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.
Just over three weeks ago, I ran a half marathon on road. I pushed myself quite hard, but I wasn’t road running fit. I struggled to hold my pace. At the finish, I just had to sit down. I was knackered.
After the race I told my friend who had just run her first half marathon, to take it easy. Take a week off. Let your body recover.
Did I listen to my own advice? No.
The Tuesday morning following the half marathon, I was at CrossFit. I was thinking about my broken toe that I had been ignoring and realised it was quite sore after running a half marathon in minimal shoes. I was mid box jump as I was pondering over my foot and thinking about the next move – rope climbs when POP! I felt what seemed like a hot sharp knife in the back of my leg.
I had done a severe grade 2 tear to the gastrocnemius. 6-8 weeks recovery. 105 days to go to Patagonia – a 250km race carrying all my gear and food that I will need for 7 days. I was (am?) optitimistic. If I can just maintain my fitness as best as possible, that will leave me with 5 weeks to train before flying out to Argentina. Definitely possible.
It’s now been just over three weeks and I have progressed from rest, pain and crutches, to moving around the house pain free, upper body strength work, swimming with a pool buoy and assault bike work outs.
I’m trying to be patient.
Five years ago, a few weeks after running my first marathon, I got a stress fracture in my foot. I had to take eight weeks off running. I took six, then I did myself some permanent damage and had to take 3 months off running. It seemed like the end of the world at the time and years on, I felt embarrassed about that performance. I vowed to never be so pathetic and impatient again.
And yet, here I am, three weeks into an injury and feeling pathetic. I miss running like I miss my mum. Why? This down time has got me thinking. I can still do some workouts, still get my heart rate up and get some endorphins and yet it’s just not the same. So what it is about running that is so special?
At first I thought it was the fact that so much of my life revolves around running – my friendships, my routine, my wardrobe. I thought it was the gap in my social life and the isolation that I might have been bringing me down.
I also know that running is my means to get into nature – to connect with the earth. There are studies that demonstrate that human beings are not meant to be removed from nature. These concrete jungles we live in make us sick. We need to connect with the earth.
So maybe that’s why I’m so sad? I miss my friends and I miss Mother Nature?
Saturday I drove myself to the entrance of a national park and walked just far enough in to get to the first big gum tree. I hugged it and I felt my heart fill with joy. It was momentary however, when I heard terror to my ears – three horrible boys under 10 screaming and shouting. You see, if you hang around the entrance to a national park, you don’t get far enough in to escape the families with young children. I’m all for exposing kids to nature – I just don’t want them near me and I certainly don’t want to be able to hear them.
I left feeling enraged and I realised that whilst I do miss my running friends, I miss being alone more. Running for a long time in isolated locations is the only time I ever really feel alone. I don’t need to check my emails, don’t need to be available for phone calls, don’t need to talk to anyone. It’s the true meaning of “me time.”
The other day I put a call out on Facebook for some suggestions for hobbies I could take up given I can’t run and my other main hobby – music, is also out of the picture as my damaged leg is my drumming leg. I got a lot of great suggestions but reading through them, I thought “I don’t have time for any of these.”
It’s not that I have an abundance of time now that running is out of the picture. I work full time in a demanding but rewarding profession. I study part time. I read a lot and I’m still training – just not running. So I wasn’t looking to fill my time. What I was looking for was something to fill the void.
Growing up I had a lot of energy and at times that has turned into depression, aggression and a whole range of negative emotions and behaviours. When I found music, I felt for the first time that I could be still. I could just purge the emotions and get on with normal life.
When I took up trail running, I got the same feeling but I could never understand why. Running didn’t feel like a creative outlet compared to music. In fact, growing up I had hated sporty people as I didn’t think they could also be creative – you had to be one or the other in my black and white world. But now I get it. It’s the fact that when you go for a run, you can give yourself permission to think and feel and work through whatever it is you need to work through – a bit like writing a song. Work it out, purge it and then move on, get on with everyday life. Having the freedom just to feel for an hour, two or seven – however long you want to run is a total cleansing of the soul.
So that’s it. Without running, my soul feels dirty and my mind clouded. I’m frustrated and angry and not good around people right now – especially children. I know it’s dramatic and I know I will run again, soon hopefully. But the positive in this experience is that it has allowed me to truely understand why it is that I love running so much.
