Unbreakable – Inspired by the Barkley Marathons – EST.MMXX 2021 Report

  • Location: Marysville, Victoria, Australia
  • Time:
    • Unbreakable: DNF
    • Fun Run: 28:20:24
  • Date: 18-20/06/21
  • Overall Place:
    • Unbreakable: DNF
    • Fun Run: Equal 1/7
  • Full Results

Unbreakable – Inspired By the Barkley Marathons, the name of the ultramarathon says it all, Unbreakable and Inspired By the Barkley Marathons. If you’re familiar with arguably the hardest ultramarathon in the world, The Barkley Marathons, you’d understand a race thats inspired by such a race is going to be both ridiculously “ridiculous” and ridiculously tough. If it’s not the race director should detach the “Inspired By the Barkley Marathons” part of the title. After giving Unbreakable a crack, in my opinion the race is both ridiculous and ridiculously tough enough to earn the “Inspired By the Barkley Marathons” part of the title. Brett Saxon (Race Director of Unbreakable and owner of the family owned trail running business Trailsplus) has created a race and curated a course that is worthy of the attached “Barkley Marathons” name. If approval from Lazarus Lake (Barkley Marathons creator) himself isn’t enough I can certainly vouch for this race after giving it a crack.

What makes Unbreakable and the Barkley Marathons so hard and different to other ultramarathons? Whats the concept? Send runners onto an unmarked looped course at an unknown time to complete 5 laps of said course with; no GPS watch, no phone and no outside help, all whilst trying to find books with a map, compass and written hints. The page of the runners matching bib number of the books found on course must be ripped out to prove the loop was completed. All this is done on a tough course with off-trail segments and with tight cut-offs for each loop. Failure to collect a page from all the books on course after completing a loop will either have runners DNF’ing, or if they have enough time (highly unlikely) trying to go back out on course to find the book they missed. It’s a crazy and whacky concept, and brings runners to their upmost physical, mental and emotional limits. Thats the concept of the Barkley Marathons and is the inspiration for Unbreakable. Obviously Unbreakable isn’t the Barkley marathons so besides the obvious location difference there are other differences such as cut-off times and distance per loop. To complete the Barkley Marathons runners have to complete 5 loops (approx. 32km each), 2 loops clockwise, 2 loops anti-clockwise and 1 either or. All 5 loops must be completed under 60 hours (12 hours each loop)and the course is said to have 16,000m+ elevation gain. Thousands have tried over the 35 years the race has been held, however only 15 have ever finished. So that now bring us to Unbreakable – Inspired By the Barkley Marathons, 2021 was the inaugural year for the event and due to COVID-19 and some extreme storms a few last minute changes had to be made, nonetheless the race was run. For Unbreakable 5 loops had to be completed, each loop approx. 47km, so 235km for all 5 loops, approx. 2000m elevation gain for each loop (there was definitely more than this). 2 loops where to be completed clockwise, 2 loops anti-clockwise and 1 loop either or. 19 books where out on course and all this had to be done within a 42 hour cut-off. However if runners couldn’t complete this but could complete 3 laps under 29 hours they’d finish the “Fun Run”, which is another concept the event shares with the Barkley Marathons.

I went into Unbreakable after missing out on running the Irrational SOUTH (a 200 miler in South Australia) due to Australia’s interstate COVID-19 lockdowns. I was interested in Unbreakable before this happened, however, my main goal for 2021 was to finish a 200 miler and I’d already booked Irrational SOUTH. So as soon as it was certain I’d be unable to travel interstate to run Irrational SOUTH I got online and signed up for Unbreakable. I’m not going to lie though I had huge doubts going in, not in my physical ability or my mental strength but my navigation skills, and rightfully so….. I’d hardly had to use a map and compass and the few lessons I’d had where done years ago. A huge part of this event was the navigational aspect, it was an unmarked course and the books we had to find where to be found using a map and compass after all. This was a huge unknown for me and made me pretty anxious which is also what excited me about the event. This was not your standard ultramarathon, it was something special and I was looking forward to being part of the inaugural edition of the event.

