Monday, April 6, 2009

Adventures in Australia - Part I - The Mind Alpine Skyrun Ultra Marathon

Since the moment I met Norma at the airport in calgary, the next 3 days were pretty much a whirlwind of activity. We tried to get as much sleep as possible on the 14 hour flight, because we were travelling non-stop to get us to the pre-race meeting on 6:30 on Friday night and yes, we needed the sleep. When I met Norma, the first thing she said to me was "I'm so excited!" and the second thing was "I am so exhausted!". In Sydney, we picked up Jason Glass to make it a group of 3 before taking a connecting flight to Albury, a small country town. From there we picked up the rental and headed off to the mountains. We arrived, got settled in and made the meeting. Norma was exhausted and the race was starting at 4:30 AM the next morning. I was feeling a little tired myself and was glad it wasn't me running 100 Miles straight off the plane! Jet lag is a powerful thing. I have heard that the body needs 10 days to recover from a major sleep deviation. In this case, it was going to be mind over matter and I knew Norma certainly had the will power to overcome. Still, it was one of those things that had the potential to mess with you physically.

The Mind Alpine Skyrun Ultra Marathon is a new 100 miler located in Alpine National Park and the Bogong High plains. It is one of those beautiful places where a trail runner could easily stay and enjoy for a week or more. It also has an amazing hut system and you could fastpack and stay with a roof over your head every night. Judging by my experience, late March or early April is a great time of year to visit. The weather was perfect and best of all, we had the whole place to ourselves.

We knew the race was going to be just a little bit different as they bill themselves as "a group supported run" instead of a "self-supported race". Nice. The Mind Alpine Skyrun was also unique in that the course was NOT marked and all of the runners were required to navigate the course. This was going to be Norma's biggest challenge as her navigation skills were limited. We were hoping she would hook up with another runner and stay on track.

The team in action! Jason and Norma in the AM on Day 2.

On the first day, the first aid station was located a 4km walk from the end of a twisty-turny gravel road. After runners most of the runners came and went, we still hadn't seen any sign of Norma. The co-race director was convinced that they were lost or went off course. I was worried, as she had already been running around the Australian bush for 9 hours without any aid. Finally she came through and had indeed gone off course, but fortunately had hooked up with a team of relay runners who had a GPS unit. Team Elmtree was a group of recreational walker/runners and who were very new to trail running and would stay the course with Norma, for the duration of the event. The race director also told me that I could run with Norma if I wanted to which I said: "I didn't know we were allowed to do that!" to which he replied: "No worries, I'm making it up as I go!"
Paul Ashton, the Race Director "making it up as he go's!"
It was a whole new attitude for an ultra and I loved and appreciated this outlook. We would appreciate this flexibility and the "No Worry's" Aussie outlook of this "mutually supported run" later in the race. I got to run with Norma for 22k and make sure she was on track. She was most definately on track, but just moving slow with the effects of the jet lag and a few big ultras recently under her belt. We continued along with the Elmtree boys, who a great distraction and good company, while I nagged Norma to eat more and drink more.

Getting to run with Norma was awesome, I enjoyed getting to know her a little bit better. I have a huge admiration for people who go and pursue their dream and don't take "no" for an answer. The woman is simply amazing and has lived more in 42 years than most! She has some incredible stories to share and lights up when she talks about her two boys. Her race report is here.

At 2:00 in the morning, after 21 hours on her feet she made camp on top of a mountain near the end of stage 3. Team Elmtree and Norma weren't going to make the cutoff, so at this junction the race director decided that there was going to be a new 120 km event so that Norma and Team Elmtree could continue their race. How cool is that? After a good sleep of 4 hours, she awoke refreshed and rejuvenated and took off running with a new fire under her butt. When she rolled into stage 4 transition with Paul, she was looking stronger than she had in the entire day previous. Paul encouraged me to run the next 30km stage with Norma, so I threw on my Camelback and headed out for a full day in the sun. The day was beautiful, Norma was moving strong and the scenery was inspirational. We ran with Paul for the first 7k before re-joining Team Elmtree for the remainder of the day.

Just follow the Giant Poles!
During this stage, we got a good feel for the Bogong High Plains. There was a flat section on the plains, where we followed these poles for a long time. The poles are used because it is common for there to be fog so thick that you can't see the next pole and people get lost! It felt a lot like the flat high country of Wyoming or parts of Colorado, except of course, the vegetation was a lot different. This area felt wild and remote and we didn't really run into any people all day. We did however come across a herd of Australian Brumbies! Most of the herd took off, but these 3 guys were a little more curious. The one guy was giving me the hairy eyeball and making me nervous.

They are wild, I swear!

All smiles on the Bogong High Plains

The day heated up quickly and by mid afternoon it was about 25c. We hadn't crossed any water crossings in many hours and at the bottom of a huge descent there was a very rewarding small river which we re-filled from. We also enjoyed a glorious soak of our shirts, hats and heads to help us cool off before heading off on a big ascent in full sun. Norma let out a squeal when she put on her soaked shirt and shouted "Wet T-shirt contest!" but I was definitely out-gunned, if you know what I'm sayin'!! Norma continued to move strong and I marvelled that her pace on Day 2 was significantly faster than it had been on Day 1. She just needed a few hours of good sleep to rejuvenate. We got to enjoy the company of Craig and Luke, who were again a great distraction for Norma and fun company for us.

