UTA100 Take 2: Bugger having a time goal

This was my second time at the UTA100 start line. The short summary of last year’s run is that I had a good run to QVH (12h15m) where the wheels fell off with my right quad locking up at the top of Kedumba. It was a painful slog down into the valley and a big push to meet my midnight time goal but I proudly crossed the finishing line exactly on midnight after 17h11mins. The recovery took me a few months and included being taken off an international flight in a wheelchair.

I came back this year for a few reasons. Two being that I loved the atmosphere last year and I had unfinished business with Kedumba. The course changes the night before meant the latter wasn’t to be; instead I’d have to face my stair nemesis twice! Aaaaah! Too late now to wish I’d done some actual stair training …

I didn’t sleep so well. I woke up with every downpour dreading starting in the pouring rain. (I don’t mind running in the rain, I just hate standing around in it before starting!)

I woke up to pouring rain- eeek! I ate three slices of toast with avocado, taped my ankle and was off to the start line. It was only drizzling now and cleared up before I actually started. Phew. I’d already thrown a time goal out the window as my aim this year was to finish in better physical shape than last year. Plus, with the course changes I thought it would be even crazier to have a time goal. Who knew what bonus stairs so late in the event would be like?!

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Waiting for our waves

Start line: 6:49am

I’d requested start group 5 (same as last year) even though I’d qualified for group 4 – I didn’t want to go out too fast. I had a good, distracting chat with some NRG members cheering the start line and then we were off. I was surprised when most of the people around me were running the hills… bugger that! I started chatting to those around me. There were a number of 100 virgins (good on ‘em) who were asking me a bunch of questions, making me feel like the veteran the app incorrectly had me categorised as.

The descent down Furbers wasn’t too, too slippy or congested. I absolutely love the single track along to the Golden Stairs and managed to get into a rhythm. There were some pretty slippery sections that slowed everyone down but overall I felt like I was moving well. I was also reeeeally hungry (why?) so woofed down a muesli bar. There was quite a congo through the landslide and then I managed a gap where I was running with one other lady wearing an impressive amount of pink. Still hungry I now popped a gel and somehow managed to choke on it while running up a small hill. Oops.

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Col’s photo, on her 50k run through the landslide a few hours later

Up the Golden Stairs congo and many a conversation about the course changes and the weather. I was laughed at when I told people it would be sunny in the afternoon and we’d have a lovely sunset! I high fived the 10km marker as I passed it. Somewhere along the ascent there was a sensational view of the three sisters completely surrounded by clouds. There was also a guy out there not wearing socks ?!

Coming into CP1 I realised I hadn’t drunk much so scoffed down my electrolytes and only refilled the one flask since my bladder was still pretty full. I looked at my watch and was surprised that I was 5 mins slower than last year given how good I was feeling. Shame, I thought, I guess it’s going to be a long day out (over 18 hours?)

CP 1 Narrowneck: 1h39m, 11.4km

I had a great time along Narrowneck and came to the realisation that I hadn’t been along here since the UTA100 last year. There was cloud soup in the valley on both sides and then I entered the cloud enclosing the top of the ridge. The gum trees were stunning with the wet highlighting their colour and I totally loved the misty atmosphere. I was still feeling good even though my left knee (which had been an issue the past three weeks) was complaining. In fact, I felt so good that I was allowing myself to run any of the small inclines I chose so long as my heart rate stayed down. Towards the end of Narrowneck I started to feel my left hamstring and I was feeling a pressure on the top of my left foot (residual from a rogaine two weeks ago). I wasn’t keen to stop just yet since I knew there’d be a queue at the ladders where I could sort it out.

The queue went back further than last year so I got my shoe and sock sorted out and more food into me while I waited. I was offered the alternate route to the ladders that, from last year’s experience, would have been quicker; however I was keen to see the ladders this time around regardless if it took an extra 10 minutes. I said hello to a couple of fellow NRGers up ahead and was surprised by Martyn’s response to “How are you enjoying your run so far?”. It gave me incentive to catch him up and overtake him ASAP, hah!

By the time my turn came around I was starting to shiver. The lady in front of me was having trouble getting down due to her fear of heights so I did my best not to rattle the ladders with my shivering. I think it might have helped if there was a marshal at the bottom to assist with coaxing instead of two marshals at the top?

I loved this next section of single track and happily ran along. My left glute seemed to be overactive but I was still feeling good and smiling constantly (surprising given three parts of my left leg were now complaining) and still moving well. It was a rough, muddy descent off Mount Debert and another congo line formed. Now on the fire trail the next destination was Dunphy’s. Another few good conversations up the hills and a few laughs with the guy who was wearing the same pack as me. I high fived the 30km marker and loved the didgeridoos and clap sticks at the top of one of the climbs.

There was a lovely marshal on the fence stile greeting each runner by their name (I was told I was not unique – a few Nicole’s had been through already. Hah!) My split from CP1 to CP2 was exactly the same as last year (it’s hard not to compare, isn’t it?)

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Col’s photo, views from Narrowneck a few hours later after the mist cleared

CP 2 Dunphy’s campground: 4h10m, 31.6km

I filled up both flasks even though my bladder still had some water in it, as I wasn’t sure how little/much of the course had been knocked off due to the course changes that removed the climb up Ironpot. I passed the junction where 50k runners would go right and I went left, polishing off the chips I’d grabbed from the checkpoint. Up towards Ironpot we went. I’d guessed we’d turn off just before the final climb up to Ironpot Mountain (we did). I also guessed that this would shave off 2km, but who really knew? Down past the stock dams I went, it was certainly nice farm scenery. Then I watched as people in front of me pulled up to walk the small hills. I did too, rationalising that if they were in front of me and could walk then so could I. When I processed this thought I chuckled, it was the first sign that I was getting a little tired. They were in a start group ahead of me and there was no reason for me to set my pace off theirs, so I started running again.