2016 was a big year. I did 4 100km races and a lot in between. By the time it got to my A race for the year – Alpine Challenge 100km, I was so tired. So after that race, I took some time off running. I waited for the passion to come back, waited for a race I wanted to train for. I had originally planned to take a month, maybe two, off running. Alpine Challenge was the end of November. Toward the end of February, I contacted my coach Matty Abel and said “I’ve found the race!” That pretty much meant training for a 100 miler on two months training factoring in taper after having nearly three months off running.
Matty said let’s start training and see how we go. If my body wasn’t up to it, we would enter the 100km instead.
It was also around this time that my nan, my best friend, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One day I returned to the hospital after running the Razorback as a training run. My nan was talking to a friend telling her I was a “champion.” I said I don’t win races Nanna. She said she knew that, but she also knew the types of races I chose and the guts and determination with which I took on such challenges and that made me a champion.
So with that in mind, I told Matty it’s the 100 miler. He said let’s shoot for the stars so we did.
I put my absolute trust in Matty. Matty coached me through my first 100 miler and to Alpine Challenge. It takes all the worry out of planning for a race. I just do as Matty says as I know Matty knows best.
About a month before the race, my nan died.
I got really sick.
But we got there. The training was done, and it was time to race.
I flew into Adelaide and my amazing friend Tanya picked me up and we drove out to the Flinders Ranges. She had brought along all the camping gear we needed. Once again, I was saved from using my brain. Tanya was originally going to pace me but a nasty mountain bike stack meant walking was pretty painful for her. This meant I was going into the 100 miler with no crew and no pacer. Solely dependent on my drop bags. I had drawn up a race plan with a best and worst case scenario and felt pretty confident that everything would be okay.
(Tanya set up camp and even poured me a homemade kombucha)
Race morning – 10am. The late start meant I was feeling really relaxed. I had had time to eat a proper breakfast and had gotten a really good night sleep. There was a fuss about the GPS trackers at the start line. They had been handed out the night before but no one had realised they needed batteries so the race director had gone out to buy 72 AA batteries in the Flinders Ranges (I’m sure that cost him an arm and a leg). In a very vague and calm manner, order seemed to have been restored.
10:02 am and we were off. Very quickly I found myself mid pack – I couldn’t see the front runners ahead and I couldn’t hear or see the runners behind me. I came to a bridge with a Yumigo sign and an arrow pointing turn left. My gut told me that wasn’t right but we had been told the trail was marked. This was a marker. So I took it. It really didn’t feel right. There was an app we could download ahead of time with the map of the course that should tell us if we were on track or not. I got out my phone and the map said I was on course. Still it didn’t feel right. I had stopped for so long that the back runners should have caught me by now.
Then I saw a group of hikers who told me “yes you’re going the right way” so I kept on shuffling. Then I saw another hiker who said “you’ve gone the wrong way – go back!” At this stage I was about 2km down the trail in the wrong direction. So I turned around and headed back up the hill. Then I heard her yell “runner come back!” So I went back down the hill. There was a bit of course marking that she pointed me too – a ribbon tied to a tree. So we figured that must be the way to go. I followed that trail and came out to the bridge with the arrow I had originally taken in the wrong direction. It was a loop I hadn’t needed to do. With all the fucking around I figured I was about 45 minutes behind the last runner.
I know the first part of a miler should feel easy but I was so stressed. My breathing was laboured and I could feel my heart racing but I had to push on. I pulled out the course notes I had printed from the website and realised that I really shouldn’t have done that loop but for fuck sake – a marked course is a marked course isn’t it? I had no faith I was on the right track anymore but I just kept running. I ran most of the way up Mary’s Peak and just as I was about to go the wrong way again a couple of hikers called out to me “you need to turn down here.” Another junction with no trail marking. In fact the junction itself was really difficult to spot. I thanked them profusely and asked if they had seen any other runners recently. Then I heard from the foliage “yes, we’re runners!” It was Kym and Kate – my new friends. They explained that the rest of their group had gone the wrong way at that junction and had gone to the summit of Mary’s Peak and so were now behind us. As we climbed down the rocky drop off Mary’s Peak together I wondered how the fuck I was going to get back up here at the 145km mark. I had thought this was just a little hill but it was full on rock climbing.
