A little while ago I was running late at night with a friend in the Dandenong Ranges. We were running together, not because either of us really wanted company, but because both of us were nervous to be out on the trails late at night alone.
Midway into that run, a fellow runner (male), ran past us in the opposite direction. He was on his own and he looked so happy. There was no nervousness about him. I was so envious of his freedom. The ability to run alone at night on the trails with no fear is not one I have, despite being a tuff-nut.
My fear is not unfounded. Many years ago, very early on in my running years, I went out for a jog. It was 40 something degrees in Adelaide and I was wearing short shorts and a tank top. I hated my body back then and only ran to lose weight so there was no ego in my outfit. It was simply a practical outfit for the conditions in which I found myself. A couple kilometres from home I was grabbed by a gang of men under the railway bridge near my house. It was obviously just for shits and giggles for them as I remember them all laughing. One of them sprayed me in something – spray paint or some shit they were probably sniffing under that bridge. I still don’t really know what it was. I got away and ran as fast as I could home. When I told my story to those I trusted I was told “Well you shouldn’t go out in those short shorts.”
Then there are all the times I have been flashed by men whilst out on an early morning run. Too many times to keep count.
I didn’t start running to be with people. I started running to get away from people and have some time to myself. I do enjoy company from time to time but for the most part, I like to be alone.
I am currently training for a race called Tor Des Geants. It is a very long run, non stop through the mountains. I will likely be running for five or six days with short 15-45 min naps thrown in for five to six days (if I manage to make the cut off points). So as you can probably imagine, running through the night is quite important for my training right now.
Tuesday night, I got home late. It was a big day at work and whilst I usually run at lunch time on my double work out days, I just ran out of time. I thought about hitting the trails but my gut instinct told me not too. The common theme on those shows like “I Survived” is always listening to your gut instinct. So I went out jogging, planning to keep to the main roads. Dull but safe, I thought.
As I jogged down Dorsett road, I was in quite a good mood. I was really enjoying how good my body felt on a night run. It had been fuelled well and my muscles were warm. I felt really good, until I saw the man about a km ahead of me who until that point I assumed was innocently walking home from Woolworths or the train station. He turned and looked back at me and then he moved into the bushes and waited for me. I could see his shoes from the bottom of the bush.
Now what I should have done was probably cross the road, or turn back and run in the opposite direction. But I didn’t. I told myself, “Tash if that man touches you or makes a move, you need to be prepared to kill him.”
I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous and irresponsible, but that was the thought I had in that moment. So I ran toward him and as I approached I glared at him in the bushes. He said “Hello.” I grunted something, slightly confused and I kept running.
Now this man could have just been a regular nut job – not intending me any harm, but he also could have been the guy that has abducted and raped a number of female joggers in the Boronia area over the last few years. How the fuck was I to know.
Fast forward to Wednesday night when I needed to do my midweek long trail run. I almost met up with a total stranger on the VUR page just to avoid running alone. But I put my big girl pants on and went out for the run I had planned. The first hour was fine, but then it got very dark as I plodded into a very remote area of the forest. With each wallaby and deer that moved, I grew more anxious.
The thing about long runs is they give you time to reflect. I started to think of that woman that was murdered in Princess Park. I was overseas when it happened and whilst I felt the rage that most of my friends felt, I was somewhat removed from the incident and the outrage at the time. Though it affected me in ways I hadn’t realised. I realised as I jogged along that I had always known a man might jump out of the bushes and try to show me something I didn’t want to see. He might grab me. He might hurt me. He might rape me. But now, I knew, that he might kill me. He might end my life. A man, an absolute shit poor excuse of a human being might be capable of not only ruining my run, causing me harm, but he could end my life.
I need to put this in perspective. Once, I was walking down Hindley Street as a 20 something year old on my way home from the pub. A guy pulled up in his car next to me and said something perverse. I went straight over to the car and through the open window punched him as hard as I could in the nose.
I am not a fearful creature, yet I fear this creature, the one who wants to cause harm to me and my people.
The thing is, this is not just causing harm to women. That man in the bushes on Friday night – he could have had a mental illness, one that wouldn’t cause him to rape or kill me and may have really needed some help, but I couldn’t risk offering it to him. He may have just been a lonely guy who just genuinely wanted to say hello, but I couldn’t risk talking to him.
I don’t know what the answer is here, I just know I’m fed up. I don’t want to run with someone all the time just to feel safe. I don’t want to not run at night on the odd chance I run into a rapist or murderer. But I don’t want to die at the hands of scum.
There are no photos to go with this blog. I questioned whether I wanted to blog at all – whether it was part of my new way (the old way). I do enjoy writing though and whilst it doesn’t really fit with the way I want to live right now, I’ve chosen to write and share regardless.
I did not take a single photo during UTA 2018, which for those who know me, is quite against my nature of recent years. I wanted to see those Blue Mountains with my eyes, feel them with my soul, not through a camera (or phone) lense. As the sun set over the Three Sisters, they’ve never looked more vivid.
