My first 100km race
This time last week I was lying in bed after a very sleepless night, in awe that only a short time earlier, I had crossed the finish line of my first 100km event.
One week later, I have made up for the lost sleep but am still revelling in a sense of disbelief that I actually achieved a goal that had once seemed so huge and unattainable for me.
From the moment I started racing, I always had my heart set on the ultra-marathon distance. The Surf Coast Century was the first race I really set my heart on. I entered in 2012 with a sense of excitement and complete ignorance. I had no idea what it took to run an ultra-marathon other than what I had read of other people’s experiences.
Who was I to think I could go from running a handful of half marathons to running 100km on some bloody challenging terrain? Well my body answered that question for me.
Three weeks after running my first marathon, I found myself with a nasty stress fracture that stopped me running altogether for enough time to make me feel like it was the end of the world (if you’re injured and reading this, trust me – it isn’t the end of the world. You will get over it and you will think on reflection how stupid you were for being such a cry baby. Suck it up, let your body heal and remember, there will be plenty more races).
So after some time on the sideline, I slowly built back my base mileage and after a few shorter ultra marathons (Two Bays Ultra 56km and Kep Ultra 75km) and of course the Big Red Run (250km staged event across the Simpson Desert with the longest day being 85km) I was feeling much more confident at tackling the 100km distance.
My training for the 100km was less than perfect. Basically I got home from the Simpson Desert on an absolute high feeling like I could do anything. I had five days of rest (because I couldn’t fit my feet into shoes). Once I could fit my feet back into shoes, I had a week or two of easy shuffling then I started training for the Surf Coast Century. That gave me 7 weeks of solid training plus a two week taper.
My taper was an interesting experience. It involved me lying in bed doing absolutely nothing thanks to a nasty case of man flu (I know I am a woman, but with the amount of complaining I did, this was clearly man flu).
I got out of bed for the first time on Friday (the race being Saturday). I knew that the right decision was to withdraw, but having pulled out of this event last year I just couldn’t do it. I made a deal with myself that if I got to the half way point of the race, that would be enough – after all, that would be further than I got last year and this game is all about progress.
Friday afternoon, we drove up to Torquay where we were staying for the night. I was in a filthy mood as the rain poured down so hard I couldn’t see the road. I knew it was going to be a long slow race for me given the state my body was in and if it was going to rain like this, well then I had a feeling I might be throwing the towel in even earlier than I had planned.
After checking in to our cabin, I went off to the race briefing to pick up my race numbers, drop off my checkpoint bags and find out if google weather was correct in telling me that there was going to be a thunderstorm in the middle of the race.
There were so many people there! Ultras usually attract a small field of entrants, but as the Surf Coast Century allows competitors to cover the course in teams of 2 or 4, the field was much larger than I expected. I started to size up competitors. I saw a few who were chatting nervously to one another “my first ultra…I haven’t run over 30km in training…I haven’t trained on sand…I haven’t trained on hills.” I started to feel better. Even in my current state I could spot the weaker prey and I knew I could hunt them down and at least not finish last. The idea of just getting to the half way point was already starting to fade. I was starting to sense that it may be game on.
I returned to the cabin ridiculously excited. So excited that I didn’t sleep a wink and before I knew it, the 3am alarm was going off telling me it was time to get ready.
It was a freezing cold morning as we all lined up at the start line in Anglesea in the pitch black. I saw fellow Big Red Runner Michael. I had seen Michael the night before at registrations and he was the laid back farmer I had gotten to know in the desert. However at the start line, he had his game face on. He was focused and I was very excited for him – I knew he was going to do well.
Then it was on, we were running along the sand toward Point Knight then we looped up over the cliff tops to return to the start (which was also the finish) and then on along the coast toward Torquay.
Competitors were all in a good mood. There was a lot of chatter in those first 5km. I saw Lucy Bartholomew literally float past me – that girl is absolutely amazing.
The first 10km felt really easy and I was pleased. I knew those first 10km were going to dictate whether or not I would finish the race. I passed through the first checkpoint and looked forward to getting to Torquay which would symbolise the end of the first leg.
Then there were all the reefs to cross over. Having an ear ache and a head cold meant I had absolutely no balance and a lot of the coral reefs are very sharp whilst others are just really slippery so I had to really take my time. This was the point in the race where I lost my place. One after the other, competitors overtook me. I had to keep my head and not get pissed off. If I was going to finish the race, I had to do it this way – slow and steady. Keep it together!
Eventually I got to checkpoint 2 in Torquay. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I had to try and find my checkpoint bag. My shoes and socks were soaked but I made the decision not to change them at this checkpoint as the second leg also promised wet feet. I would suck it up, save time at this checkpoint and change my shoes at the half way.
The second leg followed the Surf Coast walk and other trails. I had trained on some of this leg so I tried to convince myself this was going to be smooth sailing. It wasn’t. I got to about 28km and then I started to suffer. I’d like to blame the fact that I was sick, but I think it really had nothing to do with that. I was just having a rough time. I was starting to hurt, I was going slower than I would have liked and that was getting to me mentally. I kept thinking just how long I was going to be out on the course if I continued at this snail’s pace, but I just couldn’t go any faster. My back was killing me after a week of bed’s rest. I had sciatica down once side which meant I had to alter the way I was running so that my back didn’t completely cramp up. My quads were already feeling heavy. As I ran through the 3rd checkpoint at 32km a spectator said to me “looking strong.” I thought “are you f*cking kidding me???”
