I can’t remember when I originally found out about this crazy event. I feel that because of the community that I am in, I find out about random, underground races that are not very well publicised.
In order to feel ‘confident’ that I would be able to get through the distance, especially the swim, I did the 20k at Rottnest Island at the start of 2018. Once I had done that, I knew I would get through the distances. I hadn’t run over 84k and the run was 216k but I always know, that even if I have to walk the whole way, I will get to the finish. Plus I have my coach on my side telling me that I’m insane but yes, she is willing to coach me to get to the point where I will on the start line at a fitness level where I will be able to get through the distance. So I committed and October 2019 was the time that is was going to happen.
There was an email group that we had with other athletes and crew prior to the start which was great to share maps, information and advice to each other before we all met in LA and then jumped in the water.
We had paper maps from the year before so thankfully this was converted to gpx files by smarter people than me so I had it all on my garmins. Except for the swim. Obviously.
All of the organising that is usually done by the event organisers with a ‘race bible’ with maps, information about the local area and resources wasn’t provided for Uberman because it’s not a ‘race’. It’s an event that has a website with athlete names and results but it’s not a race with permits and anything like that. So I prefer to refer to it as an adventure. Because that’s how it felt!
Michael my husband and I did a lot of ground work before we left home and then when we were over in California before the adventure started. Plus we both have 5 years of my ultra-racing and Michael’s crewing experience to draw on as well in the lead up to this.
The word we kept using between us and the crew was fluid. We had to make plans but they could all change and have to adapt as we went along. We were well aware that anything could happen. Anything could go wrong so we had to plan for all possible outcomes and even try to think of the things that we hadn’t come up against before and what to do if it happened.
I also set up my crew in two teams. I felt like I had a big party of people, but at the same time, I am acutely aware of crew fatigue and how that can be more dangerous than athlete fatigue. If the crew is fatigued and cannot make sound decisions, drive safely or anything else, then it’s more deadly than me riding my bike feeling exhausted. This was a very strict rule in Epic 5 about having to rest a member of your crew from day 3 onwards so I took that mindset into Uberman as well.
I looked to what other long distance events with crews do. The one that stood out was RAAM. Even though RAAM usually goes for longer, up to 12 days, I feel that the set up of their crews works well. They use a day crew and a night crew where they swap over so each team has a chance to rest and restock on whatever is needed so that’s the set up that I used. I had 6 core people on the day/night rotation teams and then two people who weren’t able to come for the whole time. One was around for the bike and then the other for the run so the swap in/out ended up working well anyway as it meant we had another car to do running around as needed. I was worried that having 3 vehicles around on the run was too many but we managed it well enough that we (hopefully!!) didn’t bring too much attention to ourselves. Especially being in the national park without a permit for an event that wasn’t a race. It was a very real concern about getting kicked out of the park!! So I was also very careful to pay attention when my crew who were from America were telling me what to do/not to do around behaviour in the national park. The main one was where to park the RV we used as the main race vehicle as it had a bed and toilet that I was able to use when needed.
Swim: Josie, Heidi, John (boat captain), x2 ???
Day crew: Josie, Heidi and Mary
Night crew: Michael (Scraggy), Willie and Will
Bike: Ken (had to leave at the start of the run)
Run: Man (arrived during the first part of the run and stayed to the end)
Camera crew: Graham, George (assistant)
Okay, time to start the actual adventure before I get too carried away with all of the nitty, gritty details!!
Swim: Catalina Island to Parlos Verdes 34kms
11 hours 54 mins
Again, this swim is a well-known for marathon swimmers so I asked my two marathon swimmer friends Chloe and Brenda for advice. Especially since they had just swum it in the couple of weeks before I was due to set off! Their advice was invaluable. Especially Chloe telling me to go to the beach where I planned to land – (this is not always possible due to tides, so the swim can finish along the coast line at a number of beaches) as it was very rocky so you had to be careful when coming into shore. The other piece of advice I had from Brenda was around using alcohol-based mouth wash every 2 hours to manage the salt water in your mouth and the thick tongue feeling that can happen when being in the water for so long.
The other thing about this swim is the start time. Usually marathon swimmers head off around 11pm to midnight as this is the best time for water conditions. So again, why reinvent the wheel?! I know that I am not an experienced swimmer over long distances so I followed what the more experienced people do!
It was awesome at the boat marina before we left the main land as my whole crew came down to the boat to see us off so I could give and get hugs from everyone before heading out to start this whole crazy adventure!
My plan was to start the swim at 11pm but we got on the boat to head over to Catalina early, around 6:30pm-ish so we ended up sitting around at Doctors Cove where the swim beach start from about 8:30pm (maybe?!) I wasn’t paying much attention to the time at this point! This time gave me the space to think about what I was about to start and get my head a bit quietened down. I asked my boat captain if I could start earlier at 10pm instead, just because I didn’t see the point in waiting another hour. He agreed so we changed the start time. The person behind this crazy idea Dan didn’t mind what time we all started (there was 3 athletes this year), as long as we let him know when we started and recorded it through a trackers so that was fine to change my start time.
I had a moment where I thought about my previous coach Craig who passed away at the end of 2016. I find that he has a way of making his presence felt when I am doing big races and this was no different. I had a moment of reflection and grabbed my 8in8in8 swim cap as a tribute to him before jumping in the water. My paddler Kevin had already headed towards the beach so I had a line of sight on where to go. We were parked very close to the beach anyway so I didn’t have far to go. The swim officially starts when you are out of the water, standing on the beach. Well, that’s how I did it anyway as that’s how the marathon swimmers do it!