I took it really carefully through the creek crossings and watched as some people rushed through and fell in! No damage done, thankfully. Then it was time to tick off Megalong Valley Rd. I’d struggled over this section last year, but this year was the opposite. I was still overtaken by a number of people with a faster uphill walk than I have but it just didn’t matter. On this section a guy with quite a strong run also overtook me. I was a little surprised to see such a move from someone in one of the last start groups. Would he blow up later in the day? Another two followed a little later and I suddenly comprehended that these were the lead UTA50 runners!! Impressive to say the least. I might have done an extra ~5km, but they’d started at least 2-2.5 hours after me!

I passed the 45km marker and knew this wasn’t right. A quick gear check (hi-vis vest and head torch) and I was into checkpoint 3. I was 42 mins earlier than last year. We’d skipped the climb up, along and down Ironpot, which I thought might have been about 20 mins, but perhaps we’d shaved off a lot more than 2km… ?

CP 3 Six Foot Track: 5h42m, unknown kms

Hats off to the vollies at this post. While one collected my drop bag another filled my two water flasks and brought me half a cup of coke. I removed my water bladder, picked up a 32g 1L bottle, had a bathroom stop and was out again within 5 mins. Thanks vollies!

With the next section unchanged I was expecting a ~2 hour split to the aquatic centre, which is how long it took me last year. It was great to pass a bunch of hikers in good spirits and letting runners pass despite the congestion. Somewhere along here I had my first proper tired moment and started walking a section that was runnable. Solution? Inject more food! I kept my cool and just ran when I felt I could run without getting my heart rate up too high and walked otherwise. It was certainly something to see the 50k runners go past – I don’t normally get to see them. Bonus is lots of calf muscle eye candy ;) I saw my first female 50k runner but wasn’t sure if she was the leader since someone could have passed while I was at the last CP.

I hit the single track at the bottom of Nellies and popped a gel to keep the energy levels up. When I hit the stairs I got out the shotz and started counting in batches of 100 (great tip Adam Connor!). It was a proud moment to get to the top of Nellies without stopping once, and with a reasonable but not high heart rate and without being overtaken by a single runner. In fact, I’d over taken a fair few – what a turn around from last year! Ellen – our conversation on these stairs from 2 years ago still made me laugh! And my answer is different now :P

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Top of Nellies. B’s photo while cheering in the UTA100 leaders several hours earlier

With just the Stuart’s Road Track to go I got out my phone to message B and was surprised by my split. Hoo hoo! I could hear a good group of cheerers but it took me a good 10 minutes to reach them. Impressive cheering it was – I wonder if they could still talk the next day? A quick loop around the back and I was getting ready to enter CP 4.

I spotted B just before I entered and he looked flustered. Little did I know that he’d cycled down to the Megalong Valley to surprise me before I entered CP3 only to have missed me by 5 minutes. Then he had to peddle hell for leather back to Katoomba, only to arrive 2 minutes before me! I’d run this section 15 minutes faster than last year.

CP 4 Katoomba Aquatic Centre: 7h23m, unknown kms

I grabbed my drop bag but then had to go back and ask the rules about carrying fleece and rain pants since no one had said anything. I was told that if I’d make it to QVH before 7pm I didn’t need to carry them for now. It was 2:15pm so I figured I’d be safe enough and asked B to carry them to QVH for me instead.

I changed one sock (yep just one), put a pre-filled and de-aired bladder into my race pack, ate some of B’s pie, and drank flat coke. He asked how my right hip was doing (the body part that had really been causing me grief the past few weeks). I laughed and said fine, because my left knee, hamstring and glute seemed to be taking the load. I wasn’t concerned though – nothing was complaining loudly.

Somehow 13mins had passed but I was now on my way again. We didn’t go through the swamp so I was simply following everyone around me. Again there were some runners moving significantly faster than me (oh yeah, I’d forgotten there were 50k runners on the same course) but soon I popped out into known territory. I was sent one way and the 50k runners the other. Goodness, are they going to make them go down Furbers and then back up again?!

The views across to Mt Solitary and further on to the Blue Breaks were stunning and clear. Onwards along the Prince Henry Clifftop track I was starting to see some runner (and even car) carnage. There was a point where I overtook people and they simply jumped on the back of me, thankful to have someone else set the pace. It was hard to keep running my race and not to think about those behind me. I collected names (which I’ve since forgotten) and told myself to pretend they weren’t there. I walked where I thought it was wise and ran everything else.

Coming down to the junction with Leura Cascades someone screamed out my full name from a reasonable distance away. Perhaps they could read my first name, but surely not my last name. I stared hard trying to place them but really couldn’t. When they called out the full name of the guy behind me, who I’d only just met, I realised they were punching race numbers into the app. Great job marshals!

After some time I realised that I’d stopped eating – it was the pressure of leading. I pulled off, let the bus pass and injected food. Happy sigh. I was glad to run alone again – what does this say about me??

Somewhere along here my left glute and hamstring settled down. Now I saw the UTA100 leaders for the first time (but not the first five place getters). It was great to see them. They’d done ~35km more than me and were still moving well. There were moments when passing on the single track almost ended up in a tap dance (perhaps with international runners who tend to go right whereas we tend to go left?) so I started calling “go left” when it looked like there was confusion and this seemed to work well.

I saw Lucy, who was leading female. I gave her big cheer and was gobsmacked when she cheered me back. I’d just hit the junction and was sent up some stairs towards the golf course (ish). Woohoo no climb down and up to Sublime Pt Rd! I wasn’t going to miss those stairs!