Kym and Kate were great and we were soon in good spirits again – taking a few snaps as we descended from the rocky drop off of Mary’s Peak.
As the rest of Kym and Kate’s group caught up, I made new friends. I got familiar with the sound of Michelle’s voice which turned out to be a life saver later in the race.
We got to the first checkpoint and I realised I was about 1.5 hours of my slowest predicted time. Oh well, shit happens. We pushed on. I stayed with the group for a little bit. I really enjoyed chatting to Katie here – we spoke about strength training and CrossFit and realised that our parents lived only a few streets away, but I realised I had a lot of time to make up if I wanted to get close to my goal time and the course was fairly runnable so I pushed on ahead. Checkpoint 1 – 2 was the most enjoyable part of the course. I didn’t get lost and I was able to run most of the way.
As I left Checkpoint 2 I said to the volunteer “is there anything I need to be extra cautious of on this next stretch?” He said follow the creek bed and watch out for course markings. It’s a lot of goat track but don’t stress as it’s pretty well marked. This is when things went downhill pretty fast. There was no trail. It was completely overgrown and spider infested. My legs were gashed up from spotting markers in random spots and trying to get back on trail.
I was getting a bit down and thought it might be time for some Pantera so I pulled out my IPod shuffle, only to discover the lock had come unlocked in my pack and it was flat – I got through half a Chimaira song before she went dead. FUCK! I couldn’t afford to use my phone for music as I hadn’t expected to be so dependent on the phone map to tell me when I was off course. I didn’t expect my phone battery to last as it was so I couldn’t afford any unnecessary usage. It was going to be a long 100 miles.
Things were becoming more and more overgrown and I realised I hadn’t seen a marker in a long time – which wasn’t unusual except for the fact that the giant spider webs I was passing hadn’t been broken, meaning no one had come down this far.
I sat down on a log thinking I was going to cry but I was too angry to cry. I looked at my phone map and I was clearly off course but couldn’t figure out where I was meant to go. I started back tracking to the last marker I saw – maybe a km or so back. Then in the setting sun, I heard Michelle. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, I couldn’t see her, but it was definitely her pitch of happiness and laughter carrying through creek bed. So I tried to move as fast as I could to find her. There she was with her party squad. I was broken. We had travelled about 35 official kilometres. I had already done around 5 extra and spent hours lost. I was ready to pull the pin. I just had to get to the next aid station. When Michelle showed me where the turn off was from the creek bed, there was no course marker. Just as we headed up we heard another two runners – Anna and Glen behind us. They had also gotten lost. They were quite a bit in front of me so they must have lost some good time being lost in that creek bed.
I asked Michelle if I could stay with her party squad. I coudn’t think of any other way that I could finish this stupid race. She was so kind. Her whole squad were so kind. So we all stuck together, trying to navigate through the bullshit. 9 pairs of eyes working together.
We put on our torches early – mostly because it was the only way to spot the trail markings. Whilst we couldn’t see them in daylight, in the night our lights reflected off the markings and gave us a better sense of where we should be heading. As the sun set we exited the bush and onto a proper trail. I knew if we kept going at this pace I wouldn’t make cut off as I expected to slow down in the back end of the course, but I also couldn’t afford to separate from the group and get lost again. Anna and I started jogging together at this point and realised we were quite similar speed and our original finishing goals were the same – 30 hours. Her and Glen were running the race together and I asked if I could run with them. Anna said she thought her and Glen’s trail marriage would benefit from having a baby – and so trail baby Tash joined the gang.
We came into Checkpoint 3 together and Glen and I were both pretty angry. I tried not to yell at the volunteers as they were doing their best but I was so frustrated. One of the volunteers said “If it makes you feel any better, every runner except one has gotten lost.” I was livid. No it did not make me feel better, it made me feel unsafe. This course was advertised as a marked course event. I was not prepared to navigate. I didn’t have a topographical map. I had printed the maps from the website but they were bullshit. I had also printed off the course notes from the website but they were not Paul Ashton quality course notes. In fact they omitted crucial details like “left” or “right.” Thank Christ I had the course map loaded to my phone but I hadn’t expected to be so reliant on it and didn’t expect my phone battery would last.
We left Checkpoint 3 and only 1km out of the checkpoint realised we were lost again. With frustration and a bit of debate as to whether we went left or right, we retraced our steps and eventually got back on track.
