Fiona and I are back at home safe minus our car plus a few scratches. The last 24 hours have been an adventure during our first and only training camp for Ironman New Zealand, just 6 weeks away. The only experience this comes close to this, is when Fiona decapitated a kangaroo just north of Pimba, SA, smashing in her car, a late night tow to Port Augusta, and then a 16 hour Greyhound bus ride back to Alice! But, that was nearly 4 years ago now so it was time for a new adventure.
“I’m so excited for this weekend! Running up Mt. Sonder (Stage 12 of the Larapinta Trail), dinner at Glen Helen, and then an awesome bike ride over Tylers Pass!” I said 1pm in the car as we were driving the 130km west of Alice Springs to Glen Helen.
That morning we had woken up around 8am for a 5km swim starting at 9am. Ironman-newbie Mark Russell joined us and we also saw our close friend Nat who is an awesome cyclist and works with Fiona as a Physio. I advised them to cut the swim in half but to stick with the same setup of the session given to us by our swim coach and close friend Rob. We knocked out the swim with lots of fatigue due to Thursdays 5km swim in which I had accomplished 10×100 leaving on 2min holding 1:27-1:28 for each rep. It was my best swim of the season. After, we got some food, packed up our 2002 Ford Escape 4×4 and headed west in the blue & partly cloudy skies.
Upon approaching the Hugh River, the water was 200mm deep or ankle deep. I’ve rarely seen water there but we went for it in low gear. We got through it, no issues. We headed further on in the Red-Green-Center with the buckets of rain we’ve had lately and finally came to the oldest river in the world; Finke. The current was going pretty well but I saw a regular 4×4 coming through and figured it was fine. Maybe 300mm deep but went for it. We got through across the river that was going over the Namatijira Drive and headed to the t/o to Mt Sonder. On the dirt rode we crossed 3 more rivers and ended up at the parking lot. We got our gear and walked down to the river. We saw some people on rafts there. I had never seen water there before either and this was where Fiona and I competed in the 45km Larapinta Ultramarathon 1.5years prior (In Winter). We waded through the waist deep river as ultra runner rookies and put our shoes and socks back on. The river bush was blown over from the force of the river that has now reduced but was still flowing quite well. We began running and took off to the top of Mt Sonder.
Mt. Sonder 2hr17min 14.5km.
Six minutes into the run and my HR was 146 in Zone 4 running up the stone steps. We continued running able to run this section. The spinifex was more than waist high and overhanging onto the Larapinta Trail. There was no wind and the sun was scorching in the 100F/40C heat. By the time we turned east my arms felt like they were on fire. Here we started a lot of walking while maintaining a Zone 3 Temp HR. I told Fiona that this is why the Ultra was in August and not the middle of summer! We didn’t speak much, just running with heart beating and our labored breathing among the crickets, grasshoppers, insects, and other wildlife around. We ate our gels every 20-30minutes. We took pictures and videos and saw a storm coming from the west. It didn’t look that big. We arrived at the top, the location that I proposed to Fiona on August 31, 2013. HR was nice and high with efforts in the following zones of: Z2 – 27min, Z3 – 26min, Z4 – 5min.
We turned around and the storm was closer but beautiful. I picked up the pace and running consistently down hill over the technical, ancient, and sharp rocks that were once at the top of the world. I saw a black perente lizard run across the path and 2 little lizards that were pretty cute. I came to a stop when I thought I was running into a spider web which turned out to be a flying spider about 2 inches big. Further down, I saw it. A 1 meter long black snake. It scarred the shit out of me and Fi said “I never heard you make that sound before!”. Then I heard a murmer from her where she saw a snake that she then claimed was a legless lizard.
A few minutes later, bang. I looked back and Fi completely wiped out. She was on her side. I pulled her right on up and she had some good scrapes on her knees. We continued on; my girl is tough. Shortly after that she had a massive wipe out with her but laying on a giant Spinafex plant that I would try pulling out of her ass later that night. Her knee was gushing blood but we never carry first aid on our runs. We’ll probably change that going forward. She pulled up her compressport to cover her knee and I spit water onto her knee to try and clean it out. But, she soldiered on.