Both the boat and Kevin had glow sticks on them so I swam between the two so they knew where I was and I could see where to go. Clearly, I cannot navigate in the dark or over 34k as I can’t see the shore or where I needed to go so I relied on the boat to do that for me. I actually prefer this because it takes the pressure of my neck that you get by looking up and forwards. All I had to do was look side to side and stay between the two.
Since this wasn’t an ‘official’ swim, I was able to wear a wetsuit and hold onto the kayak when I was taking on nutrition. I could even get onto the boat if I really wanted to. I told the boat captain if there was a shark in the area, then to let me know and get me out of the water until it was safe to get back in again. He laughed and said in all of his years of doing Catalina crossings, he had never had a shark hanging around a swimmer. Sounds good to me!!
The swim start was uneventful but within about an hour, I started to feel cold. Not an ideal start to the swim. I had been told by Alin, a lovely guy I met at the La Jolla 10 mile swim that if I started to feel cold, get onto it straight away. He has done a lot of kayak escorts for the Catalina channel so was very clear about this. Got it. Unfortunately, all of the thermoses that we bought for warm drinks to use in the swim were back at the accommodation. Oops. So instead my crew warmed up water in the microwave on the boat, put it in a bottle that I could tip down my wetsuit to warm me up. Perfect. This worked to an extent but I was still feeling cold so I asked for another swim cap. That worked a lot better. I have swum in cold water before with two swim caps and that was enough. I still used warm water in my suit for the rest of the swim but I wasn’t as worried as I was at the start thankfully!
The first 20k of the swim was amazing. I had a really good tide pushing me along. I didn’t feel that I had to do a lot of swimming, based on how quickly the water was moving me along. I tried at one stage to swim a little harder to warm me up a bit, but that didn’t work so I just set my arm stroke to cruise mode.
About 10k in, the tape that I had on my neck had rolled up and was no longer effective so I ripped it off. No point in keeping it on as it wasn’t doing anything. Only issue was, I had nothing else on my neck to protect it from my wetsuit so it spent the next 24k tearing it apart. I certainly felt it during the swim, then in the following days as well!
After about 20k, the tides changed and it became a lot more choppy. I quite enjoy swimming in rough water. Much better than swimming in flat water anyway. I grew up swimming at a surf beach that would throw you around all of the time so I am comfortable in rough water. I don’t fight it, I just roll with however the water is taking me, as long as I stay in a relatively straight line!!
One thing I didn’t realise was that the boat uses nautical miles to navigate, not real miles. So when the 2nd in charge told me I was about half way at 6.8 nautical miles, that made no sense to me at the time. How can 6.8 be half of 20 miles?! What? Who can’t do maths properly!? Usually the answer to that question is me. But this question occupied a lot of mental space for a while after that! I still don’t know the actual maths between nautical and real miles but clearly nautical is a shorter distance!!
I can’t remember exactly when I started feeling sick, but it coincided with my bladder stopping working for about 5-6 hours. I was super, super stressed before the swim about doing a poo in my wetsuit. To the point where I consulted my nutritionist about what I should eat in the couple of days leading up to the start of Uberman to avoid this occurring. I spoke to Michael about it and he said I should wear old bathers that we can throw out if needed and I will be able to have a shower before I have a sleep out of the swim. I also took some Imodium before I started the swim. I was not leaving any stone unturned!! And yes, it worked!!!
But I think the effect of all of this was it also slowed down my bladder emptying. That meant that all of the nutrition I was still taking on had nowhere to go except back up again as my stomach ended up being really bloated for hours and hours. I kept eating and drinking and taking in salt tablets because I knew I couldn’t stop and at least some of it would be getting absorbed into my system. I didn’t feel nauseous the whole time, it was more that there was just no room for anything to go into my stomach. This occurred approx. 5-6 episodes of vomiting multiple times. Not ideal. But I have been sick when swimming before, I just keep moving and usually my crew and kayaker don’t even know I am vomiting as I don’t often break my stoke rate either!
The other memorable point was swimming for a good few hours through white rectangle things. I still don’t know what they are, I was told they were salt (somethings) or calamari. Whatever they were, they were illuminated by the light from the boat and it was amazing. The boat captain said he had never seen so many for so long before. I got hit on the face a few times, probably to make sure I was still awake but it was very beautiful. My crew member Josie said they must think I’m their mermaid. Very sweet.
At around 3am, I was getting tired. I started to will the sun to come up. I knew once the sun came up, I would get more energy back again and would feel better. I just had to last those couple of hours before day break. I closed my eyes a few times to try and have micro-sleeps between breaths. Didn’t really work.
Finally, the sun came up and it was amazing! It gave me the boost that I needed and I could also start looking forwards very occasionally to see what was around me. At one stage there was a container ship that my boat navigated around which was great! Didn’t need that to crash into me!
Again, I can’t remember at what point but I was swimming with Kevin kayaking beside me and I kept knocking into the kayak. I was getting really annoyed because even though it was rough, I thought, seriously, can’t you keep straight!? Kevin then told me it was actually me turning into him each time and I probably should move closer to the boat. Oops. Sorry Kevin! Thankfully, he didn’t hold it against me!