Through the night, the three of us pushed on – all eyes were needed to spot the Heysen Trail markers which were our only way of knowing we were on course. We had to walk most of this section as the terrain was uneven and we needed to focus on finding the course markings. However we stayed positive as we knew from Checkpoint 4 to 6 the trail was an actual trail and we would be able to run most of it (or so we thought).
As we came into Checkpoint 4 one of the volunteers came out to meet us. He was a legend, just like all the guys at Checkpoint 4. He said that someone’s crew were waiting for them at the checkpoint. None of us had crew and I knew Tanya was pretty unwell so I didn’t expect it to be her – plus I was 4 hours off my time target and there was no way for her to know that given the GPS trackers weren’t working, but holy shit! I saw the bushbashing Festiva parked next to the checkpoint and new it was her. What a deadset legend. I was really worried that as I was so far off my predicted finish time I didn’t have enough battery for my torch. Instead of spending one night out on course I was looking at two. She pulled out a set of batteries and sent me off into the night. What a bloody deadset legend – can’t say that enough.
Checkpoint 4 is an out and back – it heads out to Checkpoint 6, passing Checkpoint 5 and then returns as Checkpoint 4 becomes the new Checkpoint 8. As we left the checkpoint we were so disheartened to realise that the course wasn’t a dirt road like we thought and instead were sent off navigating through the forest. We got lost again. We kept meeting the faster runners who were on their way back in who all looked a little freaked out – all of them having gotten lost in the forest on this section. Most of them had teamed up with other runners – safety in numbers I guess.
Whilst I hadn’t given cut off times any thought until now I suddenly realised we were so far behind schedule that we should actually consider them. Glen checked his course notes and we discovered we had til 4.15am to get to Checkpoint 6. We never found Checkpoint 5 so we weren’t sure how far we had to go. We pushed on but we were upset. At 4.07am we pulled into Checkpoint 6. Anna burst into tears. I was lost for words. I thought we were out, but the checkpoint staff said we were the last ones to make cut off and to get in and out as quickly as possible.
My nutrition strategy for the race was Tailwind with the occasional snack. Here is where I started to fuck up. I tipped a very small amount of Tailwind into my bottle and in a frenzy to get in and out of the checkpoint as fast as possible, just focused on water.
We pushed on out of Checkpoint 6 with 20km to go to Checkpoint 8 (once again we never found Checkpoint 7) and a cut off time of 8.30am. We had to go back through the bullshit forest. This time we didn’t get lost but we had already come to terms with the fact that we were probably out of the race. We passed Michelle’s party gang and a few other runners on their way into Checkpoint 6 knowing that they hadn’t made cut off. Given they’d already travelled 86km plus all the additional kms getting lost to get there it was a sad passing.
When the sun came up I figured I’d have a Cliff bar for breakfast. I think this was the first thing I’d eaten in 7 hours other than the half scoop of Tailwind. My stomach had forgotten what to do with food and I wanted to hurl. I told Anna and Glen to push on ahead and try and make cut off. I dawdled behind heaving in the bushes and stumbling at snails pace. I started to think about my Nanna – what a fucking shit way to honour her memory. All I wanted to do was something beautiful with my grief and instead I was going to DNF at 106km after 22 bullshit hours of getting lost and angry.
No no no! I started running. I could see the checkpoint.
“Have I made it?”
“You’ve made it!”
Glen and Anna were still there and Anna said “Please tell me you’re going to continue on with us.” So I did.
(The relief of having made it to Checkpoint 8 was overwhelming)
(The view coming out of Checkpoint 8 and heading into a new day – day 2 of running)
Day 2 was pretty good. We were so tired but the trail was easy. Dirt roads and no navigation required. We were so happy that we had made that cut off point that we had a spring in our step. It also helped that the volunteers at Checkpoint 8 were deadset legends.
At Checkpoint 9 my friend Tanya turned up. She was so happy and we were so happy. I had meant to pick up my second watch here but as I was so far off time schedule my first watch had long been flat and I couldn’t be fucked. Something I regret now as I always like to have the strava file. Oh well. I had also put shorts into this drop bag which in my daze I forgot to change into so it was a long day in the sun in long thick pants.