Friday the 18th of June, I rocked up to the undisclosed location of the event (somewhere around Marysville, Victoria) at around 4pm. The race was said to start anytime between 6pm on the Friday and 6am on the Saturday, we the runners were to set up camp and wait for the signal that marked the start of the race (a car horn). Once this signal was made we had one hour to get ready, before all that though I had to set up my tent and get to check-in where we’d be given our maps and race brief. Brett conducted the race brief as a group, giving all seven runners their maps and book location hints at the same time (at around 6:30pm). The seven of us were nervous but all pretty jovial because the only way to hide anxiety and fear is with laughter right? Once Brett completed the race brief the seven of us got to work on our maps underneath the marquees and on top of the tables Brett and his team had marvellously set-up near the warmth of a fire. We made notes in regards to distance and the book locations, hoping they’d still make sense when we were going to be inevitably delirious and running around like zombies. I really felt like I had no clue what I was doing, and after writing a few brief notes on my map my anxiety only grew. “I really have no idea what I’m doing”, I had my notes done in 10-20 minutes whilst everyone else still had their heads down and were still writing. This put doubt in my head “what else are they writing? What am I missing?”. Anxieties where also high because it was now past 6pm which meant Brett could have us running at any moment now, after another 20 minutes I decided I’d had enough stressing, I’d already organised all my gear and took all the notes that I knew to take for the map so decided my time would be best spent in my sleeping bag and trying to catch up on some sleep. I’d worked nightshift all week so felt pretty damn tired and honestly s**ty, which was probably contributing to my high stress levels, so at around 8pm I went to my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag, awaiting the inevitable wake up call of a car horn.

BWHAAARRRP!! There it was, the sound of the car horn, I checked my wrist to see not my usual Garmin watch but an old analogue watch, 4:00am. Brett had actually let us get some decent sleep, I dozed in and out of sleep all night as the wind played with my “appropriately” picked cheap summer tent all night, it felt like it was going to collapse numerous times throughout the night! But considering that I actually slept pretty well, we were woken at 4am that meant the official start time of the race was 5am, we had 1 hour to get ready, I got up instantly and started getting ready. I ate a quick breakfast of muffin bars, peanut butter bagels and water (the luxuries of camping solo) and started going through my gear, we also had to collect our bibs from Brett. The bibs were super important for this race, in particular the number of the bib because that number was our allocated number that would tell us what page number to rip out. I believe my first number 21, after I got all my gear sorted and grabbed my bib number I quickly messaged my dad to let him know when we were starting and that I’d be unable to respond to calls and texts for possibly the next 42 hours, as the phone was to go in a sealed black bag not to be opened the entire race, if it was opened it’s an instant DNF and counts as a forfeit which would prevent us from re-entering the race again for two years! So that was not an option, they’d be no quitting or touching the phone. Before I knew it 5am hit and it was time to go, however we had a slight issue a couple competitors slept through the car horn so Brett being unusually kind gave us an extra 15 minutes to get ready (I don’t think Brett will let this happen again!). This gave me a little extra time to relax by the warmth of the fire which was nice. That 15 minutes went past quickly though, and before I knew it the seven of us were huddled together at 5:15am with our headlamps on, in the cold, standing in the dark….. Being the Aussie version of the Barkley Marathons the race was started to one of the most Australian songs in our history, Solid Rock by Goanna. Brett’s intention with the song was to use the didgeridoo at the start of the song. To be honest upon writing this race report I forgot how the race started, however upon a message to Brett I was reminded of this song which brought back the memories clearly! This included the memory of the speakers turning off as Brett started filming the start of the race with his phone! Honestly I wouldn’t of had it any other way for the inaugural year of the event, just like us the competitors Brett was ironing out the kinks and learning from making mistakes, which could be improved upon the following year, the true Barkley spirit! Anyway after the music cutting off we were off! 7 adults running out into the forrest with a map and compass to look for 19 books spread over a 47km looped course….. Putting it that way makes us sound like a bunch of lunatics, especially considering we’d taken time off work and paid money to do this!! Anyway we started a slow jog running along the fence that ran along base camp, which was located on a block farmland on some private property. We were heading into the unknown, no idea what expect, high amounts of anxiety and uncertainty, it was a pretty special and unique way to start a race.