I have closed my Facebook account, put Strava on private. This is all part of wanting my pre-internet heart and soul back. I used to be capable of doing great things (and terrible things) without the need for constant feedback, validation, approval, encouragement. I was rough around the edges and tough where and when it counted because I honestly and truely did not give a fuck what anyone thought of me. That was how I was raised and that is the way my heros continue to live. So in an effort to get a little bit more of myself back, I have disengaged. This blog is an exception, as is my instagram account which I am still wrestling with but won’t go into detail here as this is meant to be a race report, not an essay on why social media is making us weak and pathetic.
So to the start of the adventure that was UTA 2018. The wonderful Ross picked me up just before dawn on Thursday. We picked up the awesome Kevin and Baoping and off we headed toward Katoomba. 10 or so very funny hours later, we arrived in Katoomba. Ross dropped me off at the Hotel Gearin where I had “splurged” on a private room (in comparison to the previous years spent in various dormitories). I looked for the reception and then noted I had to check in at the front bar. An old drunk staggered toward me spilling his beer. He raised his eyebrows a few times and then greeted me with ‘hey shweet heart.’
“Have you got any other runners staying here?” I asked the guy behind the bar.
“Oh yeah, we’re completely booked out by runners.” Phew, I was with my own kind. It would be fine. I saluted old drunky and made my way to my room. A single bed, a heater and a sign warning me that on Friday and Saturday nights the hotel doubled as a live music venue but they supplied free ear plugs. Surely, given the hotel was booked out by runners, in fact the whole town was booked out by runners, this Friday might be an exception?
Fast forward to Friday night as I rechecked and packed my mandatory gear and the acoustic set began from below. That’s okay, I thought. No drums. I can handle that, I’ll just jam my ear plugs in and I’ll be fine.
Just as I got into bed ready for a full 6 hours sleep before needing to get up for the start of the race, the drums started up. The drummer had one beat and after two songs, I was ready to go and shove his drumstick somewhere unpleasant to teach him a lesson. Third song in, I was screaming internally, how could someone ride a single kick like that that with no regard? It was downright offensive. Then suddenly the alarm was going off and it was 4.30am. I must have slipped into a deep sleep midst rage.
I was wearing my VUR shirt but was in an arse of a mood until I got my double shot espresso at the start line. Apologies to anyone who may have tried to make eye contact with me and smile – I don’t make friends until caffeinated.
The lovely Celesta and Adrian were there and with hugs and laughs we wished each other well and it was time to line up in my start wave.
The first 46km of the race were really non eventful other than that I was in a delirious state of happiness where running felt effortless. Everything was pleasing me. I had chosen to listen to music on the open fire trails of the course, not because I need music, but because I had noted in training that I do tend to keep a slightly faster and more even pace when I listen to music. At 25km, Metallica’s Wherever I May Roam came on and I felt my face might crack I was smiling so hard. Even though I had put that song on my playlist it felt like such a pleasant surprise. Everything was just great.
At checkpoint three, I had decided to start practicing my “unsexy talents” which would involve eating while running rather than wasting any unnecessary time at checkpoints. I inhaled a Cliff bar as I exited the aid station and thought to myself that I must have eaten at least 500 Cliff bars over the years. I congratulated myself for being able to eat the same food day in day out over the years without being too precious about things like ‘flavour fatigue.’
This is the way of your people, I told myself.
Pop ate Polenta for 8 months straight during the war.
What’s another Cliff bar? You are so fucking tough. Good. On. YOU!
Well I think that might officially have been my last Cliff bar as I struggled with trying not to vom it up the remainder of the race. However, the fact I did not vom it up I think means I was successful at refining those “unsexy talents” required to run long races.
I’ll skip forward to the 50km point. I saw a first timer take a photo of the 50km sign and he said “so good to be on the other side of that!” I chuckled to myself as I knew well enough that that sign didn’t really mark half way. I think it merely marks the start of the real race as the first 50km really are very pleasant.
And from here, things became a struggle. As I ascended the stairs at the top of Nellies Glen I realised I was buggered. When I got to the top, I couldn’t run. My legs were completely smashed. But as ultra running goes, about ten minutes later, I was running and that fatigue was long forgotten, until it wasn’t. The roller coaster of fatigue and mania lasted all the way until the finish line. At times I would think I couldn’t possibly run another step. I hated the UTA and told myself I’d never do it again.
Fuck this race and fuck these stairs.
Then sudddenly I’d be screaming and laughing and fistpumping the air as I ran down the trail thinking
Wage War really are a great band, I don’t care that they’re 12 and the singer wears really bad shoes. This band is GREAT! These drums are great – no riding the single kick here! This run is GREAT! I fucking love this.
I had written down my time splits on my arm for easy reference and when I left checkpoint three, I was an hour ahead of my splits that would get me to a 17:50 finish. However from checkpoint three to four, I used that entire hour. From four to five, I just tried to hold my position but it was a real struggle.
Two highlights of the race both occurred around the Fairmont Resort – around the 69km mark.
