap 14: “you’ve moved up into 2nd”. Mutsumi is making sure I’m well-fed but Matt is there for the graveyard shift so she can go home. It’s getting late.
By lap 17 I’m feeling a bit chafed. When I top the stairs there are a lot of people just standing around, I can’t really think why there are so many, but I have more important things on my mind. I call out: “Matt, I need the Vaseline.” He’s surprised to see me but launches into action, “it’s for my butt crack.” Without missing a beat he calls back, “You want me to apply it for you? I’ll use a stick.” as I lube the sore spots Matt says, “The other guy took a rest, you’re officially in first place.” I don’t need a rest, so I take a drink and head back down the hill thinking first place is nice, maybe I can even hold it for a few laps. There are still 72 kilometers and 6000 meters of climbing to go.
1. Powering up hill. 2. The night. 3. Morning: trying to remember to remove the headlight (Photos: John Harding).
Matt says, “have a gel, keep your sugars up”. But I just want celery, so I eat the celery and jam a gel in my pocket. “I’ll eat it on the way back up” I say. After the lap he says, “did you eat the gel?” It’s still in my pocket. “Eat it,” he says, “you’re on course record pace.”
Matt pitches a tent and gets some sleep. At some point I decided to change socks. I sit down, confused about how to do it. Toe socks just seem complicated in this moment. But I manage to lube my toes and get them all in the right pockets. It takes me eight minutes. This is my longest break in the whole race. Fresh socks feel amazing.
After lap 30 I start seeing a guy bomb the descent. It’s crazy, there are still 23 laps to go, but he keeps doing it. I figure if he can keep doing that for 20 laps he deserves to win. I’m suffering but I keep pace. Around lap 36 he catches me on the descent and we talk briefly. Jimmy is his name, and he says this a training run for the Down Under 135. I’ve held the lead for about 20 laps, so I don’t mind if he takes the lead. But then I run a flat section and catch him. And he stops to talk to someone (turns out to be his partner, Elizabeth, who will be one of two female finishers). After that I don’t see him for several laps.
1. Downhill in a daze (Photo JH). 2. Mutsumi, breaky and smile (JH). 3. How many Ainslies make an Everest.
Mutsumi and my parents arrive. Mutsumi has brought a thickshake for me, which I’ve been looking forward to, but when I get it I can’t taste it. At some point I’m telling Mutsumi and Matt something like: “Gimme the thickshake. Wait no, I want the gherkin juice. And a drink.”
At lap 45 I take a look at Jimmy's laps and count 38. That’s a comfortable lead. But something weird is happening with time. On lap 47 I see him bombing the hill again. He hasn’t passed me but I stop to check his lap count again: 45. What?! Matt has now gone home to his family and he’s the only one who can help me figure this out. Did Jimmy not mark off his laps for a while? Why haven’t I seen him? Did I miscount? (probably). I need to keep my head together.
Fortunately the remaining laps are now few enough that I can count them with my brain. I push. I get back to mark a lap, drink, go again. As I approach my 50th summit Elizabeth asks “is this your last lap?” I think she has asked me this on each of the last five laps. “No, three more” I say. Then under her breath I hear her say “ugh, get on with it.” A crowd at the top is yelling “go Jimmy!” There’s no way he could be right behind me. I look and realise it must be another Jimmy, but it’s hard not to panic.
With 50 laps down, I feel a boost and suddenly I’m running again. I run all the way down, then turn around and run up all but the steepest sections. I’m so fast coming back that my crew aren’t expecting me for another 10 minutes. No point calling them over, I mark a lap, drink, and go. Down, up. I call out, “last lap.” Mutsumi says “I’m coming with you.” I mark a lap, drink: GO! The pain doesn’t matter now. I’m coming back up as Jimmy is on his way down. I’ve maintained my near 2 lap lead, he stops to shake my hand. It’s a good moment.
The legs are feeling sore. I’m ready to finish. I climb and climb. At the top they’re holding a string of prayer flags up for a finish line. I mark off my last lap, bow to the crowd, then to the mountain. 19 hours 3 minutes. It’s a new course record.
1. Finish line. 2. interviewed. 3.gotta brush those teeth.
Congratulations to the other 5 finishers, especially Pam Muston who was the first woman to complete the course, doing so in 24 hours 24 minutes.
Thanks also to Mum & Dad, Matt, Greg, Anonymous, Polly, Shubra, Shane and Susan who donated on my Raisely page to support the Himalayan Foundation!