At the start the seven of us stayed as a group chatting away, focussed on our maps, compasses and book notes. The first book we had to find was about 3-4km into the course, I don’t remember the cues very well but I remember it being hidden off track in some fallen down hollowed out tree. Straight off the bat you got a feel for the courses terrain, undulating fire-trail with some steep climbs. There wasn’t too be much off trail segments this year, however the books themselves would be hidden off-trail most of the time. Brett originally had us running through a lot more off trail segments however due to a recent severe storm and COVID-19 lockdown the original planned course and placement of the books was altered. So because of this the course was adjusted to mostly fire-trail, however cut-offs where made tighter as a consequence. Still though navigation would prove to still be difficult as the fire-trail seemed to have thousands of connecting trails that confused the s**t out of us. And just because the course didn’t have a lot of off trail segments it didn’t make it easy, there was a lot of difficult steep climbs. Anyway the first book had us walking around aimlessly for a while before we found it in the hollowed out fallen tree I mentioned above. Not much longer afterwards a few of us including myself run the wrong way before we even got to the third book! Thank god for the other group members who called us back before we made any real serious navigational errors. The course itself seemed to have little to no “flat” areas, it seemed we were always running and/or hiking up hills or running back down. Time did fly by though, finding the books seemed to take out the usual monotony of ultra running, before we knew it we’d found 4-5 books and the sun had begun to rise. Gully, after empty tree stump, after overgrown single track, after off-trail segment, we found book after book, heading in the wrong direction or searching in the wrong place far too often! We’d wasted a lot of time searching for books in the wrong area or doubling back after a little navigational error. We kept moving forward though and as mentioned above time flew, in our complete concentration it took me a while to realise that by book 10 or so we were no longer together as a group of seven, we’d seemed to have lost Lachlan, Nigel and Shane. The four of us would end up running together for the remainder of the loop. Ben, Tim and Chris worked together to continue to navigate the course and locate the books as a team of four. Personally I felt like I wasn’t much use to the team with navigating and finding the books on the first loop, I was pretty useless navigating. I still tried though and we as a team were constantly checking our maps to make sure we were heading the right way which didn’t always work but miraculously we never went too far off course, this would change during our second and thirds laps though.

It was a sunny day, a perfect winters day for ultra-running, the sun was out, there was little to no wind, no rain, it was perfect…. What wasn’t perfect though was out attempt at completing this first lap, despite Chris, Tim, Ben and myself working together we weren’t giving ourselves much time to make the Unbreakable 5 loop cut-off, it was going to be close for us to make the 8 hour 20 minutes. After collecting around 10-12 pages out of the 10-12 books we’d run around 30-35km which meant we only had 7-9 books left and around 12-17km but time was really getting away from us, this is what I remember thinking anyway. We knew we’d easily make the Fun Run cut-off of 9 hours 40 minutes but we were attempting to finish the 5 loops, to be “Unbreakable”. The course was relentless though, I remember one specific climb up Mount Gordon. It reminded me of some of the climbs during another event called Buffalo Stampede (one of Australia’s toughest ultramarathons). The hike up Mount Gordon was steep and it was slippery, the single track trail was relentless. Like everything though it didn’t last forever and once we got to the top we were rewarded with a book, an awesome view and a water drop. But after that we were right back into it, descending down the other side of the mountain, down a trail appropriately called Steep Rocky, it was steep and it was rocky the perfect place to roll an ankle. This descent brings me to the one negative part about working as a team, we all had our individual strengths which helped speed things up as a group but we also had our individual weaknesses, which slowed things down. Some of us were better at climbing, others better at descending and others better at running the runnable parts of the course, as a result there were parts of the course we had to slow down and wait for each other. The time saved by staying together far outweighed this little negative though but still it was a negative. In hindsight though the time “wasted” by waiting for each other could still be used productively to either stop and get out the map to check bearings and make sure we were going in the right direction, or to start looking for a nearby book.