(Just out of Checkpoint 9 I asked Tanya to post this to my FB page to assure everyone I was still alive – just)
Just before Checkpoint 10 Tanya turned up again. She was having a ball bush bashing in her Festiva. Unfortunately my good spirits were heading down down down at this stage. They didn’t pick up when I got to Checkpoint 10 and the volunteers said “Are you on track to meet cut off? Are there any other runners out there?” They explained that they had no satellite phone and no way of communicating with the race staff. They had taken a GPS tracker off of one of the runners so they could use the SOS feature if things went real pear shapped
(Tanya bushbashing in the Festiva – who needs a four wheel drive?)
It was all pretty uneventful from here until about 5km from the final checkpoint. Late in the afternoon. We were so tired. I felt like I was losing my mind. I was falling asleep as I plodded along the trail. Tanya had caught up with us again and rode behind us on her bike chatting. I was too tired to talk. I told her I was quitting – that I couldn’t possibly get myself back up Mary’s Peak in my current state. All I remember her saying is “your legs know what to do, trust in your training.” I was a brat and I think I argued with her but then when I got to checkpoint 11 I knew she was right and I was bloody happy again. I was actually looking forward to that climb.
So up we went – up up up, and there it was – a magnificent sunset. I was too afraid to take a photo as I could have fallen off the rock ledge, but I took a moment to take it in and we kept on climbing.
We were at the top and then it was down down down Mary’s peak. It was fine. I was in a good mood and it wasn’t Mt Feathertop so down down down we went.
Then we got to a dirt road and knew we had about 7km to get to the finish. We knew cut offs had been extended by half hour but we wanted to make the original cut off – we could do it. We had an hour. Anna and I started shuffling. We stopped and waited for Glen to catch up but his hip and knee were hurting. We were getting cold and Anna didn’t have gloves. I’m not proud of what happened next, but we started shuffling ahead – to keep warm and cause we wanted to make that cut off. Glen got further behind. We agreed we would run back out to meet him if we got to the finish first.
About a kilometre on and Anna’s friend came out to meet her. They started running together and I couldn’t keep up. Before I knew it they were gone. Then my head torch went out. Fuck! Well that was my karma right there to bite me on the arse. I shouldn’t have left Glen.
I managed to get a very low beam of light out of my torch but wasn’t sure how long it would last. I had about 5km to go and so I started running as hard as I could, hoping I could outlast the last rays of battery my torch had.
There it finally was – the finish. Michelle was there to adorn me with my finishing medal – and Tanya, a bloody dead set legend – waiting with a warm jacket and a protein bar.
Alarm was set for 3.15am. This is early, even for me. Restless with a deep paranoia that I wouldn’t wake up in time for the start of the race, I slept very little. Two espressos later, adding last minute items to my running pack, I shake it with a caffeinated excitement and I hear an odd sound. I shake the pack again with curiosity only to realise a moment too late that that curious sound is the straps of my running pack tearing.
Hmmmm…..It’s now 4:00am. Race start is 4:30am and I still need to pick up a last minute item of mandatory gear from a friend at 4:15. Unusually, I don’t sweat it. I post on Facebook a last minute plea but it’s really just for amusement. It’s too late now for any real help to arrive.
I remember the gaffa tape in my car, still in the glove box from a month ago when my car got broken into and I taped it back together so I could go to Bright and run 4 Peaks. Hmmmm…..I remember the time my dad crashed his motor bike on a ride from Adelaide to Philip Island taking the scenic route along the Great Ocean Road. Unusually, he didn’t sweat it. He gaffa taped his bike back together and rode on. If it can’t be fixed with gaffa, it can’t be fixed.
I tape my bag together and am feeling confident it will last my predicted 24 hours out on the course. No one else seems convinced. Friends offer me last minute efforts of help – it seems there is an empty pack laying in almost every hotel room in Falls Creek, just waiting for me. Olivia even offers to hike a pack in for me on the course. For some reason, I can’t accept this help. I smile with sure confidence.
Time is moving quickly and before I know it, we are off. The first 5km follows Packhorse Trail. It feels like I’m just flowing down, gently, in the dark, guided by the light of my torch. I’m afraid of the cold. I run most Summer days in pants and a thermal. The weather predicted a pleasant day along the course, but the cold Falls Creek morning has me rugged up in a long sleeve, a thermal and a wind proof jacket. Over kill, even for me. At the trail junction – I take off all my layers. What the fuck was I thinking? As I stuff my layers in my pack the zip breaks. I keep this to myself. I fiddle with it enough so that I think most of my gear won’t fall out. As I’m fiddling with my pack on the side of the trail, 90 % of the field passes me. I’m not too worried but as I start to run, the padding of my additional layers removed, the pack starts to swing.