The last 2 hours of the swim were tough. I had been told by Alin not to look towards the shore for the last quarter of the swim. So, what did I do? Looked towards the shore of course! The main issue was, it never looked like it was getting any closer. I thought that I was about an hour away when I was actually about 2 hours away from finishing it. Kevin was also under the same impression that I would finish quicker than I did as the shore looked closer than it was. It was frustrating as I couldn’t tell how fast I was moving. The ocean at that point is so deep, you can’t see the bottom to gauge your forward progression. And when the shore isn’t getting any closer, your brain starts to play tricks on you that you’re actually not moving at all!
I remembered Dan saying the night before when we all caught up that no one had swum 12 hours so that wasn’t going to happen this year – or something along those lines. So when I realised I was close to 12 hours, it gave me a little extra push to get under 12 hours. Plus, sub 12 just has a nice ring to it!!
My crew met me at the beach. Thankfully, the practice the day before helped so I knew not to rush the beach landing. I waited for the wave to push me in, grabbed onto a rock for the wash back from the beach, then moved forwards again when the tide washed in. Will was there to grab me out of the water then Michael and Willie escorted me up the beach. I was with it enough to tell them to take their time as I had been lying down for 12 hours so I needed to take my time standing up again!!
There was some beach chairs I chilled out on for 5 mins before heading up the path to the RV. I had a mini crowd of women who all wanted to know where I had swum from and what I was doing next. It was so sweet to have people clapping when I finished the swim! I had it the day before as well when I had swum for 30mins!!
3 hours 21 mins
The plan out of the swim was always to have a sleep before getting on the bike. Dan was shocked as no one had ever biked the same day as the swim. But I figured that it was 10am, I wasn’t going to wait the whole day and night before starting riding. Plus I wanted to get out of the city into the more country-side before stopping for more of a sleep later in the night.
I ate some pasta, lay down and slept for 2 hours, then my crew got me up and going again onto the bike.
Bike: Parlos Verdes to Badwater Basin 640kms
51 hours 21 mins
My power meter was on my tri bike as I only have one but I didn’t let this determine what bike I used. I started out on my roadie as I knew the first part of the bike would be a lot of stop-start through traffic and that is an easier bike to ride through those conditions.
In the couple of days leading into Uberman, I didn’t have a plan of attack. I didn’t know how I was going to approach it in terms of pacing, I was planning to just go by feel and take it as it comes. I overheard a conversation between Michael and Willie about the bike course and they had both agreed that the way to ride it would be to pretty much soft pedal the whole way. I wasn’t in this conversation but sitting in the background listening to what they had to say. That phrase, soft pedalling stuck with me. And that turned into my mantra for the ride portion.
I had broken down the race/adventure into two parts. The swim and bike, then the run. I knew I had to get to the run in the best possible shape I could be in order to get through it and not implode. So with that in mind, I had to ride as easily as I could with a very low heart rate and cruise mode on. And that’s exactly what I did.
I kept my heart rate between about 120-130 for the ride, getting up to 140 when I was climbing and then low 150s on the last, big climb as it was in the middle of the day and it was steep!!
My post-swim sleep refreshed me enough that my brain was working well, my head wasn’t swishing around like I was still in the water so that was really good as I was worried about that and I was able to eat straight away. Yeah!
We weren’t sure before starting, how much traffic there was going to be and how close the RV was going to be able to be near me so my crew loaded me up with food and I had the course map loaded onto my Garmin. There was an option to use the bike path through certain sections of the ride but I opted for mostly the road as the bike path meant that I would be away from the road and hard to locate for my crew. Most of the time I had a shoulder. Except at the start of the Pacific Coast Highway. Then I was on the footpath being beaten up by the scratchy bushes as I passed! I crossed the road to the bike path and then when that suddenly ran out, I had to dash across the road back to the shoulder. Not ideal!
The wind picked up along the coast and I was sand blasted past a sand dune. Thankfully that didn’t last too long. Dan came out and found me and had a chat. He still seemed to be in shock that I was riding the same day as I had swum! He kept asking if I was planning to sleep for the night. My plan was always to try and push the limits and only sleep for a couple of hours but only if it was safe. If I was tired, I would stop and sleep more, but I never had a plan to sleep for 8+ hours at night like Dan was suggesting other athletes had done previously.
Getting out of the city wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be. The cars actually gave me a decent amount of space as they were passing and I never felt threatened by any drivers. My crew was Michael, Willie and Will after he had dropped the girls back at the accommodation and caught back up to us. My crew were always really close, they thankfully didn’t get caught up in traffic, despite heading through Malibu area in mid-afternoon.
The bike especially feels like it was one, long, continuous day. The whole of Uberman felt that looking back over it, but especially the bike as I kept getting confused between the first and second night!!
The first night, when it started to get dark, we put lights on my bike and a high-vis top on but I still didn’t feel safe. I was on roads that I didn’t know, out in the middle of nowhere with not many but enough cars around to make me nervous. Again, back to RAAM, when it’s dark, they have mandatory rules about a car directly following the rider for safety, so I asked Will to do this in his truck. It was perfect as it wasn’t the RV that was so big, it would be really annoying for cars as it can’t pull off easily to allow others to pass.
I had frequent contact with my crew to ensure they knew where my head and fatigue levels were at. They decided to stop me around 10pm for a quick rest. I was on the side of the road before I started to climb a decently, steep climb so it was perfect. I wasn’t able to sleep, but it was nice to be lying down for an hour. Each time I stopped, I used my Normatec boots to help my legs with recovery, got changed into my pj’s and then put on a fresh bike kit when I started going again. This was an attempt to avoid chaffing and other issues with my lady parts as this is a significant concern over long distance rides especially.