We were really working well as a group, the four of us clicked really well, we were enjoying each others company and working well as a team, joking, philosophising about life and ultra running, getting to know each other and sharing each others struggle as we battled up the hills and attempted to navigate the course. I’m finding as I write this race report that upon reflecting everything seems to blur together hence why this report may seem scattered. The order of the pages, certain parts of the course, specific conversations or struggles we had, I can’t remember what happened when. I think this is a reflection of the type of race this is, the concentration required to stay on course, to find book after book, racing against the clock whilst struggling with the steep and undulating climbs, it puts you in a trance and by the end after lack of sleep and fatigue the delirium seems to have affected my memory. This is unique to this type of race. Despite all this I do remember the feeling when we got our hands on the last book for the first loop. About 7 hours and 30 minutes had past since we started the loop, and as we made our way up the final uphill segment of the lap we looked down at our maps and read our book location hints, it was clear the book was at the top the hill. We were right and we were also lucky it was easy to find, between some trees at a junction, there it was the last book. It felt great knowing that we would at least finish one lap this year and would be able to start a second and at least a third. Making things even better it was looking like we’d make the finish line of the loop under the 8 hour 20 minute cut-off to stay in the race to have the opportunity to finish the 5 loops to complete Unbreakable. I’m not going to lie though I was tired not just physically but mentally, so at this point if we didn’t make the Unbreakable cut-off I would’ve been happy to make the 9 hour 40 minute cut-off so we could finish the Fun Run and only have to do 3 laps without actually pulling ourselves from the race. Anyway once we ripped our pages from the book we made our way downhill, you could actually see basecamp out in the distance from the hill we were running down, which uplifted our spirit. We imaged what it’d feel like running down this hill after completing 5 loops, it’d be pretty special. Anyway this meant we were only 2-4km away and with the cool winter sun blazing down on us it wasn’t long before the 4 of us finished our first lap together in a time of 7 hours 55 minutes and 30 seconds. If we were to stay in the game to finish Unbreakable we had to replenish our supplies, get whatever we needed for the next lap and give Brett our pages as well as receiving a new bib number before the clock hit 8 hours and 20 minutes. 25 minutes seems like a lot of time but when you’ve just been running for nearly 8 hours and have to get ready for another 8, 25 minutes feels like 10 seconds! Before I knew it we were rushing out of basecamp with only 20 seconds spare! I was jealous of Chris, Tim and Ben as their crews had warm food for them and helped get their gear ready, whereas there I was rushing around like a headless chicken, stressed to the max to make sure I got enough food and water in me as well as enough supplies for the next lap. With that being said the positive about having no crew was everything was straightforward and simple, I didn’t have to organise everyone else to get the things needed for myself. I had an easy, straightforward system and a plan that made getting ready for the next lap easy! Still stressful though!!

The 4 of us got out of basecamp 25 seconds before the cut-off, if we failed to get out before 1:35pm we would’ve been taken out of the running to complete the 5 laps (8 hours 20 minutes after starting time). So we left with only 25 seconds spare! Which actually meant we’d now have 8 hours 20 minutes and 25 seconds to finish this second lap, an extra 25 seconds compared to the first lap, however we’d now had over 2000m elevation gain and 47-50km on the legs….. However we also now had a better idea of which way we were going and we’d already found all the books. So that gave is some optimism, believing we may actually be able to finish this second lap quicker than the first. Another fun bit of information to add here is we were now running in the opposite direction compared to the first lap, this meant we should run into the other 3 runners; Lachlan, Nigel and Shane. They obviously missed the cut-off to complete the 5 laps (Unbreakable) however could still make it in time to make the 3 lap (Fun Run) cut-off.