There were some good cowbell ringers on this stretch of road. I pulled into the Fairmont still feeling like I was on fire today. Woohoo. It had been dark when I got here last year but today it was still light as it was only 4pm. I asked how many kilometres we’d done but no one seemed to know…

Fairmont Aid Station: 9h12m, unknown kms

I had barely touched the water in my bladder so I only refilled one flask, woofed down a piece of watermelon and was off again. I passed a number of people I knew going the other way: Hannah, Gill, Simon, Iain, others. This revised course was certainly more social (let’s not think about the stair pain they all looked to be in and that I would soon be in too…). Over Lillian’s Bridge and then along the Nature Track I ran (well walked now, too uphill for running). I asked the marshal if we’d do the Nature Track on the reverse leg too and he said yes. I’d never done this track before and enjoyed it. There were no other runners around me but I did have a fun chat with two bushwalkers. I thought it strange not to see anyone going the other way, but perhaps there was a break between the elites and the next group?

Up another hill and I could now see/hear a cowbell coming towards me. It was B! He’d timed it perfectly as he’d only been on the track ~200m. We ran back together with him deafening me with his cowbell. ~70km and I was still smiling :)

I pulled into the conservation hut toilets to pee and then ticked off the next section. B and his cowbell found me again before the car park. Apparently other runners were saying to him “what, you again?”. Haha.

I was still eating well and running fairly well. Both ITBs were complaining now, but not too loudly, so I wasn’t worried (how long would that last?). I enjoyed the next section as it involves running next to the cliffs. It was a bit trickier this year as I had runners to pass going the other way but it wasn’t too bad. I ran with another lady along the fire trail up to Hordern Rd. It was beautiful running in the twilight looking down into the valley and across to Mt Solitary. It got dark as I ran down Kings Tableland Rd but no matter as it was all bitumen. I just couldn’t believe I was coming into QVH without a head torch on – WOOHOO! (Hold that thought)

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B’s photo of the Kedumba cliffs and Mt Solitary

B cycled past me just before the final incline into the CP and told me he had pizza. I did a little happy dance while running and exclaimed “What an awesome boyfriend”. A very confusing/funny conversation with the guy behind me followed as he’d heard “He’d make an awesome boyfriend” thinking that a complete stranger had just cycled past and offered me pizza.

CP5 QVH the first time: 10h54m, unknown kms

Queue runners low as I entered QVH and was told to keep running for a 1.5km turnaround. But but but … what about the pizza?! I’d last eaten at Wentworth Falls so my pizza stomach would be ready. The next marshal told me I should get my head torch out. But but but … I don’t want to have to stop and take my bag off before I get to the CP. Silly me. I got out my emergency light, which didn’t do much since everyone else was wearing a head torch and tried to dodge puddles. When I started getting lightheaded too I had to give myself a talking to – this was clearly not 750m one way. So I ate a protein ball, got out my headtorch and got the out and back ticked off. Silly me indeed.

Bonus though was the marshal at the turn around point knew the kms. She said when I got back to QVH that’d be 77kms ticked off. Good to know!

CP5 QVH the second time: departed at 11h32m, 77 kms

Now this, this was a good CP stop. B produced a whole meat lovers pizza. There was so much pepperoni and BBQ sauce on there that it truly was the taste of heaven. He even produced a beer for me. “Wait, you need to read the label first”, he says. And here, another example of his classic humour, it said “Mad bitch”. Haha. (He thinks only crazy people run 100km. What do you think?) I managed two slices of pizza and about a third of the 10% (!) Belgian beer. YUMMO. Some coke, coffee beans and electrolyte too. Take that system of mine. B asked how the body was doing and when I told him about my ITBs he suggested some stretching. Just imagine the spectacle of me trying to do an ITB stretch at 77km into the event. I think the other people in the tent loved the entertainment.

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Finally I attached my poles (sure I’d packed these for Kedumba, but surely they’d be good to get me back through the stairs?) and headed back along Kings Tableland Rd and left B to sort out the leftover pizza and beer.

The trip back to the Fairmont was non-eventful. It certainly was much tougher than my first time through a few hours beforehand. I think it was an advantage to get one direction out of the way in the daylight and with only the elites passing every now and then. Now I had head torches shining at me and a very constant stream of people going in the other direction, which made passing on the muddy and tricky single track sections a lot harder. Andrew & Rocky managed to pick me out and I was happy to see them and know that they were going well.

Another runner latched onto the back of me from the fire trail off Hordern Rd. He didn’t offer up any conversation, just walked on the back of my heels. Poor soul. At some point I asked him to give me a little gap as his head torch was a lot brighter than mine and throwing shadows at me. He only spoke when he wanted to say “I struggling” and he only left me when I slowed to eat, blasting past me. I’d then find him minutes later, completely spent and walking the downhills, only to run on the back of my heels again as I passed. Sigh. When he said “I really struggling” I asked him when he’d last eaten. We were getting close to the Fairmont now. He hadn’t eaten since QVH! I told him to pop a gel. “Really? was his reply. YES! (That was almost two hours ago.)

I was glad I’d brought the poles and got these out once I passed the Wentworth Falls. A triumphant moment on this section was when we got near Conservation Hut and I was told to go down the stairs. Woohoo, no Nature Track for me (as it was a longer distance). Mind you, trying to get my legs down all those stairs was a little taxing at this stage of the race…

Fairmont Aid Station: 13h8m, 87kms

There was B again at the Fairmont with his cowbell. He asked me how I was doing and my response was “I need to pee”. Sheesh, how’s that for sharing too much information?! I got my water bottles topped up and when I was told that the toilets were inside the hotel and down … I stopped listening. That was too far away. Off I ran towards Katoomba instead. See you at the finishing line in two hours said B. Really? I would have thought more like 2.5 hours but hey a ~15h finish would be pretty awesome.