At this stage when I was still in the RV, Adam, the other athlete who was on the road with me, passed. Unfortunately I was getting organised in the RV so by the time I got out, he had gone so I didn’t get a chance to chat to him.
My legs felt better for a short rest and I was able to get up the hill better than I thought I would without a rest! Apparently, this area is well known for big trucks during the day so I was glad I was doing it at night so I didn’t have to worry about that! Don’t ask me what point on the bike this was, all I know it that it was the steep climb then fun descent. I realised as well I didn’t have to worry about all of the crazy animals we have in Australia that are around at night time so I could get a bit more speed up on descents that weren’t super tight as well.
When I stopped, I had 150k on my Garmin. I told my crew that it would be good to get to 200k before stopping for a longer sleep. I wasn’t pushing the pace at all so I knew it would take some time to get to that distance. My average pace was around 17-18kms/hr. Super slow. But that was the aim so I was happy to be on target for that.
One other thing I always think about at the start of any race is – “don’t be a hero” and I visualise tucking my ego away in my pocket. This keeps me in check to not push hard at the start of a race as it will have a negative effect on the other end as well so I didn’t get caught up in the fact that my average speed was so low, much lower than it ever would be normally!
Willie told me at one stage that I was going to turn a corner and see a big fire in the distance. Apparently it was approx. 5kms away, but the wind was blowing in the other direction so I wasn’t in danger. Cool. No worries. Now let’s get away from this area! He wasn’t wrong though. It was dark so the red from the fire looked pretty big. I sent love to the people affected and hoped that it would be over soon. I was happy to be moving away from it though. At this stage, I stopped briefly to chat to Will. The only issue was, I unclipped with my right foot and turned to the left putting all of my weight on the left side of my body and promptly fell over! I lay on the ground for a second and thought, yep, I’m tired.
Michael told me a couple of hours later (might have been 10mins, I have no idea or concept of time!!) that the crew were tired and needed to stop soon. I agreed and was close to 200k. I was slowly climbing at this stage, not very steep but not going super fast. He said that when they were able to find somewhere to pull over, they would, and that was where I would stop to sleep. I was feeling tired and agreed to this. I actually would have been fine if they stopped earlier as I needed to rest. It was around 4am and I was done for the night. I managed to get to 198k. Usually, my brain would say, keep going for another 2k but I clearly was tired and when Michael asked what distance I was at, my reply was “far enough” and I stopped for a 2 hour nap.
My stops included time to get changed, Normatec boots, eat, sleep then new bike kit and food before getting back on the bike so my rest time was always longer than my actual sleep time. Waking up to daylight helped me as well. That gave me a nice boost to my mood and overall feeling in my body.
I started riding and quickly, through a canyon the wind picked up. There was an intense head wind when I was climbing that I was cursing. That was until I thought of Craig. I knew that this wind was him making sure I had a tough time and was working for it. My frustration at the wind then left my body and mind. Instead I just looked to the sky to express my gratitude to Craig for this experience.
My day crew had gotten stuck in the traffic from a bunch of roads being closed with the fire. It took them about 5 hours to get to us which was unfortunate!! Thankfully, they caught up with us soon after this point and took over from the guys. They were well and truly ready for a sleep by that time!!
I hadn’t had the girls crew for me before but they were amazing. I didn’t have anything to worry about at all. They actually made the RV more organised than what it was with the guys and I was impressed with what Michael had done before Uberman had started.
The day was pretty uneventful. I managed to see another athlete Adam and his crew at one stage. I was SO excited to see them. I hadn’t seen them the whole time so it was awesome to stop and have a chat for a bit to check in on how they were going. We took a few photos before I kept going. The maps took me on a dirt road which was annoying, so I went back onto the main road after I saw Adam again and he assured me that I was going the right way!! Phew! Unfortuately, it was at this time that Graham and George had taken over crewing for me as the RV needed more gas and they thought that had lost me! Poor guys. We re-connected really quickly so it was fine.
When it was pretty flat, I jumped on my TT bike for something different. I wanted to stretch out my back and was ready for a change off my roadie. It was really worth it. Before we started to climb again, I swapped back for my roadie as it’s much easier to climb on even though my TT bike has the same gear ratio. When I’m less fatigued, I’m happy climbing on my TT bike but I wanted to make life as easy as possible for me!
Mid-afternoon I was riding along a highway and I started to feel really, really angry. It’s not something that I’m used to feeling so I figured I must be hungry. I ate. Then ate some more. But it wasn’t helping. That was strange as food is usually the answer to mood changes. I realised that it must be fatigue and needing to have a sleep. Very quickly after I realised this, my vision started to go wonky and I was getting cross-eyed. I stopped and told Heidi what was going on and that I needed to stop for some sleep. I asked Heidi to let me know how much longer we had on the highway or where would be a good spot to stop. She stopped me about 10mins later as we were still going to be on the highway for another 20k and that was too far for me to continue to ride. Plus there was a nice big area off the side of the road that it was safe to pull the RV off onto.
After a couple of hour sleep, I felt much better and got going again. Amazing what a couple of hours sleep and a new bike kit can do to brighten my spirits and freshen me up!