Starting the second lap I felt much more confident, my weak navigational skills were less of a hindrance purely because I could rely on my memory from the first lap. I’d remembered which way to turn and where the books were for the first third and last third of the loop. I was still a little uncertain of which way to go and where the books were for the middle part of the course but majority of the course? I now felt pretty comfortable with it. I felt this ended up being useful to the team as they seemed to forget (this is my perspective) where the books were, so I could direct where to go at times. I’m not going to lie it made me feel much better feeling I was making a bigger contribution to the 4 of us. The first lap it felt like I was leeching of them, unable to offer much help with the navigation due to my incompetence. But this lap at least for the first 5-10 books I was quick to re-find the books when the others seemed to forget a few of them. As we were making our way up the first major ascent we ran into Shane, Nigel and Lachlan. Nigel and Shane had run the wrong way and took a detour that had them wasting hours! Nigel was also injured, and was descending the steep hill in a painful grimace, Shane though seemed in high spirits as he joked as we passed, Lachlan didn’t seemed phased he was purely focussed on the task at hand. It was good to see the three of them, they were about 15-20 minutes away from basecamp which meant if they wanted to they could still have a crack at attempting 3 laps and get the Fun Run completed. Speaking of major ascents, the first 20km of the second loop had us making some steep climbs, the first lap we had the luxury of running down these hills however this time we were making our way up them. You could feel the exhaustion start to take hold of our group from these climbs, less chatting, more silence and much more sombre tones in our voices. This didn’t last too long though, fast forward some hours and the 4 of us were on track making good time even wth the climbs. We’d collected over 10 books, climbed back up Mount Gordon along with many other of the steep climbs and were on time to not only make the 8 hour 20 minute cut-off but it was looking we could actually do it faster than the first lap! Our spirits had also lifted, and exhaustion had seemed to fade, well so I thought….. It was getting dark though, the sun was disappearing and wth it so was our enthusiasm (mine at least). Every time the sun goes down and I’m running an ultramarathon and I know I’m going t be running through the night my anxiety spikes, I bloody hate it. I did my best to keep that negativity inside my head and not let it effect the group. We were doing well, never getting lost and we didn’t have to check our maps all that often. The weight of what was ahead of us was starting to get to me though, we’d been running for about 13-15 hours, had run around 70km but weren’t even halfway if we were to finish the 5 loops. My mind started playing tricks on me, finishing only 3 laps and just completing the Fun Run was becoming very appealing. I’d still be challenged and would be satisfied with my performance after 3 laps, so I told myself and I’d only have to run 1 more lap after this lap.I started hoping we’d end up getting lost or get fatigued and start slowing down and end up missing the 5 lap Unbreakable cut-off.

