Friday 22 February 2019

Stolz wie Oscar!

tl;dr: fucking awesome event. do it.

In German there's a saying "Stolz wie Oskar sein" which translates to being proud as Oscar and it means you're really happy about something you achieved. Oscar is the oldest son of Shell and Andy and diagnosed to be on the spectrum. He is the spark why we're doing this ... and of course he's a pretty awesome kid.

Only downhill from here

Oscar's 100 Hut 2 Hut for Beginners 

You've never done an 100 km event before or you just want to push yourself. Welcome, you came to the right place. I've done some interesting stuff but it's always more fun to punish yourself when it has meaning. This post is for those who want to do the three-day Hut2Hut event and need a bit of an introduction. Let's face it: If you can do the two or even one day event, you already know what you're doing, right? That said I'm not a runner but I've finished in 2019. Now why are we doing this? It's pretty simple:
  • Great Cause
  • Great Course
  • Great Crew
We got a little group of adventurers together to raise funds for two great local charities which are close to home and our hearts - Irabina and Mansfield Autism Statewide Services. Autism still doesn't get the attention, understanding and funding it needs so we did something about it. 

4 Mile Spur in the morning
We had six runners who started the race but only three got across the finish line. Yes this is brutal and one of the hardest 100 km events you can find in Australia. That said - you can't fail this event. The outlook of punishing yourself is so daunting that you're already a winner once you give it a try.

Five of us tried the three day event (overnight stops at Lovicks and King Hut) while Bich aimed to hit this in one go. The event is designed to push you to your limits and brutal cut-off times should infuse some anxiety so you know what autistic children have to face every day. The overall drop out rates seem to confirm that this is working. I had my low points where I was wondering why am I doing this but the reminder was always there on my race bib: Oscar. I am fortunate enough that nobody in my family is struggling with autism, mental health or any other issues but the thought that people appreciate my effort and I can raise money and awareness for some who are less fortunate kept me going.

Enough babbling.

The Course

Now let's get into. The course is very similar to the Buller Huts Trail which is a 7-day hike. Let's chop off 4 days and add a couple of 100m of elevation et voilà you got yourself a Hut 2 Hut course. You can have a look at my strava track here but that won't tell you much so let me break it down. I've marked the evil and gruesome sections in red. When you're on them remember that you can't win the race on these sections - but you can lose it! I'll get back to them in the training section. Although the first two days don't have official cut-off times, the sweepers will still clean you up at their discretion. 

Hut2Hut Course Overview

Day 1 - 37.5 km

  • Start to 4 Mile Spur - this is basically the warm up. You're pumped and it's not much of an effort. Go for it. If you can bypass a lot of hikers, chances are you're not getting stuck behind them on the next section.
  • 4 Mile Spur - you basically descend the highest elevation change possible in Victoria in one hit 1400m before breakfast which means your knees take a beating right from the start. The Staircase at Bogong is far less brutal >> train going downhill on rugged and steep terrain. 
  • Howqua Valley - this is a pleasant single trail along the river. If you can, hit it. This is a prime opportunity to make some good time but leave a lot of energy for what's coming next. If it's a hot day, it is worth considering to put the foot down so you're on 8 Mile Spur before the heat strikes.
  • 8 Mile Spur - what goes down, must come up. This is where the first big bulk of participants DNF (Did Not Finish). Avoid my mistake at Refrigerator Gap aid station and don't stuff your face. You still have to get up The Bluff. 
  • The Bluff - from Refrigerator Gap you have to climb to the top of The Bluff. If it's a sunny day, you're getting cooked on top of being exhausted. Again don't rush it or you'll DNF. Once you're at the top, it's a fairly easy hike to the Bluff Hut where the Peninsula 4X4 Club will give you a warm welcome. 
  • Bluff to Lovicks Hut - now you're on the home-stretch for day one. This is on a 4WD track so it's best to take it slow. Save your energy for the next day. Once you arrive, your camp hosts the Port Phillip 4WD Club will look after you.
Elevation Profile - Hut2Hut vs. Oxfam 2019

Day 2 - 34 km

  • Lovicks to AAWT turn off - again you're on a graded 4WD track so go for it.
  • AAWT turn off to Vallejo Gantner Hut - this is the easier part of the wilderness area. It's a single trail which can be run at times so you might as well go for it to avoid time in the heat later in the day.
  • Cross Cut Saw - the track is rather technical which means it wears you out. Fast. Once you hit Mt Buggery, the terrain eases off a bit but you still have a good climb all the way up to Mt Speculation. After that it's a short ditch down to the aid station at Camp Creek
  • Speculation Road - this is the longest flat stretch of the whole course. Unless you're keen to arrive at camp super early, take your time and prepare yourself for the next upcoming challenge.
  • Muesli Spur - this is a Schlampe (aka fucking bitch). If you thought 4 Mile Spur was hard, you'll hate this shit. It basically is a rocky path which just goes steeper and steeper and steeper until it's almost vertical. Losing your footing will have dire consequences so play it safe. Once you're past the boulder-field, the hard bit is done and you're on the home-stretch.
  • King Basin Road - this is only 1km once you hit the road again. Run into camp, get a hero's welcome from the Yarra Valley 4X4 Club and enjoy the evening among friends at King Hut.