The holes in the straps mean it’s hanging too low and has no support. It’s grinding on my back and I feel chunks of skin being worn away…all in the first 10km of a 100km race. I’m getting frustrated and I know I can’t fix the pack now but I can fix my head. I have to let go what I can not control. Yes my back is going to be red raw at the end of this race but I’ll be in so much pain by the time I get to the finish line that will be the least of my worries. I think of what I’ve gone through to get to the start line. I am not going to let this pack bring me down. I develop a new strategy. The pack won’t break if I stay happy. If I get frustrated or sad, the pack will break and my race will be over. It’s time to get happy!
I take the first climb incredibly conservatively and at this point the remaining 10% of the field overtake me. I suspect I’m at the back end of the pack but I get a little shock when the sweeper catches me and tells me I’m dead last. I think about giving it in at that point. I’m a couple kms away from Warby Corner and I know I can be back at my hotel room in just over an hour. If I run back that’ll be enough of a jog to justify a pizza and a long soak in the hot tub. Then I think of what I’d say to Matty my coach. I quit the race cause I wanted pizza? Because I was coming last? Because I was slow? I don’t even like Pizza! Such BULL SHIT! They were all bullshit excuses and there was no way I could use any of them. So I strolled on into Warby Corner, the first check in point of the race. A few other runners were there with their crew. I had no crew so I sorted my nutrition out, said good bye to Barry who was sweeper for the first 25km of the course and got shuffling with the goal of not meeting the next sweeper.
Shuffling out of Warby Corner I got happy and I pretty much stayed happy until 85km into the race. I met some new friends, I drank water from the river, I climbed some mountains and ate some snacks. Oh and I didn’t meet any more sweepers! It was all pretty joyful.
Going into this race, the part I was nervous about was Quartz Ridge. It’s a rocky trail descending off Mount Bogong and is quite exposed. I get vertigo in high open spaces. I feel like the world is slipping out from under me and need to climb with my hands touching the earth. I suspected this might occur at some point during this race. I chose this race for that very reason. I wanted to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. There were a few shady moments where my heart beat loud in my chest, but I was generally okay. I didn’t freak out. I moved slowly and carefully, but I was okay.
As I made my way down this trail I thought of my friend Vanessa who ran the 100 miler a few years ago. I was thinking of her standing at Langfords Gap – around the 85km mark of the race I think it was that year. She was standing beside her husband, after she had just patched up her blistered feet and was ready to tackle the night knowing she had a whole night and possibly a whole day of running ahead of her. I said to her, “you look so happy,” and she said “I am!” She looked radiant and it’s an image I never forgot. I was thinking how much her feet must have hurt at that point in the race yet she was so happy to continue. I tried to channel some of her mountain spirit and then I felt my phone vibrate. Who could that be? It was Vanessa! We spoke as I hurdled down Quartz Ridge, up and over up and over up and over the tree cemetery. My courageous friend. I knew if I could channel just 1% of her strength of character and her spirit I would finish this race happy and how could I not after her thoughtful phone call? I’ve never spoken on my phone during a race. This was a joyful first.
I was already running happy, but after Vanessa’s phone call I was running with love. I was familiar with the course and each time I thought a particular climb or particular section of lonely trail might bring me down, it didn’t.
I had another incentive to run happy. I knew my best friend had driven up to Falls Creek during the day and would be waiting for my at Langford’s Gap, the 70km point of the race this year. She’s not an ultra runner and we all know as ultra runners, ultra running isn’t much of a spectator sport. I was feeling blessed and grateful as I cruised into Langford’s. To add bliss to my bliss out, the sun was setting over the mountains, the sky was pink and there was my friend. I knew I smelt bad. The day had turned out to be quite warm and I had run through rivers and sweat out the day in a clammy damp shirt, and yet my wonderful friend hugged me. That is a true friend.