When the marshal sent me down Sublime Pt Rd I had another moment of realisation. Turns out we hadn’t missed out on those stairs after all … they’d been saved to torture me later on. But it did also mean concealed bushes where I hid myself for a sneaky pee. Plus, these stairs really weren’t that bad. I was happy going up them for sure, down hurt.

My legs weren’t moving so fluidly anymore but I still really enjoyed the section back along the Prince Henry Cliff Top and continued to smile. I felt admiration for the people I was passing in the opposite direction and tried to give every one of them a cheer and some encouragement – they had a loooong night ahead of them.

I stopped a few times to turn off my head torch and take in the scenery. The Milky Way visible in the sky (how lucky were we with the weather?), the lights of the other runners, the cliffs, the three sisters. Beautiful. There’s something about these long distance events that I’m drawn to and find difficult to describe adequately in words – but they are simply magic experiences.

It’d been over an hour and I hadn’t reached the top of Leura Cascades yet so I knew a 2 hr split was definitely out, it would be an hour from the base of the stairs to the finish line. Finally I reached the junction. There were still participants coming from Katoomba and heading towards QVH. I headed down, finally “smelling” the finishing line. This long stair descent was certainly my toughest part of the whole day as my ITBs were unhappy chappies. I had to work out how to use the guardrails with poles but managed to get as much weight onto my arms as possible. I think I was overtaken by 4 people on this descent, which was a little frustrating but also impressive with how well they could control their legs at 94km.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the bottom. One of the marshals had told my “heel friend” that there was 3.5km to go (that’s not right I thought) and when the next one told him there was now 4km to go he started arguing (politely) with the marshal. But the other guy said … LOL.

I decided reserves were no longer needed and upped my pace. Pushing up my heart rate for the first time today and chowing down the final kms. I overtook most of those who’d overtaken me on the descent and then some. I was starting to get hungry but was having trouble getting to my food with my vest on and I’d barely drunk any liquid. I finally fished out the choc coated coffee beans. I dropped the excess water, keeping about 200ml. I popped a gel not long before the base of Furbers and went up as fast as I could move my legs. I got held up every now and again by runners and eventually was stuck behind a line of 10 moving a lot slower than me. About 400m from the finishing line I felt a massive blister form under one of my toe nails. It was pretty painful but nevermind.

Eventually I got through the group and crossed the finishing line with a solid run absolutely bounding with adrenaline. Not only had I finished it in better physical form than last year (no limp for me) but I’d done it 1.5 hours faster to boot. Due credit must go to the pizza, beer and an amazing support person who’d clocked up 100km on his bike in the process!

Finish: 15h39m (22:28pm)

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Thanks also to Steve and Chris, NRG run leaders, for their training nights. Always a special thanks to Ellen, she assisted in getting me past my “I’m never going to race again” moment.

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Microadventure #5: The Hawkesbury

We cheated and left our desks before 5pm (4:20!) – we had a train and connecting ferry to make. The ferry dropped us off at our request stop as the last of the daylight beautifully set the scene for the start of our trip.

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The start was a little odd. It felt a bit like we were walking through people’s front yards and then we were literally on a path between and sometimes underneath houses. Then, with “town” behind us we continued along the coastline. It was pretty dark but we ran without our lights on since it was an access road.

We spotted a set of stairs leading up. We didn’t think it was the track we were after so continued on. Perhaps we’d regret this decision?

After ‘the bend’ we couldn’t find our track, but with a check of the map we found the narrow track and a pink ribbon. It would have been easy to spot in daylight…

Up past some sandstone caves and then the adventure really started as we slogged it up the hill, second guessing paths and moving a lot of large spiders to the side so we could pass. Every now and then there was a ribbon to confirm other humans had been this way too. I was having fun!

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We hit the crest of a spur and found a fire pit but it wasn’t clear where to go next. This was not at all what I’d been expecting the junction to look like. Thankfully the moon was bright and the direction we wanted to go, so we turned moon-wards and attempted to find a sensible path. B took over clearing the spiders.

This time we popped out on the ridgeline and had fantastic views from our rocky perch of the river below and plenty of stars were out by now. Happy Friday :D

But we’d overshot our turn (the view was worth it) and, with some technological help, found the next footpad to follow. These tracks were really not as well formed as we’d been anticipating but it was certainly adding to the adventure. Def no running happening though … clocking up 2km in 40mins!

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There were now two routes to choose from and we took the lower route. Invariably ending up on the high route at some point and then back on the lower route once again. The bush is certainly a different adventure in the pitch black. We passed TV antennas and had absolutely stunning views down to the water. On queue a train took the rail bridge and it looked like a xmas train as the lights reflected perfectly in the water. What luck.

We chatted about an interview we both listened to of an upcoming book release: Woman in the Wilderness. It’s about a Dutch lady and her kiwi husband living a primitive life in the NZ wilderness. It was timely to discuss such a book as we were having our own wild bush experience.

At last we made it to the creek junction and set up camp on a sandy bank not too far away. Tent up and fire going it was finally time to tuck into dinner – we were starving! We had a really, really lovely evening around the fire and eventually had to stop ourselves from building it up again and head to bed. I didn’t bother setting an alarm, even though I had somewhere else to be the next day – sunrise is at 6am these days.

Hehe of course we slept through sunrise, ooops! It was a Saturday though. Determined to check out our surroundings we headed down the creek for lovely cascades, waterfalls and river views. It was one chilly but refreshing morning dip too. Magic.

 

A quick pack up back at camp and we set off for the train station at the early hour of 11:30am. I was hosting afternoon tea at my place at 3pm, oh dear! More footpad searching, but at least we had daylight on our side. About a kilometre or so of this and we were on open fire trail. Time to start running!

