When it all goes pear shaped
Two weeks ago, I ran the Two Bays Ultra – 56km across the Mornington Peninsula. Well it’s 28km from Cape Shank to Dromana, but then we rang a big bell and ran all the way back – totaling 56km.
This was my second attempt at Two Bays and my “ultra-versary.” My second attempt at the race would symbolize the completion of one year in the sport of ultra running and celebrate the start of a new year of challenges, uncertainties and growth.
Whilst I feel a year into this sport I have grown as an athlete – I understand my body that bit better, I know when to push and when not too, I find it difficult to measure progress. I’m not one for time trials. Instead, I love to explore the unexplored. Every race is on different terrain, a different distance. So given that I had already completed Two Bays in 2013 I thought it would be a great opportunity to see just how far I had progressed in a year as a runner.
Whilst my training was quite interrupted – I hurt my ribs falling down my stair case then a few weeks later I tore my calf muscle, I was quietly confident that I would better my 2013 time. After all, I had run across the Simpson Desert, completed my first 100km race, completed four ultra-marathons and five marathons not to mention all the half marathons I did as “fun runs” in 2013.
The days before the race I was unusually nervous. I came down with a stomach bug, but I wasn’t at all sure that it was a bug – was I just making myself sick with stress?
Waiting at the start line I felt uncomfortable. I saw a few people I knew, but couldn’t manage a sensible conversation. I could hear the words coming out my mouth, but they weren’t mine. My mind wasn’t focused on the now but instead, was fretting about what was to come.
Then we were off.
The first 10km were smooth. I was making good time. I felt really comfortable and all the anxieties I had felt the last week dissipated. I started repeating my mantra and the words I got tattooed after my run across the desert, “When you run on the earth and with the earth, you can run forever.” I was at one with the earth. I was zen.
I was having the best time until I got to 24km. I suddenly felt so tired. My legs were heavy but worse of all, my heart was heavy. I had wanted to get to the half way point by 3 hours. 3:15 at the latest. I wasn’t going to make that time. I wanted to cry. I wanted to stop.
Then I had a vision of Pat Farmer out in the Simpson Desert telling us to just put one foot in front of the other. Don’t stop moving. Even if you’re moving slowly, you’re one step closer to the finish. You’re still making progress.
So I kept moving, but I was angry with myself for giving in to my emotions. I had wasted precious time sulking.
Then Lucy Bartholomew floated past me on her return (it’s an out and back course). That girl is so inspiring and humble at the same time. She smiled and said something encouraging. I grit my teeth and hoped she could feel my feelings of gratitude even though I couldn’t summon the energy to smile or speak.
I started to pass some other friendly faces and everyone was encouraging one another. My hope was renewed and I remembered why I love this sport so much. There was even a high five thrown in there.
I got to the road and knew I had 2km to go. My watch said 3:20. I wanted to make it before 3:30 so I started pushing it, making sure I kept under 5 min km pace. I rang that bell good and hard. Filled up my water and then was out of there.
That was when my mood turned for the worse yet again.
It’s all up hill for a good way out of the 28km aid station. So I power walked it. Some guy was walking next to me texting on his phone. I instantly felt annoyed.
“Put your God damn phone away” I wanted to yell. Perhaps I was mostly annoyed by the fact that he was texting, drinking and walking at the same pace as me whilst I was focused and charged.
He started to chat and he was a good guy. As we headed up Arthur’s Seat together I started to lag behind but he didn’t want to leave me. Now normally I love a chat during an ultra-marathon, but not today. I just wanted to be left on my own. So I told him to go on ahead.
The going was really tough up Arthur’s Seat. I was in a really low place mentally and emotionally. I wondered why the hell I was doing this. Normally I can’t really find a good reason not to do these types of things but today I couldn’t think of a single reason why I should continue, but I did. I just kept plodding along.
I started to feel really nauseous. Perhaps it hadn’t just been nerves earlier in the week. There she goes! The minimal amount of water I had consumed in the last four hours and the last gel were up and in the bushes.
The next 15-10km were okay. The terrain was quite pleasant. I could run a steady pace and I had managed to turn off my negative thoughts simply by focusing on fuel and water. Small sips often as every time I drank too much, I hurled it up. I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep the gels down too. That 45min alarm on my Garmin reminding me to eat was sounding all too soon but I reasoned that the quicker that alarm beeped, the closer I was to finishing. Every gel down was one gel closer to the finish line.
At the 42km mark, old mate** with no shirt and no water??? came running up along side me. “I’m glad I caught you!” he said. We ran together and I was quite pleased to have his company. I have a fondness for old tough buggers. All of a sudden he said “We’re not going to make the cut off. I’m going to pull out at the next aid station.”
“Can you run 13km in 2.5 hours? Can you keep up with my pace for 13km?”
“Then you’re going to make it buddy. We’re going to make it easy. It might not be the grandest of finish times but we are going to finish within the cut offs.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
I had to run faster. His negativity was bringing me down. So I started pushing harder. I felt good. I kept going. 2km had passed and I looked behind me. Old mate was no where to be seen. I kept on at a good pace until – BANG!
I tripped on a tree root and somersaulted and hit my head on the trail. I heard a pop in my leg. I wanted to cry. I was trail road kill. Another runner hopped over me asking if I was okay. I ushered her on. I didn’t want her to see me cry.
Then I remembered old mate would be catching me soon. So I got up and took a few steps. My calf hurt but I could walk. So I started to jog, then run. 10km to go.
4km from the finish and the mind games started again. The talk of self defeat, the inability to utter a single word to passing runners or encouraging spectators. When would this hell hole end????
Finally, I could see the finish line.
7:35. 11 minutes slower than last year.
Friends at the finish line were encouraging. Sandra , who had finished her first ultra in great time, said “I hope you are good at washing whites!” I hadn’t bothered to dust myself off when I had tumbled. I wanted to cry – my mum is the best at washing whites and she wasn’t here. That, seriously, was the place my mind had gone too.
So what went wrong?
I can come up with a hundred excuses but none of them are valid. The truth is that my heart just wasn’t in this race and that made me mentally weak. No matter how hard you train the body, you cannot succeed if the mind isn’t strong.
***I mean absolutely no disrespect to Old Mate. He was a hard nut and a top guy. It was just a tough day for him at the office too.