I had been running for quite a while in the dark forest, when I exited onto the road that lead toward the Fairmont Resort. I was still at least a kilometre away from the resort and there were no other runners around. Out of nowhere, a guy in jeans holding a pack of cigarettes yells out to me. “Hey you! YOU! HEY! YOU!”
I looked toward him and suddenly he was running toward me. I grew up in Salisbury so I wasn’t bothered, I just thought he needed better manners. He started running along side me in his jeans and thongs and in between inhalations of his cigarette he said “I’ve run this race. The whole hungey k’s.”
“You’ve broken the ‘orses back you ‘ave. You ‘AVE!”
As crazy as he was, choofing away, I actually believed him.
Then when I got to the Fairmont, they had chips and lollies. I kind of wanted some but I knew I’d be sick if I tried to eat them. I took a handful but then didn’t know what to do with them.
“You’ve got a pocket in your hi vis vest” one of the volunteers volunteered.
“Fill your pockets!”
That was so awesome. A hi vis vest that doubles as a snack holder. A classy outfit for a classy lady.
I pushed on and came into checkpoint five on a high and I realised I could still make my time goal time if I just kept moving but it would be really tight. This checkpoint was a demonstration of my real true class – I skulled a can of coke, face planted a bag of chips, burped really loudly, thanked the volunteers – all within about two minutes.
In this section – the final 22km, my new Suunto Spartan Ultra went flat after 14 hours of use. Yes I should have changed the GPS setting, but not quite the battery life as advertised. I tried not to let it piss me off.
Why do you even care? You fucking hate Strava. You don’t need no validation. You are fucking badass. You hate technology. Run the fucking miles and who gives a fuck if your watch works?
Oh but I do give a fuck if my head torch is flat!
I pulled out my backup light and cursed myself for being cheap and buying Coles brand batteries for the back up light as now it was my only light and I knew I had at least three hours to get to the finish. I just hoped it would last.
The final 5km is quite runnable – other than those bloody stairs, but with my very average back up light to guide the way, I kept tripping and I gave myself the excuse to power walk it.
Then old mate came jogging up behind me and asked me what my time goal was. I said that I thought I’d missed it. That I was hoping for sub 18 hours but that ship had passed. I didn’t have a watch so I wasn’t really sure, but I felt pretty sure I was done on that one but that I could still aim for my goal number two which was to beat my previous personal best on the UTA course of 18:25. Old mate said “What the hell are you talking about giving in like that? You’ve got 41 minutes to do 4km!” I said “Yeah but those staiiiiiiiiiiirs!” He said something like shut up and start moving! (I don’t think he said it that bluntly but I heard his message – and I needed his light!) So I got hustling and stopped making excuses and started running.
When I got to the stairs I checked my phone. I had 26 minutes to get under 18 hours. Last time I ran this race it had taken me 30 minutes to get up the stairs.
What are you saving yourself for now Tash? Fucking MOVE girly!
I crossed the finish line at 1:01am and it took me a few moments to calculate my finish time. I’d done it – I’d got in in under 18 hours. 17:55. I burst into tears. I haven’t done that since my first half marathon, but I’d really pushed hard. I was really fucking proud of myself. I felt badass.
I dedicate this race finish to the ultimate badass, Uncle Joe (my pop’s brother who was tough as nails and loved the F bomb – and for this reason, I leave my race report unedited, F bombs and all). RIP.
The last few weeks have been stressful for all the wrong reasons. Work pressures, long hours at the desk, trying to get my brain to absorb that one extra piece of information. The only way to balance this way of life is to head to the mountains.
I left work at 3pm thinking I would get to Harrietville around 7.30pm. Melbourne traffic! Close to 9pm I arrived at Harrietville. Set up my tent, rechecked all my mandatory gear and fell into a deep sleep with the sound of the river and the light rain slowly washing away the dust storm of tax laws still trying to spin in my brain.
Alarm went off at 4:55 and I just wanted to stay where I was. It was the best sleep I’d had in around three weeks, but no time. Needed to get dressed, organised and pack the tent and car all before the 5:45am briefing – and still needed to pick up my race bib as Melbourne traffic meant I missed the check in and full briefing the night before.
Cold drip coffee in the system, gear check completed, race number attached. Ready to go.
Running Wild events are so unpretentious – almost everyone I adore in the running scene pops up at them from time to time and I was so happy to see Babi, Clare and Vanessa.
As I chatted to Babi at the start line I suspected something wasn’t right with my head torch. I had packed two extra sets of batteries so I very quickly changed them. Then the thing snapped off the headband. As the count down to the start was progressing, I fumbled and quickly managed to get it in place and we were off.
We started jogging up to the start of Bungalow Track. I have been running up this track to the summit monthly throughout Summer and my coach Matty Abel, has been challenging my own thoughts and perceptions of what is a runnable versus hikeable climb. I knew from my last run up here that I could run way more of this first ascent than I did the previous year and though the plan was to keep it easy for the first 20km, I suspected I would still make up a bit of time from the last year.