Day 3 - 28.5 km

Now keep in mind that the third day has - unlike the others - rather anxiety infusing cut-off times. You need to be across the finish line by 12 noon which leaves you 7 hours and a lot of participants finish with less than 60 minutes to go. Your average pace needs to be at least 4 km/h including breaks! I'll give you my times and my recommendation what should be the latest time when you should leave the check-points so you're finishing (philipp / recommended latest / cut-off). 
  • Climb to Craig's Hut (p: 6:30 / rl: 7:00 / co: 7:30) - this morning starts with a river crossing. Depending how your feet are holding up, you should choose wisely whether you're marching through or better take your shoes off. After that it's JAFC (juste une autre putain de montée). Technically easy and after a good night sleep this shouldn't be too hard ... except that now the clock is ticking!
  • Craig's to Geelong Grammar Hut (p:7:20 / rl: 8:00 / co: 8:30) - It's a short stint over a 4WD track however there are a lot of loose rocks. This is definitely ankle-twist territory so be careful. At the same time it's also a good opportunity to make good time.
  • Geelong Grammar to Howqua Gap Hut (p: 8:00 / rl: 8:50 / co: 9:00) - the section of the trail is pretty much similar to the previous one except much more downhill. If you can run steeper trails downhill fast, this is your place to shine.
  • Howqua Gap Hut to Village Circuit Road* (p: 9:05 / rl: 10:40 / co: ---) - here you're basically bypassing Corn Hill on some old 4WD track and a lot of MTB trails. There's no steepness and you just have to keep a good pace.
  • Home Run (p: 10:00 / co: 12:00) - this is the last one to one and a half hour of the event. If you haven't kept yourself hydrated and fed, you'll pay for that now. Once you made it to the summit, you got it in the bag. Now you'll be so stoked that you'll fly off the mountain over the finish line. Take it all in because you deserve it!

*This is not a checkpoint but gives you an indication how you're going for time.

The Training

Personally I don't think there's much of a point about training on the trail. The track markers are superb and you almost can't get lost - unless you master intentional stupidity. However I do recommend to do at least one of the red sections in advance so you get a feeling for the ruggedness of the terrain - especially if you haven't done things like that before. The other thing worth considering is to do day three as a test-run. If you make it in time, it's a good boost in confidence and if you don't, you know you got work to do.
Of course the the area around the Cross Cut Saw and Vallejo Gantner is pretty spectacular. If you can organise a car shuffle or swap, absolutely do it! 

My preferred training pack
In general I did two things: Normal running and hiking with a pack. I don't need to explain how running training works since there are roughly 2.405.215 training plans available on the internet. If you own a Garmin device, you'll find them at Pick one ... or just start running. If you didn't run for a while, it sucks. I think it still sucks so get over it.

Hiking is similar - you just have to do it. This is also your only chance to refine the gear you're using with one exception: The pack weight - aim for 17kg to 20kg during training. This way you strengthen all those muscles which support the extra weight. Your race pack will be much lighter and if you've done your heavy pack-hikes, you won't even feel the race pack. I did 15 km to 20 km of hiking every weekend, preferably on hills with the big pack.

Around Melbourne you got a lot of choice for training hikes: Plenty Gorge, Mount Macedon, Mount Riddell, Mount Everard, Wirrawill Loop, Sugerloaf Reservoir and the infamous Mount Juliet. Yes there are a lot of mountains which isn't an accident. 

Only running and hiking is probably not a balanced training therefore you should think about whacking in the occasional, cross fit, bike riding, climbing, horse riding or whatever-else-you-like-session.

The Gear 

Ha! My favourite topic :) You're not taking much - especially if you have a support crew but that little bit will be pricey. The aim is to keep your pack as light as possible. Don't take anything which isn't on the mandatory gear list unless you absolutely need it e.g. personal medication or blister tape. Seriously - don't! The only additional two things I took was an inReach which came in handy once or twice and loo paper - "cheek clenching" is a thing in running. I'll leave it at that.

