"I love it when people tell me my ideas are impossible. It’s too hard, it’s too much, it’s too far. I think in a weird way, that doubt and uncertainty is the thing that gets me the most excited."
— Tyler Andrews
This recap begins a truly ridiculous 36 days which will include running Ultras of 80K (here, the Blue Mountain Express FKT on November 10), 100K (at Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB) on December 10, and finally 100 Miles at Ultra Trail Kosciusko by UTMB on December 16. Here’s part 1 and stay tuned for more updates over the course of these 36 days, which we’ll post here as well as daily posting on my own Strava and IG accounts.
November 10, 2022 - Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia
The 01:00am alarm was pretty brutal. I’ve done enough of these by now to know how to handle it, though: put in a piece of caffeine gum and then there’s not really an option after a couple minutes. I was glad to have a couple hours to putter and get ready, even had a call w/ Conor before heading out. We left a few minutes behind schedule and drove the ~40 minutes down to Glenbrook where the route would start. John drove and Jamie (Jase Trimmer’s son) was along for the whole experience to shoot some video.
We arrived and took a few minutes to pee and gear up and then, in the very quiet and dark pre-dawn, I finally gave John a fist bump and headed off into the unknown.
Chunk 1: Start (0km) to Woodford (26.5km) - 26.5km, 818m+
The route is a net uphill but actually starts w/ an increasingly steep road descent from Mt Victoria Train depot into Blue Mountain National Park. This is paved for a few km and then it hits a dirt road which gently begins climbing. It was perfectly dark and quiet and cool in the forest and I let the minutes tick by as the stars slowly dimmed and the eastern horizon began to glow.
After about an hour, dawn was breaking and I was right on pace. I turned off the headlamp and continued through beautiful trees as the road topped out this first climb and rolled up and down all the way to Woodford. I almost got clipped by a mountain-biker zipping down at some point, but mostly this section was boring and lovely. Just how I want to feel in the early stages of a long day.
I arrived in Woodford right on time (2h12, I’d predicted around 2h15) and was in and out with fresh bottles and more snacks in 71 seconds.
Chunk 2: Woodford (26.5km) to Lincoln Rock (46.5km) - 20km, 666m+
After running through the small town of Woodford, I found myself on another dirt road, this one much rougher and chossier than the first, which plunged steeply down into a valley. My feet were getting seriously banged up and twisted on the rocks (I was wearing HOKA Cliftons - a road shoe not really built for this terrain), but luckily it was short and I forded a small river at the bottom, which actually felt great on my then sore ankles.
From there, the trail was rocky and loose and steep, climbing up out of the valley and then easing up to a steady but still rolling uphill all the way to Lincoln Rock. This stretch seemed long and the rocks were really bothering my feet, but I knew the effort felt good and, at some point, I passed the halfway point, which felt great. I was looking forward to seeing John at Lincoln Rock and changing into real trail shoes for the techy part along the escarpment.
I arrived at 46.5km in 4h01 on the clock, just a minute behind my predicted pace.
Chunk 3: Lincoln Rock (46.5km) to West Katoomba (62.3km) - 15.8km, 711m
This was the most familiar stretch of the course and the most challenging. The route followed the maze of trails along the escarpment, with a constant stream of punchy ups and downs on steep, wet steps. The Aussies seem to really love their steps and, while I felt like I’ve definitely improved my steppy running ability in the last few weeks, it’s still a tricky thing for me, especially descending.
Luckily, I felt great and was excited for this part. Unlike the first few hours, which were pretty mindless, this cruxy piece required constant attention. It was lovely to engage my brain for the first time all day and really have to watch my foot placement and gage my pace a bit. One goal I’d set for myself was to run this entire section, which, with some of the long stair-case ascents, is not as easy as it sounds. But I did manage to do it, and even found the few longer stair-sections to be fun little challenges. I didn’t feel like I was digging too deep, as these were quite short and I was already in the second half of the run.