B made a detour out to a top for more good views while I carried on towards the train station and he’d catch me up. All I had to do was take the first right he said. I did just this, and could see in the distance the road in perfect line with the fire trail I was currently on. I had well over an hour to go 6km, easy!

Queue finding the end of the fire trail, standing on top of a decent sized waterfall and having no idea how to get down to the road I could see in the distance … hah! I searched all the footpads around, I clearly wasn’t the first person to try this. Eventually I found one that looked like it’d go and went back to try and leave a message for B. He was already trying out some of the footpads so a quick shout out and we were back together and now on another wild adventure.

 

The rock formations were cool. At some point the track became more defined and then vanished all together again. We were now fighting bushes and the spotting of some bright orange led us into a ship building yard and to the road. We now had 3.5km and 16 minutes to make the train … NO CHANCE.

But it did leave time to buy chips, drinks and ice cream before the following train, which got me back to my apartment at 2:59pm. Thankfully the first guests didn’t arrive until 3:07pm….

I love these micro-adventures !

Micro-adventure #4: Blue Mountains

I’d not even been back in the country a week and I was already itching to get away on another micro-adventure.

We decided to head out west since the days were already starting to get shorter again – meaning this was probably our only chance to do this trip this summer. Alighting at the station to drizzle and a dark sky we looked at each other and questioned our sanity. Oh well, here we go.

We’d packed a tent but I’d also brought food to prepare a 3 course meal on the fire and I was now worried about getting it started!

The trail was slippery with all the leaves on it, but still beautiful with trees and some little cliffs about. B found some dry leaves under an overhang and stuffed them in his bag for additional kindling.

It only took me about 45 mins to reach camp and already I could see B had started collecting a reasonable amount of firewood. I chuckled inside and wondered if this could be a new measure of estimating pace difference.

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Our swim spot – the weather cleared for this moment :)

The drizzle had mostly abated. It took a little but finally the fire took and I threw the first two courses on. We then headed to the water for a lovely dip before rescuing and eating the prosciutto wrapped stuffed mushies and opening the first beer.

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Next up was baked trout and veggies with another beer.

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B whipped out travel scrabble and whooped my butt while I burnt the choc chip cookies – the fire was waaay too hot.

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All up a lovely evening and I was glad to turn in when we did. The rain started again.

In our attempt to minimise gear and weight we squeezed into B’s 1-1.5 person tent and I’d borrowed an extra wide exped mat to share. It worked reasonably well but I’m not convinced about sharing a mat ;)

Damn alarms!

I dragged my butt out before sunrise having guesstimated how long I needed to make our intended train. Beauty is that I only had to put my kit on and start running – B sorted out packing up the tent, the fire, etc – I could get used to this! At a later point than I expected he overtook me – he would now sort out a cup of tea for the train :)

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I was beginning to worry I wouldn’t make the train, but thankfully i recognised the final set of bush stairs. What I didn’t expect was to run through a massive spider’s web. How did B manage to leave that for me?

I made it to the platform with 2 mins to spare and couldn’t find him anywhere. Luckily he showed up as the train pulled in. I was confused about the lack of tea until he confessed he’d taken a wrong turn. That explained the spider’s web. Lucky he has fast legs.

Sadly there were signal delays and our train took 30mins longer than intended, however we were still in high spirits. Another sensational micro-adventure :D

Hitchhiker’s guide to the Greenstone/Caples track

Somewhere along the line I had this grand idea to attempt pack running between huts. Last week’s heavy pack with 10 days’ worth of food had convinced me to try this plan sooner rather than later.

The rough plan? Hitch from Te Anau to The Divide. Run to Mid-Caples Hut. Sleep. Run to McKellar Hut via Greenstone Hut if I had the legs. Sleep. Run back to The Divide and hitch back to Te Anau. Take the lightest bag without compromising safety. This meant I would be out for 2 nights (all going well) or 3 (if running with a pack was a little beyond me). I hadn’t actually looked up the distances, but figured they wouldn’t be anything stupid.

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Why the Greenstone-Caples loop? It was nearby, I’d done the Caples before so I knew what half the track looked like, there was a road at both ends, wardens at the huts and sufficient people on the trails (but not too too many) should I get into strife. Plus, it was a safe trail if the weather closed in.

The execution? I hadn’t rushed out of bed nor was pack finalisation a quick endeavour so it was at the late hour of 11am that I set out to run through Te Anau to the Milford Rd in the hope of a hitch. I always marvel at what does and what does not affect my head space. Running unknown distances between huts with no idea if my bag was too heavy for such a plan? No issues there. Standing alone on the roadside with my thumb out and worrying that I’d left it too late to catch tourists heading north for the day? Hell! I almost gave up and thought about going back and booking a bus for the next day. Then I looked at my watch, realised that I’d only been waiting for 10 minutes (LOL) and told myself to calm down. It was not very long afterwards that a lovely Singaporean couple stopped to give me a ride. Yay!

We got on like a house on fire and before I knew it we were 85 km down the road at The Divide and parting ways. They did a triple take when they learnt I was going to do the Greenstone-Caples track, which they knew was a 4 day tramp, as my bag didn’t look anywhere near big enough. They asked if I *really* had a sleeping bag in there. I laughed and said no – I just had a sleeping bag liner. I’d never left my sleeping bag at home before! Fingers crossed!

And I was off – wheee. The first bit was runnable but then I walked up the hill to the Key Summit turn off. I figured I had the time for this quick out and back and was rewarded with some reasonable views of the surrounding peaks. I ran back down to my pack – and can definitely say that it was wicked to be trail running with mountains poking over crests and some snow-capped.