Eventually we got back to the river. It was much cooler now as the storm had passed to our south. We jumped in the river and back in the car. Over the 3 rivers and then we came upon the Finke. We had gone through it before and even though I have no idea what I’m doing (clearly), we went for it. At the deepest which was now just below knee deep the car stopped. It would turn on and water almost was coming into the car when I opened the door. I tried to get the car in neutral and then we pushed the car out of the rage and across to the side we came from.
Even though we were 1km from Glen Helen, it was as if we were in the middle of nowhere; which we were. No cell phone reception, no toe, nothing. A car on the other side was empty. We walked over against the force of the river now knee deep. A woman came along and went to grab her kids. She stopped at Glen Helen and told Roger what had happened. Roger came on out and then grabbed his colleague who came on over and towed me up to the Mt Sonder Lookout. Of course, I grabbed the towel and Fionas camera fell right down, onto the road, covered with water… RIP Camera. We took everything out of the car because the local aboriginals would have broken in and stolen everything; there was no way we were leaving $20,000 worth of carbon fiber in our now, worthless truck. We carried them through the river on our shoulders and strolled into the resort. We had minutes to get our reservation in, through on some clothes, and headed to the restaurant where Mark Russell and his wife Carrie now were. BEER ME!!!!
We had an amazing dinner of kangaroo spring rolls, a vegetable stack, gnocchi, and cheesecake. After all, we were here for Fiona’s 33rd birthday just 3 days before!
Back at the room I had 2 more beers. “This sucks.”. But, it could have been a lot worse. I called NT roadside assistance; they’d tow the car back to Alice at 9AM.
Up at 5:30AM for a 6:30AM start. Nat couldn’t make it because of more flooding at Simpsons Gap and Duncan couldn’t make it either. (Duncan is doing IMNZ with us, his first). But Mark was there (Thankfully) (also coming to IMNZ for his first). We headed east to Peak 2. The climb of 800’ took about 55min. And, I remembered a training camp we had done several years prior with Alicia and Eric Shoulda and even Pete Eason. We turned back and headed to Ormiston Gorge. Carrie met us there and Mark Stayed for a swim. We headed back and the tow man was there after our 2hr bike ride.
We picked up the car, and he towed it back to Alice. We checked out and loaded up Carrie’s car with our Xterra inflatable SUP that we now weren’t going to use L.
Mark and Carrie headed back (he forgot his bike shoes) and Carrie was flying out on the day so it was safest and best for him to go back.
As for Fiona and I, we rode back home; another 130km east. But a lot of the time I was thinking of our swim coach Rob. He was hit by a car that very day and broke his clavicle and needs plastic sugery on his face. He’s a very good mate as we were with him at Kona last year and he met our family. This on top of another 2 of our friends that were hit by cars last week. Just aweful. But I thanked God for being with him and keeping him alive. That’s why I’m not just going to sit on my fat ass tonight but going to go to church and say Thank you to God for his blessings of my family and friends.
Thankfully we had a bit of a tailwind as that would have really deflated me. It was warm, maybe 100F/39C but tolerable. We had a few cokes, Clif bars, Starburst Snakes, bloks, Endura, Gatorade. We stopped at the Ellery Creek crossing and we jumped in the water. It was awesome. Then we continued on to Peak 2 and the Hugh Rive which was at 400mm deep. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten through that. (Everything happens for a reason). And after playing in the water, Fi fell on her brand new bike while trying to mount on the slippery road surface. I called her a complete amateur and we both laughed. (Things come in 3’s).
Our final river crossing was at Simpsons Gap where I just layed in the water as hot as a bathtub.
After 6 hours of total riding we were finally at home.
Ironman is a journey, not a destination.
Live everyday like it is your last.
Passion and Love.