A side note: There were a few times where I told myself to pretend this was a 100K instead of an 80K. It’s funny because, on paper, I feel like 80-100K seem pretty similar. In practice, though, the differences seem really huge when you’re out there. I remember getting to 50K and thinking that 30K didn’t seem like that much to go, but half-way felt really long. And even more so at 60K when 20K felt totally doable while 40K seemed questionable. Really interesting.
Anyway, I think I was actually a few minutes quicker than I’d thought on this section. I was again excited to see John and Jamie and fuel up for the last chunk. The sun had come out by now and I was extremely thirsty, so I grabbed both bottles, changed back into Cliftons, and took off.
Chunk 4: West Katoomba (62.3km) to Blackheath (74.8km) - 12.5km, 383m+
Back on the roads now, this piece of the run was also unfamiliar, but I ended up really underestimating how hard it would be. My legs were pretty tired by now and the urban trail that led out of Katoomba was quite a bit rougher than I expected. I wound through some neighborhoods before linking up with the route that parallels the highway and leads up towards Blackheath.
I expected this to either just be on the highway’s shoulder or just a simple access road, but it was actually a mix of single-track trail, bike path, and rocky dirt road which rolled up and down relentlessly as the highway gently climbed. There were multiple times where I seriously considered cutting over and just running along the edge of the highway as my little trail would climb up and down and up and down while the highway would just climb like 10m.
At one point, I accidentally followed a single-track trail up a very steep hill under some power lines and then ended up in what was labeled a small graveyard and had to bushwhack down to cut onto the actual trail, well below me. I was getting cranky.
Finally, though, I popped out onto some roads and could see John, Jamie, and now Rachel standing in the road. I actually felt great suddenly running on flat pavement, so didn’t even slow down, but just gave some high-fives and tossed my penultimate bottle and continued onward.
Chunk 5: Blackheath (74.8km) to Victoria Station (81km) - 6.2km, 66m+
I followed the road through a quiet neighborhood and, coincidentally, right past the air BNB we’d stayed in a couple weeks earlier. The road ended shortly after that and I ran onto a very rocky trail along the side of the train tracks. The uneven surface torqued my ankles in a pretty uncomfortable way, but I was now counting down the kilometers, 6, 5, 4, and just focusing on the next landmark.
I truly gave myself position to dig a bit in this last stretch and actually found quite a bit of gas left. In retrospect (I didn’t look at my pace at the time), these were some of the quickest splits of the run, both in terms of actual speed and GAP. With about 1km to go, the trail cut under the tracks and spit me out onto the road in Mount Victoria where I had to play frogger to get across the Great Western Highway without getting hit by a massive mining truck.
But I did make it across and navigated the last few turns and could see the train station as I looped up and made a final right-hand turn and came down the final 200m, John, Rachel, and Jamie all waiting and spraying me down w/ bubbly water (in lieu of Champagne) as I came in and stopped my watch in 7 hours, 22 minutes, 58 seconds.
This was a really important day for a lot of reasons. I honestly had not been feeling fantastic -- or maybe, a better way to frame it, is that I had not been feeling consistently good -- for a while now. I’d had to DNF in Singapore and DNF at UTA (for very different reasons, but still, it’s a bad trend). Having a day where things really clicked and I pretty much performed exactly as I hoped and expected I would was the perfect way to turn that trend around.
And this starts off what is essentially the end of this season. I now have less than 36 days until Kozzi, and 30 days until Thailand. If this one had gone poorly, I’m not sure what I’d be doing, but I know my headspace wouldn’t be great. Now, I feel like I have the confidence to let myself recover well, not over-do it in training, and not have to prove anything to myself in these 30-some days, other than on race day.
My body feels well worked, but, even now writing this 26 hours after finishing, I can tell that I will rebound fine. I’ll treasure this memory from Katoomba as a beautiful romp through the Blue Mountains with some amazing folks.
On to the next one.
— Tyler Andrews
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