Within the first 100m up the track, I realised my head torch was completely fucked. The light was so dull that I could barely see where I was going and the bright lights from the competitors running behind me was actually making it worse. Every time I ran, I tripped as the shadows were jumping out at me and I couldn’t distinguish them from the tree roots. So I stood to the side of the trail, let everyone pass and then reminded myself that I knew this trail. I couldn’t run it with my shitty dim light but I could power hike it. My eyes adjusted once all the other competitor’s bright lights sped off in the distance and I vowed to keep the last woman within dim eyesight (the glow of her head torch helped here). And I just hiked and longed for daylight. When the sun rose, I realised I was only on the tail end of all the competitors I had let pass me. No one was more than a few hundred metres ahead of me. I was about half way up the mountain at this stage and whilst I tried to jog a few sections, I’d gotten a bit lazy and for the most part just kept the power hike up. When I got to the hut, I suspected that was my fastest time up there, but I didn’t have time to savour the moment. I had to keep going to the summit.
Now the sun was beaming in my face and I couldn’t see a bloody thing. Oh the irony.
Whilst some people may go out to pubs or nightclubs to socialise, it is on the summit that most of the socialising is done by ultra-runners. I totally forgot I was even racing as I stopped to chat to all my friends and bask in the glow of the sunrise over the mountains. There was no where else in the world I would have rather been.
Off the summit and along the Razorback to Diamantina Hut. Here is where I left all the F bombs of the day. The altitude in this section triggered my asthma and I could barely breathe. I also kept tripping over my feet. Having a very sore right side after face planting on Friday, I wasn’t keen to smash myself up again. Yet I kept tripping over and over. And then I saw a snake. He just slithered onto the trail, looked right at me, stuck his tongue out a few times and then slowly slithered away. It was quite mesmerising to just stop and watch him for a moment. I was pretty happy after that.
Stopped at the hut to fill up on water and have a laugh with more friends. Thank you James for hugging me in my sweaty disguisting state. Some more puffs of the ventolin and then off for the long descent down Bon Accord. I remembered the fear I had the year earlier running down Bon Accord as it was so overgrown and I suspected every sound was a snake. Having just seen a snake, I was ready to suspect every twig and stick of something more sinister.
My asthma was pretty out of control at this point and I did wonder if I should turn back to the hut and pull out. I’ve only DNF’d once in my life and so I wasn’t taking this decision lightly. I thought it through and considered whether this was something I could manage or whether it had the potential to be life threatening. I suspected that as I moved to lower ground and away from the grasses on the high plains that the asthma would improve and thank goodness I was right. Within the first km of descending, it went away. Maybe it was just that my brain was preoccupied with snakes at this stage and breathing became less important.
I am very scared of descending on technical trail. Mostly because I am a clutz. The fear of falling is very real – I have all the scars and scabs on my knees to prove this. That said, the instruction from my coach was to push the last half and I had to stop making excuses. So I just did my best. Eventually we got to a less scary decline and I could run properly again – though I did spot another two snakes in this section which caused my run to look more like a high knee Bambi canter.
Shortly before Washington Creek, I passed a woman I had been running just behind most of the day. I asked her how she was. She said “terrible.” I was shocked. I was so surprised that anyone could be feeling less than 100% amazing. It was getting very hot at this stage which I suspect triggers a bit of my mania and I was having the time of my life.
I ran on, through Washington Creek and finally, after years of training up here, understood why people say this is a nice runnable section to the finish. I’ve always been too buggered to enjoy this section but today – oh it was just dreamy. I was having the time of my life and I kept thinking “there is no place I’d rather be.”
Last year, I ran the Razorback in the 8 hours and 22 minutes that I left my nanna’s bedside while she was dying of pancreatic cancer. I had spent almost every moment that I could with her from the day that we suspected something wasn’t quite right. I had taken the day to go gather some strength for myself so that I could be there for her when things turned really bad. And they did. She passed away within weeks from the race.
I remembered running this section of the race last year. I was very alone on this section, being one of the last finishers, and I had allowed myself to scream and cry the whole way to the finish line.
I also remembered that when I returned to my nanna’s bedside post race, she wanted to see my photos of the mountains. She had the same spirit as me – it was nourished by nature.
The day she was diagnosed with cancer, she said she didn’t mind that she was dying but she would like to go out to a lake and go fishing before that happened, to visit the valleys one more time that had filled her soul with joy. Unfortunately she was never strong enough for that to happen.
So my message is, remember how lucky we are to do the things we do. Yes it might get hot, yes it might be a bit tiring. You might be scared by things like snakes, heights, face planting, but doing these things is such a privilege.
Thank you Paul Ashton for giving us the privilege to run in these beautiful places.
P.S – I finished the race in 7:26. 56 minutes faster than last year.
Yesterday I finished my forth Two Bays 56km trail run. My first ultra-marathon was Two Bays back in 2013 so this race has a special place in my heart. It’s also just a bloody fantastic event. The entry fee won’t send you broke, the volunteers are outstanding – you are taken care of, supported and looked after like a queen and the trails are just beautiful.
The race starts from Cape Schanck. You run 28km along the trails to Dromana, ring a big bloody bell and then run all the way back.