Be careful what you wish for…. not long after those thoughts and after around the halfway mark things started to fall apart. First thing that happened was we’d run the wrong way, and not for a quick 5 minutes but for a solid 2-3km, zigging when we should of zagged! As I mentioned above although most of the course was run along fire-trails however navigation still wasn’t easy because there was so many turn offs and different direction to run! Running in the dark didn’t help either! Anyway the 4 of us started feel like something was off and maybe we were running the wrong way, Tim thought it best we run in the same direction for another 16 minutes (I think it was 16 minutes?) I liked this idea. Chris however got out his map and realised we were heading the wrong direction, we were on the wrong trail! If Chris didn’t do this we may have ended up losing a solid 1-2 hours! Frustrated we turned around back the way we came and ran back to the junction where we’d turned the wrong way. I imagined Brett at basecamp watching the trackers, laughing his a** off as 4 idiots ran the wrong way. Tim picked up the pace with the hope we just didn’t just cost ourselves the opportunity to still run the 5 laps (we just did!) however Chris was exhausted and already red-lining and upping the pace completely took it out of him. As a result we ended up separating from Chris, however we’d already decided that the 4 of us where going to stay together, so once we got back to the junction and back on track Tim, Ben and myself decided Tim and I would keep going and find the next book whilst Ben would wait for Chris, and then Tim and myself would wait for Chris and Ben at the next book. It was at this point Tim and I realised we were now definitely out of the running to finish the 5 laps, honestly I wasn’t disappointed, as I mentioned above I kind of psyched myself out of running 5 laps anyway. However with that being said I was now concerned that we’d be too slow to make the 3 lap Fun Run cut-off. I knew we’d make it for the second lap however I also knew we couldn’t be complacent, we had plenty of time but a recent race (Down Under 135) had taught me don’t get complacent with cut-offs. They can creep up on you, especially with these type of races. We got to the next book and waited for Chris and Ben, Chris was not in a good way, he was struggling. There was no discussions about leaving him behind though, the 4 of us had gotten this far together and we were going to finish this second lap together. I’m not going to lie though I was stressing out in my head as we slowed down for Chris, it was eating up some of the time we’d made during the first lap and I really believed we needed every minute if we were to finish the 3 loop Fun Run in time to beat the cut-off. However Chris was more important than making any cut-offs, and as I just said above we wouldn’t be were we where without him, so it’d be wrong to not slow down for him. To make things even worse and what became our main concern was Chris’ health, fatigue had definitely snuck in and was affecting his temperature regulation. Chris was unable to stay warm and slowing down only made him colder, then he threw up! Not just once, or twice, or three times, or four times and not just a little bit, no exaggeration he would threw up a minimum of 2L. Chris was one tough cookie, he was conditioned and fit too so it was a reminder of how hard we’d actually been pushing ourselves and how tough the course was! Chris seemed almost unfazed by the fact he just threw up his guts though, he laughed it off and over the next hour or so tried to get in a little bit of food and water. Sugar was no good but he seemed able to get down a little bit of salty food such as Bens (or was it Tim’s?) crushed Vegemite sandwich. Luckily we only had around 10km left now, we shuffled and walked the rest, as a team in the darkness of the night. Chris battled on, still pushing himself selflessly, he was certain he wouldn’t be joining us for the third lap which was the right decision. He had pushed himself to his current limits, continuing to push would be stupid, and a great way to get hypothermia as he was still struggling to regulate body heat in the cold weather and was battling extreme fatigue. Still though he pushed to give us more time to finish the upcoming third lap which was remarkably selfless but came at no surprise coming from Chris.

So we finished the second lap at around 11pm Saturday night which meant three things; first thing, we’d been running for nearly 18 hours, second thing, we were officially timed out of Unbreakable (cut off was 9:55pm) and third thing; we had around 11 hours to finish this last lap to complete the Fun Run. 11 hours to run 47km would usually be plenty of time but time seemed to just vanish with this run. Get lost here, struggle to find a book there, double check your heading in the right direction and before you know it you’ve lost 2 hours! Chris would definitely not be coming with us for the third lap so Tim, Ben and myself head out together as a group of 3. It was disappointing Chris was unable to start the third lap with us but it was pretty amazing Chris had literally found his limits and pushed them, that was the whole purpose of this race!

