After the first climb came the first descent. This first descent was one of my top moments of the race. The trail was a fast, flowy single track along a ridge that just kept on going. Everywhere you looked was epic.
Soon after I hit the first check point and got my first taste of the classic noodle soup. I didn't hang around long as I wanted to get going and get as much distance completed as possible during the day as I knew the night would be where it got really tough.
The heat really started to kick in and you could see it on everyones faces as runners looked more and more drained.
The mountains kept coming and the views got better and better. I was loving this!
After 60km I finally saw my support crew. By this point I was still mentally and physically in a great place but it is still such a massive boost to see your support crew that I just felt better and better. I was also provided with some serious laughs when my brother was running along with me into the check point, he was out of breath...after 400m!! After a good laugh, some encouraging words, a hug from mum and some food I was off again. I spent a bit more time in the check point but I was feeling good and felt the 15mins of sitting down and keeping my feet off the ground was worth it.
Off I went and before long it was getting dark. This is the point when you realise why this race is so tough. The climbs during the day are tough but there's always an end in sight. At night you have no concept of this and it's just brutal. I did a lot of night running in my training but nothing could have prepared me for this.
It didn't take long for me to really start suffering. The sight of hundreds of head torches winding their way up a mountain will never leave me. You look up from the bottom of the mountain and know you have to spend the next few hours climbing and it is soul destroying. I wanted to just sit down and take my feet off the ground but I had to get going.
As soon as it got dark I noticed a difference in the way everyone was running. Everybody ran in small packs, grouping together with a leader pulling everybody else along, the rest just focusing on the person in front's feet. By this point it was no longer a solo effort. I might not have known anyone in the various packs that I ran with but it truly felt like everyone was helping each other along despite no words being shared.
Before the race I had been told to look out for someone called Trevor as he was a friend of a friend. Now, I never expected to meet this man (for a start I had no idea what he looked like). All I knew about him was he did the same qualifying race as me and he worked for The North Face. Earlier on in the day I spotted someone head to toe in The North Face kit and he had an Endurancelife band on, amazingly it was him! We got talking and spent the next 20-30mins discussing races and how we were getting on before I headed on ahead. I'm mentioning this because later on I saw Trevor again at one of my lowest points. I can't remember much about what he said but seeing a friendly face and having someone ask if I was ok was enough to spur me on again and give me a little boost that meant so much and I can't thank him enough for that...cheers Trev!
The times spent in the check points got longer and longer. The painkillers came out and I was really struggling to eat. The final check point where my support crew could meet me was tough to leave. I spent far too long there but I was a wreck and I just wanted to be with my crew for a bit longer. After being told to eat and given as much encouragement as possible I left. I was cold and it was still pitch black but I was getting there. Every step now was one step closer to the finish.
I had to keep reminding myself to just keep leaning forward. Despite all of this through the night there were moments where I was running and actually enjoying it...just not many!