I got to the race start at 6am as I had to pick up my race bib. I had made a thermos of coffee but I couldn’t stomach it. I was feeling a little queasy. I wondered if it were just nerves. It had been a while since I’d entered a race like this.
The weather was cool and wet. I wasn’t impressed. I feel the cold dreadfully and whilst it certainly wasn’t freezing, by my standards it was. Part of the appeal of this race for me is the hot and dry conditions we normally race in. It didn’t feel like Two Bays.
We all miled about the start line and there was so much chatter. I was feeling very sensitive and the chatter was making me feel insane. It was coming at me from all directions in such a fast rhythm that I felt overwhelmed.
Then we were off running, I tried to go as slow as I possibly could go. I was thinking of a blog post my running coach Matty Abel had written a while back – something about challenging yourself to go slower than you normally would at the start of a race. I normally bolt out the gates at Two Bays, but this year I let everyone go ahead. I had my heart rate monitor on and I wanted to keep my heart rate fairly low for at least the first 5km.
Two guys started jogging behind me and one wouldn’t shut the fuck up. He was talking really loudly, going from one heroic story to another. I’m being a total bitch here, but there was just so much sound going on at the start of this race that I wondered why I race. It was really affecting me. I thought about running faster just to get away from this dude, but lucky his ego kicked in and he overtook me and I didn’t have to hear him for the rest of the race.
You might be thinking right now that I sounded pretty cranky. I wouldn’t say I felt cranky, but I felt hypersensitive and I just wished everyone would shut up. I wanted to hear the hum of the ocean as we traversed along the cliff tops, not the sound of people.
I wasn’t in the mood to chat to anyone so I didn’t, until suddenly I realised I was frowning. I stopped myself and my face felt lighter, my body felt lighter. I felt new.
I realised I was running very well. I felt really strong and was able to run most of the hills still keeping my heart rate in a conservative zone. I wondered whether it was worth pushing for a PB, but I had to remind myself I hadn’t had the best lead up to this race. I returned from Argentina at the end of November, started training in December and then developed acute bursitis in my heel and so couldn’t run hills or do any speed work in the weeks prior to Two Bays. I felt strong but I didn’t have much speed in the legs. So I focused on the first goal which was to get to the half way point before cut off.
I had thought the cut off was 3.30 at the 28km mark, but it was actually 3.45. Lucky as I got in at 3.28. That was the exact time I got in to the checkpoint the year I got my PB, except this year I had run as easy I possibly could (whilst still mindful of cut off times) to get here. I had so much in the tank. Still, let’s not get reckless.
So I just continued on, putting one foot in front of the other. This was when I really started to enjoy myself. I no longer had to be mindful of the cut off times – I was doing fine, so I just tried to make sure I looked up from time to time and enjoyed the scenery.
I started talking to other runners at this point to and met some awesome new people – this is the spirit of Two Bays – its exceptional volunteers and the friendships that are made on the trail.
The last 6km of Two Bays are always when the wheels fall off for me. I’ve cried myself to the finish line many times. I find every excuse to walk. This year I challenged myself to find every excuse to run. Taking the first half of the course conservatively really paid off as I had a lot of energy and I just started running as strong as I could. I was overtaking people instead of being overtaken. I was even energetic enough to yell out words of encouragement.
I came through the finish line in 7.29. Five minutes slower than my PB, but six and seven minutes faster than my previous two runs at Two Bays. I felt ecstatic. After the long year of ups and downs that was 2017, it felt good to be back, to have had a good race and to have finished strong.
At the end a lovely volunteer held out a bunch of drinks and snacks to me. I sat in a chair unable to speak and just pointed at the banana. It took me another hour before I could eat the banana. I’d done my best and I was pleased that I was too tired to speak or chew.
A summary of the day’s highlights:
– Seeing Kate at the half way mark and then again at the finish in her crazy green shoes, ringing that cow bell like no body’s business. I met Kate at Two Bays a few years ago when I was face down in the dirt and she had to step over me in order to get to the finish – “trail kill”. That’s what this race is about – repeat offenders – you come back time and time again whether it’s to race, volunteer or encourage.
– Stopping at the porta-loo which I don’t normally do (I’ll usually hold on till I get a kidney infection) and seeing that someone had left Donald Trump toilet paper behind. That was totally worth stopping for a few minutes and missing a PB.
– Ashley Bennet giving his podium prize to the woman who came in last just before the cut off. If I wasn’t so dehydrated and could afford the tears I would have cried. We all know that it’s the person who is out there the longest that has the toughest job. I don’t know Ash that well but he became a gold class human being to me after seeing him do that yesterday – he was also the nicest person in the elite field still managing a few words of encouragement and a smile to those of us who were plodding along at the back while he was tearing up the front (the front runners will pass most of the field as us plodders head into the half way checkpoint as it’s and out and back course).