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It wasn’t long before I was at Howden Hut and making use of the flushing toilets (!) – the Great Walks Huts do have good services.

On I ran through lovely, runnable forest before reaching the flats at Lake McKellar. Here I got my walking mojo on and ticked off the switchbacks up to McKellar Saddle. I’d done this leg two years ago in the rain so it was great to have views at the top.

This saddle is also one of my favourites – flat and wide at the top and lots of nicely shaped mountains around.

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Now it was all pretty much downhill to Mid-Caples Hut. Lots of birdlife, lovely views whenever a landslide had opened up the forest or I entered the flats. The track was well-graded and maintained – perfect and easy to run. I was actually happy to be running and not walking it.

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I did have rather tired legs when I arrived at the hut – just over 25km and 800 vertical metres of climbing. I was pretty happy with how well I’d been able to run with my pack.

Dinner was a packet of salt and vinegar shapes and two pre-made steak sandwiches. Yum, just so yum. I was not jealous of everyone around me eating Backcountry.

Everyone retired at 9pm for bed so I did too. It was rather warm in the common area and also my bunk room. I was curious to find out how warm I’d be in my sleeping bag liner!

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Day 2

I’d only woken up a little chilly the once – stupidly I’d left my buff and gloves on the shelf and was too lazy to go and get them, which meant I was less comfortable than I could have been. Regardless I did manage a very decent 10 hours sleep :D Next time I would make sure I had every warm layer within reach while sleeping.

I had a banana and some oat biscuits for brekky before heading out at the leisurely time of 10am. Most people had already left the hut and were on their way to McKellar Hut via the saddle. I took off in the other direction but with the same destination in mind. My legs were feeling pretty damn tired. Guess I shouldn’t have gone for an 18km run the day before yesterday … maybe I should have stretched more in the hut too instead of chatting …

I crossed above a gorge and then I was off.

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This part of the Caples track was less wide, graded path and more undulated single track through the forest. Again good weather, lots of birds around and no people.

It didn’t take me too long to reach the swing bridge and head towards the Greenstone Valley. The trail was lovely here and there was a very, very beautiful and green swimming hole.

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I thought there wouldn’t be much running up the Greenstone Valley, but the slope was runnable more often than not.

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I passed lovely mossy waterfalls, a number of groups and heard lots of wildlife.

After a couple of hours I did the small side trip out to Greenstone Hut where I ate my lunch and topped up my water supplies.

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I chatted away to a kiwi for awhile who was training to get back into larger tramps after a few years off. Now my sights were on McKeller Hut.

This section has forest sections, mud sections (but nothing(!) compared to The Dusky) and flats, and I loved it. It was nice not to be on a well graded path anymore and to actually be in and see the valley.

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At some point I came across a French guy who was clearly struggling. He’d started from the Greenstone car park that morning and gotten to the first hut so quickly that he decided to keep going; although he was now looking like he regretted that decision. I checked he was still coherent, gave him some advice and pushed on.

I’d had a fantastic day, but I can honestly say I was excited to see my destination 38km after setting out that morning!

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There were quite a number of people in the hut and two separate sleeping quarters. My natural nature couldn’t help itself – I chose the emptier room and would come to regret this a few hours later.

I found my new friends I’d made the previous night and we all chatted away about our adventures that day.

Dinner tonight was a packet of light & tangy shapes and 2 cheese and relish sangas. Thankfully the French guy showed up and I was shocked when he pulled a few kilos of bananas and 2 wheels of brie out of his bag. That was all the food he was carrying for 4 days! I gave him some chocolate and hoped he took my advice and traded some bananas for other food.

Getting into bed I made sure I had all my warm layers accessible and collapsed into sleep, I was exhausted!

Many times during the night I woke up. The temperature had certainly plummeted and there were not enough bodies in my room to warm the air. I spent most of the night in the foetal position – so tired I’d fall back asleep and then so cold I’d wake up. Repeat. At some point I gave up and climbed inside my pack liner! Why had I not slept in the other room? Why had I not carried my sleeping bag? Hah!

All was revealed in the morning when I saw fresh snow up on the peaks – I hadn’t expected the night to get quite *that* cold. Oh well, just an uncomfortable night’s sleep – I wasn’t in any real danger inside the hut.

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It was a very pleasant walk / attempt at a run around the lake but my goodness my legs were tired!

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I passed Howden Hut once more and then decided to drop my pack and run up and around Key Summit again since the weather was so much better today than on my first day.

Arriving back at The Divide I had to wait a little bit for a hitch. Once again a lovely couple gave me a ride and we talked about food all the way back to Te Anau.

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I then sorted out my pizza craving!

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Kepler track in a day

Today was my only good weather day of my spare three days in Te Anau. I headed up, with the hope to do the full Kepler track in a day and running it as much as I could without damaging myself.

I hadn’t actually trained nor did I have transport to the start, so I had no idea how I’d fare. The bail out point was to turn back at Luxmore Hut.
  

The alarm went off at 5am and for a moment I wasn’t sure why. Then I grabbed my running pack and crawled out of my tent. After strapping my ankle and filling my water vessels I set off under clear skies with perfect views of the mountains across the lake. It was easy going to the control gates and the official start of the Kepler track.

The leg to Brod Bay was very runnable and through a lovely forest that reminded me of the woods near my old house in Switzerland. As I went through “checkpoint 1” only a few campers had stirred. Soon after the climb up to Luxmore Hut commenced in earnest so I got into a tramping rhythm and ticked it off.

I exclaimed as I came out of the forest and into the tussock – I love alpine ridges! I very excitedly ran the next section – it was just soo stunning. I’d never run in terrain like this before and I was enjoying it immensely.

 

I came across a few trampers on their way down already. I stopped to soak in the views of mountains dramatically ending in an arm of Lake Te Anau and for peaks appearing over the crest. 