As I passed through this checkpoint I knew the next checkpoint would be at 49km and that would be my chance to pull out.
As I left the checkpoint, I started running with a guy called David. I was convinced I was ending the race at the next checkpoint but he wouldn’t have a bar of it. He completely ignored what I was saying and instead decided we were going to run together. We were going to take it very easy because the energy we conserved in the first half would save us in the last half of this race. We were going to take it in turns of being the leader. I would lead at first then we’d swap. He was just so darn happy that I just went with it. I didn’t want to bring him down with my feelings of despair. So we chatted and we ran. As we followed beautiful flowing single trail I was suddenly able to appreciate how beautiful this area was. All of a sudden we were waist deep in water as we got back onto the sand, then we were at the 49km checkpoint. I told David to go on ahead as I needed to change my shoes, but what a fccking champion (I owe this race to that man!).
I sat down. Had a swig of coke and tried to get my wrinkled toes into a fresh pair of injinji’s – no easy task! A man was sitting in the chair next to me close to tears.
“How you doing mate?” I asked.
“Just having a really rough time”
I realised then that yes, I was hurting, but so was everyone else. It was time to stop being a cry baby and just get on with it.
So off I went with fresh socks and shoes and a fresh outlook.
Leg 3 we had been warned was the hardest but I have to admit that this was the leg I enjoyed the most. Yes it was hilly but the wild flowers! Bliss!
Every time I passed a runner I remembered my friend Jan’s advice – talk to other runners. Well, this was great for me but maybe not so great for them. I just chatted away. I was having a great time. I bet they were thinking “just shut up and fcck off!” haha.
Checkpoint 5. I was friggin excited at this point. 7km away was checkpoint 6 and that was the checkpoint I had volunteered at last year. That would be a really symbolic moment for me crossing through that station.
Checkpoint 6. Farrk! I yelled could someone fuccking help me to fill my water blader. This was one down side of this race – there seemed to be a real shortage of volunteers and the water tanks meant you needed two hands to turn them on – pretty much impossible to do when you’re also holding a hydration bladder. For the entire race, not one person assisted me except when I screamed at someone to help me at this aid station. Never mind, not to be negative, so I asked someone to take a photo of me in front of the aid station sign, then off I trotted.
As I excited the aid station, I passed a man on his knees chundering his heart out.
“You okay mate?”
He smiled and said “Yeah, I’ll be fine thanks.”
The last leg was probably the most uneventful. It was just one foot in front of the other. At the 85km mark it started to rain and we had to clamber under a bridge that was quite slippery by this point. If I slipped, I would have fallen into the river. Many f*cks were given here.
I passed through the last checkpoint as the sun had fully set. I had 14km to go to the finish line. If you finished in under 16 hours you got a beer stein. I could make it if I ran the whole way. I knew this section was fairly flat but it was also very dark and my head torch was a bit crap.
Every time I slowed, I thought of Karen Hagan, a woman I can now call my friend who won the 100km Kep Ultra. She smashed through that finish line as strong as she’d gone for a 5km sprint. I wanted to finish like that. So I kept running. I was hurting, but pain is temporary. I wanted that beer stein.
The single trail ended and we were back on the sand. It was so dark and I wasn’t sure how long I was meant to follow the sand for. I pulled out my map from my pocket and got very confused. It said we were meant to head back onto the cliff tops after 100m. Shit, I’d been running along here for more than 100m. I saw a head torch way behind me. I ran back to him and asked him for directions.
He seemed pissed with me for being dumb and said just follow the sand till the finish line.
Fcck, I’d wasted about 10 minutes. I wanted that beer stein. Time to push it. So I left Mr Cranky Pants and ran on.
Well he was wrong, we returned to the cliff tops a few kms on (but it was clearly marked so no need for my earlier panic attack). A bit more single trail which involved a lot of stumbles in the dark. Then I almost lost my shoe in a mud pit. Finally, we were back on the sand. I still wasn’t sure how far the finish line was. My Garmin had hit 100km but I’d wasted time and kms back tracking to Mr Grumpy Pants.
Then a man came out of the shadows and said “about 400m Love.”
I was so looking forward to seeing my boyfriend at the finish line. Then I heard screaming “TASH TASH TASH!” Liam is not one to show emotion and that was a very feminine voice, but I’d been running for close to 16 hours.
As I crossed the finish the voice had a face – the Donovans and Adrian Bailey (the Big Red Run race directors). They all hugged me even though I was sweaty and disgusting. How amazing! Who can say that after completing a race they have gone on to have those race directors show such genuine affection and kindness at another event?
Then Liam hugged me and his best mate Mike.
It was amazing. I’ve never had so much support at a finish line (except BRR of course!)
Then someone came over and shook my hand and gave me a beer stein! Shit yeah!
Official finish time 15:44