– Eating the value of my entry fee in V-Fuel gels and sports drink. I don’t normally use electrolytes but I had a massive headache yesterday and battled with nausea all day. After the half way point I started drinking the V-Fuel electrolyte drink offered at the aid stations and my headache went and it did seem to help my nausea. As someone with fructose malabsorption, I don’t usually get the luxury of eating the food offered at aid stations. I hadn’t tried V-Fuel prior to the race but knew it was fructose free so I took a gamble and gave it a shot and I was really impressed. I felt like I had a really consistent energy buzz from the gels, they seemed to help my nausea rather than contribute to it and the flavours were pretty nice too.
Things I didn’t love so much:
– Having the same song, same riff stuck in my head for 7 hours and 29 minutes. I chose not to listen to music this race, but my brain got stuck on the opening riff of a song I heard a band play a few weeks ago. It just played on repeat in my brain the entire run. I now can’t stand that song.
Where do I begin?
Many of you know the lead up to Patagonia for me was quite uncertain. The week I was set to start my block of training for Patagonia, I tore my gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles). It turned out worse than anticipated and three weeks post tear I was still on crutches. I couldn’t get a straight answer from the physio as to whether this race was likely to go ahead for me or not. Six weeks post injury and I still couldn’t do a single calf raise and I was still walking with a heavy limp.
I looked into cancelling everything as it looked futile but I’d be at least $4k out of pocket. With all my medical bills following the calf tear, the credit card had already taken a beating. I was really stressed and unsure what to do.
Then I went to see Ainslie Bryce, myotherapist. She wanted to dry needle my calf. I was unsure – the physio hadn’t recommended this, but what did I have to lose? The next day, I did six calf raises. The page had been turned.
I went to see my osteopath Brendan O’Loughlin at Melbourne Osteopathy Sports and Injury Centre. I was an emotional wreck. He had a different view to my rehab than the physio and said he could take over from here if I trusted him. I did. Two weeks later, I was running. That left me with five weeks to train after roughly 10 weeks of zero running and minimal walking.
Matty Abel, founder and head couch of DBA runners took over from this point and managed to ease me back into running, avoid reinjury and have me feeling as confident as could be to tackle 250km in Patagonia.
Day zero: race check in.
I had thought my pack would weigh in at 8-9kg without water. That was what I had trained for (though seriously, two weeks of training with a pack!). 10.2kg she came in at. I then went back to my room and added my phone and emergency snacks. Add the 1.5kg of mandatory water and she was sitting at around 12kg +.
We departed the hotel having eaten so much food (last super) and as a nice little treat, had to white water raft to our first campsite.
Meetings and greetings to tent mates – the same tent mates you share your tent with all week. Thank God everyone in tent 15 was legendary.
We were off – running in the wrong direction, back on course and I realised my breathing was incredibly laboured. It could be the altitude? Could be the 12kg pack pushing and pulling on my diaphram? Could be I’m unfit?! Ah yes! Remember Tash, you haven’t run further than 22km since your 100 miler in May 😂😂😂😂 That definitely could be it.
Despite the difficulty in breathing I was having the best time. It was far hotter than I’d expected. Almost desert like with the dusty terrain. The first day was 42km with 1200m of climbing and I loved every second of it. I had no idea how I was placing, I was just there to run my own race. So I was incredibly shocked when I finished the day after 6 hours and 37 minutes of running, to discover I was the first competitor back to my tent.
I picked a comfy spot, had a wet wipe bath and started eating. I viewed the entire week as an eating competition with some running thrown in. Plus it was the only way my pack was going to get lighter.
Day 2 and 3 morph into a similar memory for me. It was hot, very runnable. A few climbs but I really enjoyed them. I hiked with purpose and as soon as the course was runnable again, I shifted gears. We were at a lower altitude and my breathing had returned to normal. I remembered the countless hours I spent on the assault bike at CrossFit Bayswater whilst I was too injured to walk. I would mimic hill training with my heart rate on the bike. It seemed to have worked as my engine was doing fine.
Day 4 was the day we had all been dreading. Into the mountains so the weather had shifted from hot and dry to wet, cold and windy. It was meant to be a 44km day with copious water crossings and incredibly steep descents. However late on the night of day 3 we got a little knock at the tent. The hot weather from the earlier days had caused the snow to melt and the rivers to rise to a level that wasn’t safe. The course would be altered to a 30km out and back- up and down the mountain. No one in the tent was sad for those lost miles.
I loved day 4. We had magnificent views the entire way, one deep river crossing which I thought was refreshing and because of the out and back format, we got to high five runners and walkers that we would have otherwise not seen. I’d heard the Koreans were running with full cabbages in their packs (no freeze dried rubbish for them) and when I passed them dancing, I seriously contemplated joining them for the long day.
After Day 4, we had a three hour bus ride to the next camp. I didn’t enjoy this. Stinking in the great outdoors is fine, but once cooped up in the bus, I got very agitated. My shoes were wet and I spent the entire bus ride freezing. The only time I wasn’t overjoyed but it had to be and I had to roll with it.
It rained all night so we all started day 5, the long march, with damp shoes. The course had been shortened to 74km for safety reasons (a flow on effect from having to alter day 4). I had a goal of finishing between 14 and 16 hours as parts of the course were technical and there was 2000m of climbing (all within a particular section of the course).
It rained all day.