  
 
I stopped at Luxmore Hut to use the facilities, top up my water supplies and have something exciting to eat (artisan baguette with capsicum dip and aioli – so, so yum). There were two Aussies about to set out for the day and we had a great chat. This was their first time doing a multi day hike. Good on ’em!
  

Up to Mt Luxmore I came across a good number of hikers. I did manage to have the summit fully to myself for a good minute; but I wasn’t bothered as this allowed me to grab a photo of myself up high.

  
What followed was more enjoyable ridge top running past the two emergency shelters and with views of the Hanging Valley before the descent started in earnest. It was definitely a quad buster and I crossed my fingers that I didn’t bust mine. The views were all still really sensational. A number of trampers exclaimed as I passed them – they couldn’t believe I’d started in Te Anau that morning. I did have to ask myself when I became the crazy lady who goes on 70km adventures !?

  
I reached Iris Burn Hut just after midday without another soul around. The sandflies ensured that my stop was a quick one. (I need these at UTA El :P)

The next 30kms were relatively flat and runnable through very lovely forest. I came across Robbie, the hut warden from Iris Burn Hut, and we had a good chat about birds in the area and patterns in hut bookings before we each went in opposite directions. This had been a well timed break as I had started to struggle but now I had my running mojo back on. 
  

With about 15km of the Kepler track to go (not including the leg back into town) I started to hope I could scab a lift from Rainbow Reach Carpark to avoid the final 10kms. I was starting to tire! Alas it wasn’t to be and I couldn’t be bothered waiting for one of the tourist groups I’d seen to return to their car. 

I was now starting to wonder if all my muscles would hold up if I kept running. Gee I longed for a big arsed hill so I had a good excuse to walk. In the end I walked most of the final 10km anyway. I had nothing to prove to myself or anyone and since I was heading out for a 8-10 day tramp in a wilderness area in two days I kinda needed all muscles in working order. 

When I got to the control gates I congratulated myself and then asked for a hitch back into town. I’d done all of the viewing side trips as well so the day had been 75km in 12 hours. 

I celebrated back at the Fat Duck Cafe with 2 pints of beer, a venison shank and kumara mash. Then ordered chips since I was still hungry and a tub of exotic chocolate ice cream from the supermarket. 

The 2km walk to the campground from town was probably good for my tired legs but was still an effort. At 9pm I was sleeping like a baby. 

What.an.awesome.day =)

The next day was a fun and well earned rest day at the campground watching the rain pummel down. 

   

Microadventure #3

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Totally excited already for a few days, today we were off on another 5pm to 9am mid-week micro adventure. The forecast was looking warm so we decided to prioritise somewhere with evening and morning swimming options over new terrain. B had lent me a 20L pack to challenge me – this was easily achieved given he organised and carried all the catering. (Win!)


Awesome trails, bushy outlooks and the growing anticipation for a cool off saw us arriving near our campsite not long after sunset. We started collecting firewood and soon B broke the news to me that we weren’t the only was on a 5to9 adventure. At least they’d prepared the fire for us?

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What a refreshing pre-dinner swim.

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Followed up with campfired veggies and haloumi kebabs.

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And then damper and an entire wheel of camembert! Lucky I came with an appetite.

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We camped out under the stars and were woken up at some point with the bright moon shining directly down on us. The sight was even more impressive as the dawn skies broke.

The other group headed off before us since they were hiking and not running.

More beaut scenery, a grand mid-way swim and then another tea service from speedy legs B before we boarded the train back to the big smoke.

Life’s certainly good!

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Mid-way morning swim

Faulconbridge to Springwood

Alighting at Faulconbridge Station I had no idea what the trails were going to be like today, having hatched this plan the day before.

We set off down a lovely, graded forest path (Victory Track) alongside Sassafras Creek. The trail was littered in leaves, the trees were grand and the odd overhang added to the wonderment.

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First stop was to take in the Clarinda Falls. Not deep enough for a swim, but worth a stop nonetheless.

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Then we passed some twitchers, who were probably annoyed that we scared off the birds …

We crossed the Sassafras Gully track and then the Wiggins track before coming to a beaut large pool, where we enjoyed our first swim of the day.

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There was a noticeable decline in the maintenance/quality of the track as we headed down to Perch Ponds and even more so as we ran towards Martin’s lookout. It was still mostly runnable and pretty fun.

Another campsite and large pool

We crossed the creek and climbed up to Bunyan lookout and went on further to Lost World Lookout for more breathtaking views.

Back down to the water again for a MUCH needed cool off before heading up the Magdala Creek to Springwood Station.

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Lovely trails indeed!

Microadventure #2 – Pindar Cave

I left my desk at 16:40 to make the train headed north. This was slightly earlier than the “traditional” 5pm departure time, but we hoped to reach the cave in time for sunset.

We were the only ones to alight at Wondabyne Station – the only train station wholly within a NP in NSW(?). We each stashed a banana and bottle of water for the morning before setting off up the hill. Sadly B wouldn’t have a bar of my attempts to walk the flat parts, but I tried anyway ;) Next were two sections of fire trail before the single trail commenced. This was good, although still a fair bit of uphill. One day I’ll be fitter! Sometimes we had to run a little hunched over, which I found to be good fun. There were a couple of spots with great views and the clouds lit up prettily as we approached the cave.

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A miscommunication meant I was standing on top of the cave watching the sunset as B was down at the waterfall! We then collected firewood and got dinner part two on the fire. B produced some rather tasty couscous, which was more than enough to fill both of us. He still cooked up the sweet potato too – and ate them with practically no help from me!!