Off we went back into the darkness, away from the comforts of basecamp, 99.9% of my brain is wanting me stay at basecamp. Why am I doing this? I’ve run a minimum of 94km with over 4,000m of ascent I could stop now and feel accomplished, I can’t finish the whole Unbreakable course now, we’ve been timed out…. Luckily I had a small inner voice saying “f**k all that, this is why you do this, for these moments, for not taking the easy option” I zoned out and stopped thinking about everything that was making me anxious; how far we had to run, how long it was going to take, how much longer we’d have to run in darkness and instead let the only anxiety be about making sure we finish this third lap in time to say we at least finished the 3 lap Fun Run. I also came up with a plan to help us get this third lap done quicker (in theory), if I pushed ahead as we got close to the books I could grab the book and get it ready for Tim and Ben. That way they wouldn’t have to stop for long at each book, which in theory would save a couple minutes at each book which would add up over 19 books. Retracing our steps from the first lap, we were running in the same direction as we were the first lap, same s**t different time of day. We quickly collected the pages from the first couple books however it wasn’t long before we got lost! This was the first time we got lost where I actually felt frustrated and wasn’t unfazed. I’m not sure if thats because I was getting tired and fatigued which I was, or if it was because I was stressing about making the Fun Run cut-off, either way I kept quiet and made sure to keep my negativity to myself. Just like the second lap we had run for a good 15 minutes or so in the wrong direction, probably adding around 2-3km once we back tracked. Thank god most of the course was fire-trail this year because it wouldn’t of been as straightforward to retrace our steps if we were running off-trail. Coincidentally as we made our way back on course we ran into Shane, Shane was about to complete his second lap all by himself, both Lachlan and Nigel never started the second lap. This was impressive by Shane, it wasn’t easy to stay on course as a group let alone by yourself. Also running 12 hours by yourself, unassisted would be pretty mentally taxing. Shane would finish the second lap at 2:30am and call it a day, which left Tim, Ben and myself as the last 3 of the 7 who started. Once we were back on track things went pretty smoothly, I seemed to really start to remember where the books were now, in their correct order which made navigating much, much easier. We were all now pretty aware that time was not a luxury at this point, and we needed to push. Our shuffles got faster (so it felt) and our power hikes up the hills also got faster. I’d say 99% of our conversations where about trying to figure out the equation that saw us being successful and making the Fun Run cut-off. I hated this feeling of an overbearing cut-off, anxiety sky high, knowing that no matter how hard you push there is going to be a significant chance you fail, this sucks. I’d only recently faced it with my last ultramarathon during Down Under 135, the last 70 miles I was stressing about cut-offs and at certain points I was certain I was going to fail, I hated that feeling. Anyway I started feeling the same with this race, even though we were pushing I could feel time getting away from us.

The never ending hills were starting to hurt at this point too, they never seemed to go away, on our third ascent of Mount Gordon we pushed hard, power hiking and running up the steep trail to get to the top and honestly I was close to crashing. I started slipping on the slippery parts of the trail and was feeling woozy and wobbly from fatigue, in any other situation I would’ve stopped halfway up the ascent to grab something to eat to get some glucose in me but time was against us and Ben and Tim where pushing. To stop would see them either stopping themselves or I’d lose them, neither was an option. Luckily I knew we would stop briefly once we where at the top because there was a book at the summit. I told myself I’d sit down and get down one of peanut butter bagels once we got to the top, the thought of a quick break and something to eat kept me going. It was still dark at this point but you could sense the sun would be rising soon. After zoning out and keeping quiet we eventually did get to the top. For the first time during the race, actually one of the first times in any ultramarathon I’ve done I sat down and just cleared my mind, forgetting about the race for a little bit, I truly relaxed. I needed it otherwise I wasn’t going to keep up with Tim and Ben for the last 15-20 odd km, and I’d probably miss the cut-off, I was ridiculously close to bonking. After getting down the peanut butter bagel, a few of those small white chocolate Nestle Milkybar characters, and some water and sitting down to get my heart rate down I felt instantly better. I felt like I recharged, negativity seemed to dissipate and all of a sudden I had some energy, it also helped we were now heading down the mountain. I would’ve preferred to sit down an extra minute or two to better compose myself but Tim and Ben took off whilst I as getting my pack back on, I don’t think they knew I was struggling. In my fatigue and tiredness this p**sed my off, “can’t the bastards see I’m f**ken struggling, can’t even give me a couple minutes to get my pack back on?”. I quickly got over myself though, kept this thought to myself and followed. I caught up as we started descending the Steep Rocky Trail, one of the books was at the bottom of this trail and I was a faster descender than Tim and Ben. I reminded myself I needed to get to the book ahead of Tim and Ben so they wouldn’t have to stop at the book and we could pretty much move on straight away, this would save some time. My plan to get to each book before Tim and Ben for this lap to save time hadn’t worked 100% of the time as I wasn’t always first to the book, but it did work a few times and I made sure I’d use my pace descending to make it work with this book. I did have a few close calls and stumbles as I made my way down though, it was quite a steep and technical trail but I got down in one piece, and in time to find and grab the book before Ben and Tim reached me, saving a couple important minutes. This is why it was so great working as a team, each one of us helped the group as a whole at some point during the event, which improved our performances as individuals, it was the best form of teamwork. From here we finally got to some flattish parts and got to start running, Tim took the lead and pushed. We really made up some time here, for a couple km’s straight we actually got to run! Following Tim as the sun rose.