When I got to the top of the mountain I started to get cold. I thought of my running friends Celesta and Kerry back home and how much they would love this. Suddenly I visualised Celesta yelling at me to put my windproof waterproof jacket on. Just in time as my teeth were chattering. I tried to run to keep warm but it was difficult with so much mud and so many water crossings.
It was around this point I met my Polish friend. We didn’t exchange words, but every water crossing he would leave one of his hiking poles at the start for me and wait at the other end with his hand outstretched for me. 14 water crossings later, we didn’t know each other’s names, but I knew he had heart.
After the water crossings, we separated.
Checkpoint 4 was the official rest/hot water point. It was cold and miserable and I was beckoned in with the lure of hot chocolate. No thank you. I didn’t even peak inside that checkpoint. I needed to keep moving, so I had my water filled up, number checked off and kept running.
I later heard some competitors spent 45 minutes plus at that checkpoint. To each their own. I know that also gave many competitors a significant morale boost but I really didn’t need it. I just needed to keep moving.
Shortly after this point the wind picked up and it started to snow. I realised that if I just kept moving, I’d make it back before sunset. I was way ahead of my goal time. So I embraced the elements and I pushed as hard as I could.
One km from the finish line, Mei, a Japanese competitor caught me. She said “We’ve seen each other a lot today. Let’s do this together.” We hadn’t run together but instead had spent the day passing one another – playing tag team with our individual strengths.
She grabbed my hand and we ran the last section together crossing the finish line hand in hand. We hugged, she cried and I said “what’s your name?”
One by one, our tent filled up – each of us with our own story of the day, all of us shivering so cold but also very aware of the walkers who were still out braving the cold without the protection of sleeping bags and tents.
Day 6 is a rest day. We slept and ate most of the day. I had learned my lesson from Atacama and had a few snacks saved to pass the time.
Day 7 – the final stretch. We woke at 4.15am for a 5.30 start. A short 7km uphill to the finish. As the sun rose and the snowy mountains appeared before us, I didn’t want to race anymore. I took my time. I wanted to savour every last moment. I didn’t want it to end.
Before heading to the race, my friend Kate had given my an angel that I had pinned to my backpack for protection. She said it was to symbolise my nanna. Kate didn’t know but my nanna always called me her angel – and now, we’ll I guess she’s my angel.
Bob Leighty, my friend and Erin’s dad hand me my finishing medal.
There we were at the Black Glacier, having pizza and beer for breakfast, wearing wet stinky clothes and feeling a million bucks.
Some after thoughts on gear, food and training.
I didn’t use electrolytes this race. 100% happy with that decision. Zero puffiness that I often get when using Tailwind.
I used the 35L Ultimate Direction pack. The pockets are ridiculous. They’re not symmetrical and so I would not recommend this pack for that reason, particularly if you like to have two drink bottles on the go.
I used Craft Glue from Spotlight to glue on my mandatory patches because I was too lazy to sew. Don’t do this. I missed my friend’s hens night the night before I flew out when the glue came undone and I had to go looking for needle and thread (sorry Beth!). The rain also seemed to have an effect on the glue which was really quite gross on day 5. I also lost the patches off my rain jacket and stressed the entire race I wouldn’t be allowed to wear it. Silk screen your waterproof jacket and sew on shirts.
Altra shoes are seriously amazing. No blisters, no black toe nails. I used Steigen and merino socks but I’ve had the same good luck in Injinji and Dry Max socks. The shoes plus any good brand of running socks seems to be a winner.
I ate the same food I’ve eaten for every multiday race and I ate the same meal day in day out. Rice, TVP and veggies. My pop had to eat polenta for 8 months straight when he was stranded in Austria trying to escape the war. We’re so soft and precious when it comes to food these days. I know people like to have variety and things to look forward to. I actually enjoyed the monotony. I felt like a tuff nut eating rice day in day out.
Get good at hiking. You have to walk before you can run. During longer endurance events like multi day races and 100 milers, hiking skills are a must. You need to be able to hike strong and transition from running to hiking to running with ease.
Strength train! Months and months of upper body weights whilst my legs weren’t working meant that 12kg pack didn’t even cause me a second thought.
Don’t get hung up on injuries. They happen and if you let it, the body will heal – but you have to give it time. I got really lucky with this race, but I have learned there are far worse things that could be happening in your life than a running injury. Be grateful for your life and if you can’t run for some reason – do something else amazing with your time and be grateful for that. The key to happiness after all is gratitude. Peace.
I am genuinely supportive of other people achieving their goals. In fact I will be as happy for you achieving your goals as if I achieved them myself.
I am however, one of the most secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) competitive people you’ll ever meet. I won every academic award at High School and chose my profession, not because it was what I had always wanted to do, but because it simply had the highest university entry score – it was something to strive for.
Last year of law school and I was running on the treadmill at the gym with a fellow student who had already gotten a job – a student who I knew had better grades than me (which of course killed me). She didn’t know we were racing. I kept pushing up the speed on the treadmill with every turn in the conversation. She told me she had just gotten a job. When I found out where – I applied for a job too. Just to see whether I was a competitive candidate. I was.