I can’t remember if it was this day, or the following day but I managed to stack again. Very similar situation. Standing still, the bike handlebars fell to the side and the bike slid underneath me and I fell again. On the same knee. I was so angry at myself! After that point, I told my crew to remind me to clip out with both feet every time I stopped. I was too tired to have a quick enough reaction time to cope if my bike did the same thing. Thankfully, I managed to stay upright for the rest of the ride!!
I kept riding, climbing, flat, rough as hell roads that made me wish I had my mountain bike to have some suspension and though the most amazing scenery. One of the biggest things about this event that I was excited about is the scenery. I knew the landscape was going to change significantly as we went along and I was no disappointed. I haven’t been to this part of California before so it was incredible to see from the bike as I had more time to take it all in as well.
The second night I was feeling good. Riding well. We checked out the course ahead and I said to my crew that I didn’t want to do the main, big climb which is also the first climb in the run from the other way in the dark. It wasn’t as much about the climbing, more the descent that I was concerned about. My crew agreed and suggested I get over the smaller climb first before stopping for a rest. However, I was struggling to concentrate on the climb so I stopped. I knew if I couldn’t keep my bike straight on a climb, I was not in any space to be able to descend safely. I had a mutual respect with my crew that if I made a decision like this, they wouldn’t fight me on it. Same for the other way that if my crew told me I needed to rest, I would as I knew they had seen something I hadn’t in how I was and clearly needed a rest. This didn’t happen as we were pretty much always on the same page anyway!
I was so excited to get to the final climb. It was towards the middle of the day by that point so it was hot. I told my crew to fill my big bottles half way to save on extra weight. I have no idea if that made any difference but mentally it did and that’s what is more important to me than the physical benefits at this stage!
When I was climbing, I let my heart rate go up to the low 150s and kept it around there. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the heat, I stopped and sat in Will’s car with the air conditioning on to cool down before I got back on my bike again. They had sent the RV up the road as there wasn’t enough room on the shoulder to keep pulling over so I had Will’s car instead to support me.
The climb took me a good couple of hours (honestly, no idea how long it actually was!) to do. I stopped at the top to take a photo, get some more to eat and drink before the descent. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take on that much nutrition on the way down so whenever Will stopped, I also stopped to drink some more. The air was super dry and dusty as we were well and truly in the desert by this point.
Finally, I got down to Stove Pipe where the RV was camped out and I was able to sit in the air conditioning, eat some water melon and chill out for a bit. It was so lovely!!
Prior to this part of the bike, Willie had told me that it was 40k from Stove Pipe to the finish of the ride. I was so excited by this and had focused on that. I knew that I could do 40k quite easily. Only issue was, it was actually 40miles. I was confused when Mary kept telling me it was further than I thought until I clarified with her my confusion. That threw me. I was mentally deflated by that and started to struggle. I just wanted the ride to be done and the idea of doing 70k instead of 40k was tough to get my head around. I stopped to tell Heidi that I was struggling and asked if they could provide some emotional support for me to get to the finish. I really wanted to finish during the daylight hours which I knew was possible but I needed to keep moving. My crew just stepped up and were amazing. They stopped on the side of the road as often as they could to cheer me on, Mary dressed up in the hot dog costume that Michael had surprised me in the previous day (I think?) and I just laughed and smiled the rest of the way until it was done. My mood lifted really quickly and the kms just went. Plus I kept telling myself that I am exactly where I need to be right now. Quoting a sign Man showed Michael and I before we left San Diego. That also helped!
I also thought that it was a good thing to go through this. I had gone into Uberman wanting to push myself to the limits and beyond and up until this point, I hadn’t had any big mental challenges on the bike. I reminded myself that this is exactly what I came for. I wanted a battle. A struggle. If I hadn’t gone through this, I don’t think I would have a feeling of satisfaction at the end.
And then I was done with the bike!! I had managed to have only one flat on my TT bike just near my crew and they just swapped out my bike for my roadie. That was it. No other issues. So very lucky!! I thanked the mechanical gods as I finished.
I was offered a beer from a lovely guy in the Badwater Basin Car Park where the bike finish/run start area was. I passed, thinking it would go down like razorblades!!
4 hours 43 mins
This time I slept for a bit longer. Probably around 3 hours?
It was awesome to be done with the bike. I was super happy.
I felt that the race/adventure was in two parts. The first part was the swim and bike, then the second part was the run. So it was nice to be done with the first half! Plus I had ridden faster than I thought I would for my overall time.
My legs felt surprisingly good as well. I was pretty impressed at my ability to stay within myself on the swim and bike to get to this point where I was feeling like I hadn’t done anywhere near what I had just done! Clearly all of the kms I have in my body is now paying off anyway.
Run: Badwater Basin to Mt Whitney Trail Head 217kms
64 hours 34 mins
The one thing that you never want in a triathlon is a slower run time to your bike time. That is unless you’re doing Uberman and there is no way you’re going to do the run in 2 days!! This is the one exception to the rule about your bike to run time that I feel I can give myself anyway!
I started the run a bit before 9:30pm. The idea for the run was to run as much as possible in the night time and avoid the heat of the day if it was getting too much for me. This wasn’t as much of an issue on the bike as I don’t generally overheat on the bike as much as I do on the run. I have a lot of really good mental strategies for managing the heat which work really well and I have written about extensively in my Epic 5 race report. But I’m also aware, that when I’m fatigued, my strategies aren’t as effective so I need to be careful with other physical methods as well – using ice down my top, wearing cooling clothing and a wet buff around my neck.