Langford’s was the first and only opportunity to change out of my wet shoes and socks that I had run in all day. The feeling of brand new dry Injinji’s brought me to pure ecstasy. I lingered a little too long at Langford’s chatting to old and new friends, having a snack, putting on warm dry clothes. Eventually it was time to leave and I knew I had 15km to Pole 333. No more mountains to climb – this should be easy. But it wasn’t. Daylight had left and the fog set in, I couldn’t see more than half a metre in front of me. The trail was easy enough to follow from here to Pole 333 but my head was playing tricks in the poor visibility. About 5km out from Pole 333 I started to get down. The trail was really wet and I was spending a lot of time rock hoping to keep my feet dry from the big pools of melted snow. It was a time consuming task and I was over it.
I got to Pole 333 and couldn’t make out the direction I needed to follow. I asked Clare from Alpine Search and Rescue the way and I was terrified she was trying to send me down the 100 miler course. I’m sorry Clare!
From Pole 333 I knew I had 15km to the finish, but my head. After Pole 333 the 100 milers go in one direction and the 100km runners in another. Most of the lights in the dark were following the 100 miler course and I felt so alone. I should have felt happy I only had 15km to go instead of 80 or whatever absurd distance they had, but I couldn’t get myself out of my slump. I had no niggles or injuries, but my feet hurt more than they’ve ever hurt before. I struggled to run and my shuffle was probably no faster than a walk. As I jogged into Pretty Valley Pondage my head torch went black – no warning. I channeled Satan and screamed “FUCKKKKKK!” to the black sky like it was 2010 and I was back singing in a metal band. Then I realised there was a volunteer standing a few hundred metres in front of me. I apologised profusely and he was such a gentleman. My hands were so cold by this stage I couldn’t manage to undo my pack and get my spare torch battery out. I had to ask for his help, something I don’t do well. He was so kind. Thank you kind volunteer man.
Then there was Mount McKay. It’s an out and back to the summit and as I “jogged” up a woman and a guy who was crewing for her were jogging back down. He said to me “Are you sure there isn’t ANYTHING I can do for you? Is there ANYTHING you need?” I realised then that I must have looked like complete shit. I said “just the finish line thanks, that’s all I need” and continued on with my shuffle.
THEN, I saw a man walking in front of me. I thought why hasn’t he got a torch and where is his running pack? He’s not a runner, he’s a creep! What’s he doing out here with no torch at midnight? Creepy creepy! Feminista of The Night, I tried to catch him and then suddenly he disappeared. He wasn’t real. Uh oh.
As I pranced about in the bush following the “green sopped poles” after Mount McKay I felt so disorientated. I had to keep checking PDF maps as I was convinced I was going backward, but then I hit the dirt road. Then the sign saying I had 2km to go to the finish. I tried to run with everything I had, which wasn’t much given I coudn’t keep any calories down from Pole 333 which seemed like an eternity ago at this point. 900m down down down. My poor feet! Finally, the finish. 22:03.
Through most of this race I thought to myself I’ll never ever run the 100 miler. That was easily the hardest 100km race I’ve ever run. It had everything that terrified me – mountains, heights, navigation, extreme weather, isolation. It also had everything that made my heart sing – mountains, heights, navigation, extreme weather, isolation. It’s the fear and the challenge that make it all worthwhile – that make running for 22 hours out in the mountains the most exciting thing I can possibly think of doing.
And so, a week has passed. My feet now fit back into shoes. The hole of gapping skin on my back from my broken running pack has mostly healed. And I feel myself wondering – what else is out there that scares the absolute shit out of me? That is worth all the sacrifice just to conquer? There’s always the 100 miler 🙂
The race was one thing but there is so much preparation that goes into a race. I was born in one of the flattest, driest, hottest suburb in Australia and mountains and the cold are not something I take for granted. I ran in the mountains for the very first time only two years ago and nearly died. A few weeks later I crewed for my friends who were running Alpine Challenge that year – so I could learn. I spent the following two years taking every opportunity to train in the mountains with my wonderful friends Kerry, Celesta and Jacqui who taught me so much.
I am no champion. I don’t win races or come close to the front of the pack, but what I do means something to me. I pick challenging races and I work through my fears. These experiences teach me to value and respect myself and teach to me to fight and survive in real life when times get tough. Most of all, they bring me love – for the planet, for its people and for myself.
I want to dedicate some of the love I earned in this race to all my friends, but some special love, respect and hope for my dear friends Vanessa and Kerry.