When I started playing drums, I wanted to be the best. First I wanted to be the best female metal drummer, but there weren’t many women playing metal drums then. So I tried to take on the boys. I gaffa tapped rubber to the walls of my bedroom so I could practice my double kick all night while normal people were sleeping.
One day, I made all the drummers in the rehearsal studio run a race around the block. I have no idea why – and I can’t believe they agreed to do it. I was so pissed when a long legged dope smoking dude beat me.
So now that recovery and rehab is my game, being the best is my priority. I want to win at this. The problem with an injury as severe as this and as slow healing as this is that it’s hard to know if your progress is good or bad. Each week I make small progress, but is that enough to be the best at this game?
Last night I saw my physio for my weekly visit and I asked him frankly. Turns out, I am not the best at recovery. I am not winning this game. Initially he predicted 6-8 weeks recovery time. I’m now looking at 10-12.
Patagonia is no longer a certainty. If I can start the race, I won’t be starting as a runner. I have run out of time to be a runner. My best case scenario is that I walk and shuffle. I won’t know for sure until 4 weeks whether I will be well enough to do that.
I have been creatively visualising this race for over six months now. I envisaged myself running strong and coming into camp early. Maybe even taking an age category award. This has to change now – my best case scenario is that I will be walking which means I will be coming into camp late each day – I may be the last person to arrive. Not such a competitive outcome for a competitive person and I think I’m okay with that.
If the choice is walking, struggling, coming last, but finishing a one off opportunity to cross 250km across Patagonia – well that sounds a whole lot better than sitting in a hotel room feeling sorry for myself.
Photo of me “competing” in the 4 deserts 250km race across the Atacama Desert
It has been 28 days since I’ve done squats. I remember those paused front squats with joy in my heart. 28 days ago, at the end of the Olympic lifting class, 5 x 3 front squats with a 3 second pause at the bottom. Ah good times.
I regretted those front squats at the 13km mark of the half marathon the next day, but oh in hindsight how I’m glad I did them. Fond memories.
Each day since I have been injured I look down at my thighs in fear and worry they are getting smaller. I sit down so I can see them at their biggest. Surely they wouldn’t shrink in a day, a week, but 28 days?
I got the courage to weigh myself the other day and I’d lost 2kg. Oh the sorrow – where did that 2kg come from? My quads, my glutes????
Flash back seven years ago, pre CrossFit and pre ultramarathoning to a time when I hated my body. I had a nervous breakdown at 26 and lost 10kg from stress. I remember initially feeling upset when I tried on one of my favourite dresses and it didn’t fit because it was too big. I felt like the weight loss was the wound that the public could see – the outward sign of how I felt internally. I wasn’t trying to be thin, I was just too depressed to eat.
Then the compliments started to come in. I don’t remember a single person saying to me “what the fuck is going on with you?” Or anything to that effect. Instead I got compliments about how great I looked. I recall one close friend saying to me “You don’t want to lose any more weight but you don’t want to gain any either – you look perfect.”
My fridge contained a carton of Carona’s and a bag of carrots. My pantry contained 1L of Jack Daniels and a tub of protein powder. Oh but I had found the secret for beauty according to those around me.
Depression turned into hypermania and that was when I made a conscious choice to stay thin. That was when the self hatred began. As my weight slowly increased because of all the booze I was drinking, I loathed myself even more.
Then I got diagnosed with bipolar and put on heavy meds that made me gain around 15kg in a very short time frame. I was bloated and puffy and even when I stabilised and came off the meds, I couldn’t lose the weight.
I’d like to say there was a light bulb moment when I looked at my body and said “you’re okay sister,” but there wasn’t. I struggled for years…and then I found CrossFit.
I’d been running for a few years before I started CrossFit and whilst I think that initiated some of the changes in my thought process – it was lifting heavy shit that really made me appreciate what thick thighs could do.
I love following all the women CrossFitters on Instagram because none of them are defined by what their bodies look like but rather what their bodies can do. I watched “A day in the Life of Lauren Fisher” the other day and she says something to the effect of “I don’t worry if I gain weight, but I get upset if I lose weight.”
That’s how I feel right now as I look at my thighs and worry they are getting smaller. I worked bloody hard for those quads of steel, those strong glutes. Don’t leave me friends!
Having injured myself to the point that I had to be on crutches for two weeks, I’ve started to appreciate my body for all the things I have taken for granted – not just running and squatting. Like grocery shopping! How amazing that this body has been driving itself to the supermarket, walking the ailes and carrying a basket all these years and I haven’t thought to say thank you.
Well the time has come for me to say thank you. Thank you Body for all the wonderful things you do for me, all the things I have taken for granted all these years. I look forward to running and squatting with you again soon, but for now, I am grateful that I can buy my own groceries again, that I can check the letterbox and get myself to work (the older trams and how terrible they are for anyone with mobility issues deserves an entire blog of it’s own).
And Body , I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all those years I didn’t appreciate you. For all the hate and loathing I cast your way that was in no way justified. You are beautiful just the way you are and I love you.