I didn’t need this so much when I started the run as it was night time. It was a little warm but quite pleasant. I started the run with Willie which was awesome. I had been hanging out to chat to my crew for 3 days now! Each time I got into the RV, it was all business. Eat, sleep, change clothes and get going again. There wasn’t time to chat and catch up. That is what the run is for. That’s one of the main reasons that I love to have my crew with me on the run. It’s my time to catch up on all of the stories and things that I have missed out on until that point.
We ran/walked to Oasis car park which was approx. 20-ish kms over a few hours. In the middle of nowhere, we heard a bike. We were so confused until Man popped up beside us! It was awesome! We had asked him to get my everyday glasses that had been left on the boat back in LA. Being such an amazing friend, he drove to LA to pick them up and brought them to me. I had already had 2 nights without them and my eyes were starting to really strain. They are worse when I’m tired and I didn’t want to go another night without them so I was so grateful to have someone prepared to uber-deliver them to me. Yes, he made that joke and I felt that it was only fitting to put it in here!
I didn’t really know how to approach the run leg so it was good to have Willie’s experience to lean on. He has done a bunch of ultra runs way longer than my 100k that I have done. He told me to walk lots, run a bit and have longer sleep breaks than I have been having. Done. Perfect. So that’s exactly what I did. It was trickly to know what the road was doing in the dark, the false flats were deceptive so if I felt that the road was on an incline, I would walk. I shuffled/ran slowly when I felt like I wanted to but never pushed the pace. I figured there was no point. I had gotten to this stage by cruising through, not going hard so why would I start now?! 200+kms is actually a long way on my little legs!!
I made it to the Oasis and confused Ken and Man by turning right instead of left. But the RV was camped out in the car park so I went a little off course to have a sleep. I wasn’t super tired at this point but again, no point in being a hero and pushing through this early on the run. I stopped again for a good few hours’ sleep before getting up and going again before the sun started to come up.
The next section was the Oasis hotel to Stove Pipe car park. As I said before, we needed to be careful to where we were stopping and resting with the RV so this next section was a bit further than we probably should have pushed to but it was the best place to stop and rest again.
It was handy to have ridden this section the day before so it was pretty fresh in my mind to where things were at for different landmarks as well. Since the course is so long, there was no way I was going to see all of it beforehand, and usually I don’t preview courses beforehand but this helped me. Especially towards the end of this section when I was struggling mentally due to heat and fatigue!
I ran with Josie and Mary, they swapped out every couple of hours which was awesome. I didn’t really know these women before they came out to crew for me so it was great to get to know them at the same time as having company on the run!
The last 5-6kms of this section was tough. The sun was belting down. I was feeling like I just wanted to stop and sleep but knew I had to keep pushing to the RV. Again, my crew just stepped up and got me there. It was so good to have people I could be open and vulnerable with to ask for help when I needed it. I feel that’s one of the most important parts of having a crew. They are able to carry the emotional load when you need them to.
Around this time is when I started to notice the effect of fatigue on my body. When I was feeling tired, my legs would no longer be underneath me but swing out to the sides each time I took a step. Not something that has ever happened to me before so it was very strange! One of the goals I had coming into Uberman was to try and push myself to my limits and beyond so that was one of the signs that I was certainly doing that.
I finally got to the Stove Pipe car park and was able to crash out for a few hours to get out of the heat of the day. It was amazing as we could crank the air con and I was able to sleep. I don’t know how I would have coped if I didn’t have the RV with a decent bed to sleep on and toilet to use when needed. Highly recommended for anyone considering doing this madness in the future!
My feet had started to swell when I was on the run. This was to be expected and I have experienced this before so we purposely bought 3 pairs of shoes to manage this situation. Two the same size and one a full size bigger. I had worn my first pair of shoes on the first leg, then swapped to the same size for the next section to avoid fatiguing my shoes too much. I then swapped back to the first pair of shoes with the sides cut out as my feet swell sideways before they swell lengthways. This stopped my little toes from being crushed in the sides of my shoes and creating blisters which for the first time ever, meant that I didn’t have ANY blisters!! It was a miracle!!
We also put blister patches on ‘hot spots’ that were potentially going to go to blisters. We ended up running out of them so I just kept the same pair of socks on. Yes, I could smell them after a while and they were terrible!! But it helped me not get blisters so it was worth it in the end.
I started the next section in the late afternoon when it was still warm, but nowhere near as hot as it was during the day. This next section was the big climb that I did on the bike the previous day through to Furnace Creek.
I started the run with Ken as he had to head back home so it was nice to spend some time with him. He also had to take Josie to the airport. As sad as I was to see her go, she needed to go home to her family which I also completely understand. Family is very important to me so I knew that she had to go home as well.
Speaking of family, I saw Jonathan at the start of the climb as he was descending on his bike. I knew he was close so I was super excited to see him!! He looked in really good spirits and we had a beautiful moment before parting ways and his crew also passed in their RV with loads of cheers and smiles as they went along. That certainly gave me a boost and was one of the highlights of the whole course as well.
I was feeling a bit emotional at one stage and saw a black bird keep following me along the path. I joked to Michael that it was waiting to pick over my carcass. Especially since I hadn’t showered since I started this madness! He replied with exactly what I needed to hear. He said that it was Craig checking in on me. A few tears later, I felt better. For the rest of the run I kept seeing black birds around on course. It was really beautiful.