  • Running Wear
    Let's start easy with the stuff you'll be wearing. Everyone got their own little recipe what works and what not. Just make sure you avoid blisters, (nipple) chafing and sunburn. Again the internet is full of wisdom. In doubt go to Bogong Equipment and have a chat to the staff - they're more than happy to take the time and chose what's right for you. This is especially true for shoes. If you want great ones, you're not getting around a proper shoe fitment.
  • Mandatory Pack
    The upper limit for your pack should be 6kg dry (=without water). Yes we are absolutely counting grams! I've added a gear list which is linked below. If you're new to trail-running or ultra-light hiking, you probably need to go shopping.  Of course you can go with cheaper gear and a heavier pack however do you really want to wonder whether you would have made it with a lighter pack when the sweeper cleans you up? Only take an ultra-light sleeping bag and mat with you - the real sleeping gear can live in the drop bag. These two things can be cheap because you won't use them. Actually the lightest mat I found was a closed cell foam mat from Kathmandu for $11. After a bit of size-optimising I got it down to 120g.
  • Drop Bag
    You need a complete spare set of clothing including shoes. Shit happens and you might want to replace some things before starting the next day. If you have a support crew, load it up. Your real sleeping gear should live here (see previous point) as well as other things like a blister treatment kits, body glide (anti-chafing), puffy jackets and whatever else you want to have at the camp. 
In general your gear should be dialled in weeks before the event, you need to know exactly what and how it works. There's no time for experiments otherwise you're risking a DNF. I did the dumb mistake and trialled new shoes ten days before and I almost had to take an unhealed blister into the event.

The Tactics 

There are a couple of things which helped me getting across the finish line. Some are obvious and some are more obscure. 
  • Tailwind - this is an energy and electrolyte drink. It looks like coke and is almost as pricey but it works. It got me up Ama Dablam and it definitely helped getting me across the red sections of this event as well. You can buy it at Bogong Equipment. I know there are other products out there people swear by. If you found something which works for you, keep using it ... hopefully it's legal.
  • Make a race plan - you're doing this in a team of two therefore you should agree what you're going to do in advance. When your fitness levels are similar this probably isn't an issue  however if there's a bit of a difference, you need to have a chat about it. Keep in mind the rules require you to stick together.
  • Have a pre-race checklist - coming Friday morning you don't want to think about whether you forgot something. Things like anti-chafing measures, cut your toe-nails a week before and put your phone on charge on Thursday night, should all be on there.
  • GPS watch - personally I found a GPS watch very helpful not only during the event but also leading up to it. It gave me a good idea where I am with my training and of course during the event how am I going. 
  • Use poles - it's like vaccinations. Actual scientists say it's great so don't try to outsmart smart people. That has never ended well. Once you got the hang of it you'll never hike without them.
    Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc participants with poles
  • Short checkpoint stops - this matters on the third day. In and out. You have no time to lose. Get your water refilled. Eat some lollies and off you go.
  • Get bed-ready straight away - Once you arrive at camp, get ready for bed immediately. Pitch your tent, make your bed, sort your stuff for the next day and eat. After that you can relax.
  • Go to bed early - yes you'll be stoked that you made it this far and you want to tell everyone about it or chat with your crew and fellow runners. There's 4G at Lovicks but that's not an excuse. OFF TO BED!!!
  • Read the Handbook - I know nobody ever reads the manual but you can get a lot of questions answered. You'll just avoid the RTFM reply.

The Support Crew

In case you're lucky enough to have some 4WD friends who support you in this endeavour, here are some useful tips for them.
Messy Camp
  • When driving watch out for runners on the trail. If you see one coming your way, stop and let them pass.
  • Be at the overnight camp early to grab a good spot. You don't want to be too close to the check-point marquee (noisy) and too far from the food and toilets. 
  • Don't let yourself get parked in. You might have to leave and collect someone or something.
  • Don't rely on the race trackers. They are a bit behind and they drop out if there isn't any phone reception which is the case from the middle of Muesli Spur all the way to Craig's Hut. Maybe your runner carries a UHF radio but an inReach is better.
  • Pitch the runner's tent, make their bed and have a camp-chair ready. If you can, collect your runner from the check-point and lead them to your spot.
  • When your runners arrive at camp they might be in a bad shape. It's your responsibility to manage them. Get them into fresh and warm clothes, get food and water into them and handle other issues.
  • Second camp/night at King Hut: If you have more than one vehicle, you can keep one up at Craig's within phone reception to monitor the runner's progress. You can relay that information down into the camp via UHF because it's a black spot. 
Do the 100km still sound daunting? They aren't if you chop them in smaller pieces. Aim for the next check-point, the next feature and repeat. At the end of the day there will be friends who want you to succeed. At the Bluff Hut you'll meet the Peninsula 4X4 Club, at Lovicks the Port Phillip 4WD Club and at King Hut the Yarra Valley 4X4 Club. This year at least the Yarra Valley 4X4 Club had to turn down members to volunteer >> these guys want to be there and want to look after you. This is definitely something you will appreciate. They're just awesome people!

When do you start training?
Cheers 🍻

Pictures from 2019


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