Luke and Norma as they near the Mount Hotham Alpine Resort

We were rewarded with some glorious views and could also see the transition zone off teasing us off in the distance. Jason was there waiting for us with the rest of the Elmtree crew and he had enjoyed spending some quality time with these fun folks. When we reached the final transition, Norma had only 18km to go! This 18k was mostly technical downhill and in the dark all the way to the finish line. She finished strong and had loved the last stage in the dark. With motivition to find the finish line, they ran most of the final stage. With the help of the Elmtree boys, Norma and friends reached the finish line around 10:30PM with big smiles, happy and tired!

Paul, Master of the GPS and great company!

Overall, this race was a unique and fantastic experience in an incredibly beautiful place. Norma herself said that this has been the race that she enjoyed the most. After running a few ultras and frequently running alone for many hours, she appreciated the company and the support of her fellow runners in this event. It was awesome! This was most definitely a "group supported run" in every sense and we couldn't have done it without Team Elmtree and Paul Ashton. We were truly blown away with the Aussie hospitality and encouraging vibe of this race. So again, a big Thank-You to Paul Ashton and Team Elmtree for making this a great experience.

An even bigger thanks to Norma for making me a part of her support crew and this unique experience! Thank you so much.

So a small sidebar.

What's a girl today after 19 hours of travel and rolling off a bus into Banff on a sunny spring day? Go for a run, of course! O.K, it was a leisurely walk. Up Sulphur Mountain! While travelling and seeing new places is one of my favorite things, it sure is great to come home to a place like Banff.

Me, yesterday with jet lag. Home at last!


Leslie's Keith said...

Welcome Home Leslie!



Danni said...

I think Keith missed you! That race sounds awesome -- I love flexible RDs. And that picture made me suddenly very hungry for noodles. Nice work on Sulfur Mountain. You are an animal. I actually think you could run 100 miles any day and whoop the competition. Seeriusly.

Unknown said...

What a great post! That sounds like such a wonderful adventure with some great people.

Journey to a Centum said...

Terry and I ran a few miles with Norma at the Canadian Death Race last summer. We nick named her the Dirty Girl from Calgary which she rather liked. It was of course because she was wearing Dirty Girl Gaiters with the skull and crossbones on them.

Sounds like a wonderful adventure for you both. I think we should all improve our GPS skills so we can be ready for events like this.

PS - I got word today that I'm being laid off at the end of the month. I'm not finding many new products being developed in the current economy. Those I have found are dragging their feet for release. With Michelle also having her program killed by budget cuts at the college we have a double whammy going here. We will both be scrambling to seek new employment so we can make our dream run this summer. We will keep you posted on our progress. The door to new opportunity has swung open!

Gretchen said...

Wow Leslie, you have the greatest adventures! This sounds like a ton of fun, and I was also totally inspired by your Marin Headlands adventure. I am totally going to do that trip--it's only half a day's drive away!
Thanks for the great photos, stories and inspiration!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Sounds like a fun adventure.

It looks like I'm going to miss you at Diablo in a couple of weeks. I'll be pacing the lady for her half-marathon in Santa Cruz...

Hmmmm, when are you coming down here next after that (in a non-sneaky way)?

JeffO said...

What a whirlwind month you've had! Great posts! Great photos!

CoyoteGirl said...

Wow! Fantastic! Thanks for sharing the story and pictures. I envy you!

Gary Robbins said...

As ALWAYS, I love the stories and pics!! Keep up the good work, and by that I mean doing such a great job at LIVING your life!!

Norma Bastidas said...


I love your race report, it makes me look better that I really am. One thing though, this was the race that I have enjoyed the most. It felt more like and adventure that a race

thanks for coming along, and thanks for the laughs


Leslie said...

Hey thanks everyone for the fun comments!

Your so funny. Thanks for the vote of confidence! NOW go get some know you want to.

Hi Chad and welcome! A most excellent adventure!

Hi Eric!
OH MY GAAAAARSH! That sucks Eric, but I like your attitude. The door to opportunity has swung open! You and Michelle will create something golden, I know it!

Thanks Gretchen! You've GOT to do that trip. You'll love it and it's a good fix. It's really fantastic, it's hard to believe it's so close to civilisation. We shall see you in Diablo, make sure to come say howdy dudey.

Hi Dave! bumma we'll miss you next weekend.....but I'm coming to Western States Camp! I've convinced Danni, with Meghan a definite "maybe...."!! Have fun with the lady and hope the wedding planning is going smoooooooth.

Hi CG and has been a whirlwind and I'm glad to share! The exciting part is I'm not done yet...a few more adventures planned for girl. My boy is coming on the next few!

Hi GR, Gotta' live to LIVE!

And finally....hi Norma! Superstar! Super Mom! Super Woman! What a great adventure we had! Don't you have like 10 other things to do right now? You fit more into your days than ANYONE I know! Thanks for bringing me along for the ride!

chilli said...

Hi Leslie, just discovered your blog recently and the great writeup on the Alpine 100. Boy it must pale into insignificance compared to some of your local trails ! Anyway it was great to meet you and Norma in Aus albeit briefly. You can download my report (stages 1 and 5) below, mainly for the photo's i'd imagine.

Cheers from Aus,

Dexter Nicholson said...

Just saw your blog and was just amazed on the pictures of the mountains. are you sure that those are wild horses though? I haven't really known that there are still wild horses or something. Anyways, I loved the snow covered mountains. Seems a really exciting adventure for you guys....

chilli said...

Dexter, there are hundreds of them on the high plains in the Australian Alps, completely wild. More here :
Australian Brumby.

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