Man took over the ‘pacing/keeping me company duties’ on the climb. We started to talk about all things life and very deep. I was eating popcorn at the time so we joked that we were having a Netflix session! 4 hours later, we reached the top and we finished our conversation. Will had kept trying to jump in to walk with me but we couldn’t finish the story half way through so Man just stayed with me!
Finally, I got to the top and could have a brief rest before continuing on down the other side. I was able to descent pretty quickly down the other side. I didn’t want to run too quickly to put a lot of pressure on my quads so I still did a walk/run but ran more than I was walking previously.
I finally had a hallucination as well. I had been waiting for them to come but I had been sleeping more than I thought I would do they came later than I thought! I was running with Will down the hill and heard someone yelling out from over the side of the barrier “help, I’m down here”. I stopped talking half way through my sentence to listen again. I didn’t hear it again and Will didn’t hear it so I knew it wasn’t real. But always have to check, just in case!!
I stopped for a quick sleep in the RV as I hadn’t had a decent sleep since Stove Pipe and it was still a decent distance to Furnace Creek. I was happy to rest, despite still feeling okay as again, no point in pushing it when I still had a long way to go! My Garmin was re-setting each time I stopped and charged it so I had no idea overall how far I had run or how far I had to go. I was just moving from one rest stop to the next.
I was feeling pretty good when I started running again. Willie joined me this time and I mentioned to him that I was feeling pretty fresh. We both burst out laughing as I was really stinky, despite using baby wipes and deodorant when I was actually talking about how my legs were feeling. Clearly we were both a bit delirious by this point!
I made it through to Furnace Creek pretty quickly before another decent sleep in the car park. We were super lucky with sneaking in to car parks in the middle of the night and then leaving in the early hours in order to not have any questions asked to why we were there. Good timing on all ends.
I woke up the next morning feeling good. I thought I was much closer to the finish line than I actually was and kept saying that I was going to finish today. I clearly didn’t realise that I was WAY further away than I actually was. That and I thought I was on day 5, not day 4! Well, actually I had no idea what day I was on. I just knew I was running and that was about it!
I woke up at one stage during one of my sleep breaks and told Michael that I wanted my bottles filled half way as I still needed to climb on the bike. He reminded me that I was actually now on the run so I didn’t need to worry about that. I then promptly fell back asleep! Very funny.
The climb out of Furnace Creek was really fun. The views were incredible and again, a very different landscape to what I had been looking at previously. I really enjoyed this section. Dan caught up with me to have a quick chat as we were climbing. He seemed very impressed at my progress and kept asking if he needed to make it harder with a 20 pound weight vest. Uh no. This was certainly hard enough as it was!
The weather was still warm but not as bad as it was through Death Valley thankfully.
The next section again, was tough. It was a long, flat section which clearly seems to be what mentally is hard for me. I could see Mount Whitney off in the distance and that I was getting closer and closer to it. That part wasn’t bothering me. I knew eventually I would get there and I was fine with that but the openness and very long looking roads felt mentally tough for me. Thankfully I had Mary and Heidi playing some awesome tunes in Will’s car as they went along which picked up my spirits as well as having Willie with me during the worst parts, cracking jokes and making me laugh.
And then I saw a clown. I was with Mary at the time, we were having a lovely chat when we suddenly saw a clown on the side of the road leaning against a tree. Like usual, I checked with Mary to make sure it wasn’t a hallucination. Nope. It was real. And it was my worst nightmare. I am terrified of clowns and this particular one had a super scary, serial killer type mask on. We fed of each other’s anxiety and started thinking we were going to die as the clown stalked us along the side of the road. Then, just as we thought it was gone, it was then behind us. By this stage we realised that it was Willie, one of the crew, at the start we weren’t sure but we said to Heidi it was not fun and needed to stop. I was almost in tears I was so scared!! Willie felt terrible as he thought it would be funny but it was fine. Quickly forgiven. I now hope that clown costume has been burnt and never to be seen again!!
I had noticed when I became fatigued and needed to sleep as my legs would do random things. One thing was my legs wouldn’t be underneath me but instead swing around as I took steps forward. The other thing was, usually my left leg would suddenly step sideways like a zig-zag step. I had NO control over what my legs were doing and all I could do was stay upright as much as I could (thankfully, no crashes on the run!) and stop and sleep. Michael had parked the RV a bit too far up the road so I asked him to bring it back and chose a spot on the side of the road to stop. My legs would suddenly turn to jelly sometimes when I stopped as well and Michael had to literally help me walk to the RV. Interesting what fatigue does to your body!!
It ended up being roughly 2-3 hours of being out on the road then a 3-4 hour sleep before I got up and going again during the day. That seemed to work well to give my body a break then get going again.
It was during this sleep break along the never-ending road that I heard sirens. I was concerned but my crew assured me that it was fine and nothing to worry about. I found out and later saw that a car trailer had caught fire and the fire moved to the car. Thankfully no one was hurt but the car was completely gutted. It passed on a tow truck later in the night and there was only the shell left. Very sad for the family as they were moving house and lost everything in the fire apparently.
When the sun went down that night, it was cold. Super cold. It ended up getting down to 2-3 degrees. I actually ran faster and more than I had been doing, simply because it was so cold and I wanted to get to Lone Pine which was my next rest stop. I had one more sleep break overnight but Michael didn’t let me rest for that long as I needed to just keep moving.