We pushed and pushed right through the morning, unsure we’d make the Fun Run cut-off, power hiking up a few steep ascents and running along some flats, before we knew it we only had 3-4 books left. It was here when I distinctively remember relaxing about the cut-off. As we hiked up our last super steep ascent that led to another book, I looked at my watch. For the first time I was confident we were going to make the cut-off, I don’t remember the exact time but we had a couple hours to run a little over 10km, and most of it was descent with one exception of a gradual incline climb. Still though we couldn’t get lazy now, better be safe than sorry and all it took was a wrong turn to ruin everything… None of that happened though, the three of us pushed forward quite easily finding the last 3 books, although we did have a little scare when we didn’t recognise the trail we were on even though it was the right way, thats Unbreakable for you! How good I felt when we descended a steep hill that overlooked basecamp, it was a beautifully sunny morning and off in the distance we could see basecamp. Basecamp where the comfort of stopping lay, we’d been running for 28 hours now and seeing that finish line was a beautiful site to be seen. Although we’d failed Unbreakable that was kind of expected, just like Barkleys, myself and I believe the other runners saw Unbreakable as a 2-3 year project at a minimum, 3-5 years more likely. It would’ve been a little disappointing if we finished our first go. We were about to finish the Fun Run though which made me proud, not just of myself but of Ben and Tim , Chris too! Who really should’ve been there with us at the end. The ending wasn’t all that pretty though as my knees ached descending the steep hill, each step hurt, it’d been like that for a while now. In true fashion I also had to stop for a toilet stop before getting to camp, apparently I couldn’t wait another 10-20 minutes! Despite this though the three of us ran into basecamp together, smiles on our faces although technically we failed and were tired, fatigued and sore. We put in our best as a team and got 3 laps done, not the 5 but we were proud of our accomplishments and happy to receive the “Broken” belt buckle which marked the finish of the Fun Run but failure of Unbreakable. At 9:35am the three of us touched the pole together which marked the end of each lap, completing 3 laps in a time of 28 hours 20 minutes and 24 seconds, we’d beaten the Fun Run cut off by 29 minutes and 36 seconds. Our failure of being broken and unable to finish Unbreakable was marked by a send off ceremony. The three of us forced to stand there “broken” as we listened to the Last Post, the Australian militaries own version of the American militaries “Taps” which signals the end of the day and honours the service of military members who died for their service. Although we obviously weren’t making such sacrifices as those who serve their country, which should be held up to with the upmost respect, it was a fitting end to a DNF of such an event like Unbreakable, giving it a certain mystique and atmosphere like the Barkley Marathons.

Thank you Brett for creating such an awesome event, managing to run the event after the recent severe storms and COVID-19 lockdown is a huge achievement in itself. Unbreakable was a very unique experience and one I’d recommend to any keen ultra-marathoner who wants to be taken out of their comfort zone and to test not just their physical but mental and emotional limits. As always thank you to the volunteers who assisted Brett and us runners pre, during and post event, and lastly thank you to the other 6 runners who I had the privilege of sharing the trails with. It was an honour to be part of the inaugural version of such a race and I’m looking forward to coming back to try and do better next year!

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