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To boot, he produced two different cans of beer. Good luxury packing there. He lost some brownie points when I caught him checking his beers in though!! It’s so hard to get away from reception these days …

I reheated the waffles I’d made over breakfast that morning and served these with blueberries and cream.

Totally satiated, we sat mesmerised by the fire chatting away again. Eventually B found motivation for the both of us to go up and check out the stars from the top of the cave. ***Just magical***

Finding somewhere flat in the cave proved tough and clearly should have been scouted out before dark, but after take two we had it sorted. This was B’s first time sleeping in a cave. Although I’ve done so a number of times before, I still love the experience. Looking out to the trees with the silhouette of the cave roof is particularly special at Pindar Cave :) One needs to take care with the resident bush rat, who did visit during the night though.

I was awake to watch the sky light up pre-dawn, which was lovely. Then I was packed up and off to make the train. B caught me up in no time at all and then continued out in front to “clear the spider webs for me”. No complaints here.

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We hit the station as the train before our intended train rolled through, collected our stashed food and water (a crow had attacked my banana and damaged B’s water flask) and jumped in the misty river. Ah, this is the life.

There was a mum and two boys who came out of the nearby house to catch the same train. They mentioned the bull sharks in the river we’d just swum in :p

Definitely a successful micro adventure!! :D

Glenbrook NP – The Swimming Hole Way

I met B at the NP gates at 08:45 (well more like 9am, since he was late. I should add he was also the one who’d camped mere kilometres away). Today we had four swims on the menu with a forecast for 30+ deg and a possible afternoon thunderstorm.

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First we headed down to and along Glenbrook Gorge. The path down to the water is well defined but not so much so along the gorge.

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We went for a glorious swim in a deep section and then were surprised to find a mini trampoline. Neither of us was game to try the jump though.

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Next was a fun climb up to Mount Portal; timed perfectly to see the blue mountains train traverse the gorge.

Now it was actually time to start “proper running”. There was a gentle, upward slope to the fire trail that my legs weren’t too happy about – they preferred bushwalking today!

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We enjoyed a good lookout break at Tunnel View Lookout sans trains before a very fun single track run around Portal Waterhole (swim #2 B?) on the waterhole trail. B then found us some off trail to run through … …

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At the intersection with the road we topped up our water bottles and drank our fill (B had organised a water drop – nice) before continuing to the Oaks Trail and down a track that intersects with the Loop track to Red Hands Cave. A great single track but unfortunately I did my ankle in on this stretch. There was a super friendly duo we had a chat with at the cave before pushing on.

I was starting to feel very hot and was really looking forward to swim #2. This certainly was a delight to find. Nice, refreshing water temperature and a beaut waterfall to sit under and have the water pummel one’s shoulders. And now to try my home made Kale Toffee Bars.

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Back up the steep hill and around to Kanuka Brook for swim #3. Sadly B lost his sunnies in the scrub (turns out it was a lot less runnable than I thought!). The swim in the confluence was rather refreshing and different to the first two swims of the day.

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We now headed East back towards our bikes and along Glenbrook Creek. There were some baby sand dunes on the bend in the creek so I got B to do some sand hill reps to burn some of his speed :)

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Soon we were at Blue Pool for swim #4 and the final of the day. We swam a bit up the creek and then returned to our belongings. B showed off his boutique towel one more time before encouraging me to run up the stairs (!) to join the road and return to the national park gates.

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28km, 4 swims, 7.5 hours, totally knackered.

Smashed some ciders, pizza and kumara wedges before heading back to Sydney town. Bloody ripper of a day.

Kurnell to Cronulla, mid-week adventure

A rare novelty, I was 7 mins early for my 4:30pm train to Cronulla. The grand plan for tonight was to run the coastal tracks and meet up with a friend at sunset, who’d be out at Wanda doing some sand dune hill reps for an upcoming race !?!

Strangely the train was already packed (what’s everyone else’s excuse?). I changed onto a bus and got dropped off outside the National Park in Kurnell. My original plan was to start at the end of Polo st, cutting off the headland. However, after alighting and being excited by the prospect of bush tracks once more, I figured I should have enough time and set off in the other direction instead to do the full loop.

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It was a little bit of Choose Your Own Adventure working out which trail to take (hadn’t really studied the map) but I was happy with my choices. The tree lined trails were beaut and I was happily alone until I popped out at the Cape Solander Lookout.

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The cliffs were stunning and I traveled south, not seeing another soul until I reached the Boat Harbour. I was certainly loving this adventure and the office was already far from my mind. I was trialing out a new pair of shoes and they def made rock hopping more enjoyable too.

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I wove in and out from the cliff edge, up and over a sandy hill, past the light house and then past another vehicle access point. There were no 4wds or fisherpeople to be seen.

The tide was low enough to run around the bay (at boat harbour) and then I got a bit excited about the rock hopping and stayed down low too long. But this ended up with bonus crowd support, with some blokes looking down on me and cheering me on. When I got bluffed out I scampered up the heath, and I was clearly not the first person to do this.

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I was now on the beach tottering along and smiling at each of the runners I passed. The pre-sunset views were a  beauty. I was worried I’d miss my turn off so stopped to get the maps out (I’d forgotten to study them on my commute – got distracted by my phone!) This would cost me seeing the actual sunset, but meh.

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Now I had mere minutes to chow down the road to the rendezvous place. My friend was already there waiting, having finished his sets. I looked down at the dunes and refrained myself from telling him just how crazy he was!

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Somehow he convinced me to try one, which I refused unless he punished himself further too! So here i was, with 13km of trail and beach running under my legs, running a 750m sand dune hill circuit! LOL! I didn’t say it, but it was a crazy kind of tormenting fun. Haha!

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We took the roads not the beach back to Cronulla (we were both tired), pulling in for a quick dip en route. Now … what to eat for dinner !?! :D