At one stage I thought he had offered me a puffer jacket next time I stopped. Nope. Another hallucination. He reluctantly gave me his jacket (as he told me later!) because of how smelly I was!! Mary had also sacrificed her jacket earlier to me as my neck had oozed on the back of it. I had to rip it off which killed me but she understood. Well, said she did anyway!!
I had a unicorn jump out at me to announce I had reached the 100 mile distance. Super pumped for that!! Plus Willie being dressed as a unicorn was much friendlier than an clown! I’ll take a hot dog or unicorn any day! Especially when Mary turned up in the unicorn outfit on the Mount Whitney climb. Made me smile and feel better when I was having a moment.
Man and Will swapped out running with me as Michael drove the RV. I always make my crew wear the head torch as I don’t want any extra weight on head. The only thing is, I occasionally needed to remind whoever I was with not to look me in the eye when talking to me and to keep the light in front of where we were running and not look around the area. The longer we ran, the shorter my temper got and unfortunately Man copped a couple of yells from me! I then quickly apologised each time. He understands ultra-racing so knew where I was at. There is a reason I surround myself with people who just ‘get it’. Especially in those dark moments!
Towards the end of this section, all I could do was focus on the light in front of me. Man was trying to point out things around me. All I could see was the 5 bedroom house which turned into a big mound of dirt by the time I got to it and then the light and not falling asleep as I was moving. I had completely forgotten about thinking I was going to finish the whole thing that day. I was just focussed on getting to the RV so I could finally get some sleep. The RV was parked in accommodation where the rest of my crew had beds to sleep in. I purposely didn’t want to go into a bed as for me, that was a rewards that I would have at the end of this adventure. Michael clearly had the same idea as he directed me towards the RV, not a hotel room.
He had the plan to wake me at 9am as I was going to bed around 5am (I think?) but my body had other ideas. I was awake ready to get up at 8am and was on the road by about 9.
I had said to Dan the day before that I wanted to finish during the day. All I had left now was the Mount Whitney climb. I had seen so many photos of Mount Whitney and how beautiful it looked. I have never been there before so I didn’t want to miss out on seeing it all as I climbed. So I was really glad I was able to make that a reality.
Willie started with me again so I said to him I needed to run a bit to make sure that I wasn’t just walking the whole day! This didn’t last long as we started climbing pretty quickly. That was after we missed the turn to Mount Whitney. Thankfully Graham was there to turn us around before we kept going through town! I had no idea where I was going so didn’t know to even look out for a turn!! We couldn’t do much but laugh about it.
I expected the weather to be a bit cooler but it was comfortably warm. I think that after I left Death Valley and the desert, the weather was much nicer. The main issue that I was then dealing with was the dust when riding and running had destroyed my throat. I could no longer swallow my salt tablets so instead I asked my crew to open the salt tablets into my electrolyte drink so I could still ingest the salt without the dry retching and vomiting that I would experience when I tried to swallow tablets.
Mary, Willie and Man all spent time swapping in and out walking with me up the climb. I usually walk quickly/power hike up hills but that wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t racing for any time, I was wanting to finish. I was well aware that if I tried to push hard, even this close to the end, I risked completely destroying myself. Plus I wanted to enjoy it!!
Adam and his brother and friend who crewed for him found me on the way up the climb, about 5k from the top. It was awesome to see him as he had finished the previous night so I was able to congratulate him on his achievement and quickly swap stories on our separate adventures before he headed off to the airport. It was lovely to quickly reconnect with him again.
Another teary moment when I saw another black bird checking up on me and the general overwhelm that comes when I realised that this was almost over. I had almost finished. Sometimes it’s really nice to reflect back on the previous few days, even if it does feel overwhelming to realise what I have been able to do and achieve. And that it was almost over with. Such an amazing feeling.
Willie, Man and Mary were with me for the final part. It almost felt unbelievable that I was finally here. I had done it!!
Since I hadn’t been there before, I didn’t actually know where the finish line was. Until I saw it. Man kept telling me and pointing and I had to point out to him that yes, I saw it and no, I wasn’t in a hurry to get there. It didn’t matter how quickly I got to the finish. I was here. I instead wanted to saviour that moment.
I had quite a few other people, aside from my crew also standing around clapping and cheering me on. That was so lovely too! They stopped when they saw everyone gathered around and me coming with the Australian flag around my shoulders and Graham with his film equipment. They clearly knew something was going on and wanted to be a part of it.
And I had done it. I grabbed the thor-style hammer (that Dan got for Uberman to signify “dropping the hammer” to get it done) and lifted it high above my head. I had done it!!!! My crew then all came in for hugs and tears and photos. Thinking about it still gives me goosebumps. We stayed there for a while. Mostly so I could sit down for a while and we could all take photos and celebrate the achievement. I feel this is an achievement for my crew as well as myself. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. This is not the kind of thing that someone can do alone. It’s very much a team effort and my team was absolutely incredible at every moment, they were there and stepped up above and beyond when I needed them to.
I am forever grateful to them for sharing this incredible experience with me!
Total: 135 hours 55 mins (5 days 15 hours 55 mins)
I can now claim:
1st female ever to line up
1st female ever to complete Uberman
Swim course record
Second fastest overall finish
Smashed the previous course record by 31 hours
Pretty freaking proud of myself right about now!!!!!