Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible
Sunday was the last of my four in four “Running for their lives” project. I finished off the four in four with a bang for sure, Australia’s first Sky Run, The Buffalo Stampede.
I don’t think I have ever been so nervous before a race. As I made the drive up to Bright on Saturday morning I started to feel violently ill. This feeling only increased when Mt Buffalo came into sight. I became so nauseated I had to pull over to the side of the road. I thought about turning around and driving home. I was so terrified. The only thing that stopped me was my commitment. I had committed to this project – four in four. It wouldn’t be much of a project if I didn’t even make it to the start line of number four.
So back in the car, I looked toward the mountain and I started to think about some fun memories I had of that mountain. My grandparents moved to Beechworth when I was six. I didn’t see much of them really after that, except for snow season. Every year, my sister and I would go stay at my grandparents and Poppa, in his old little Mini, would drive us up to the Mt Buffalo.
Neither my sister nor I are any good at snow sports but we are both very creative idiots so we had our own snow sports. One of my favorites was determining who really had the “Arse of Steel.” This required picking the roughest and highest tabogan trail and sliding down in on your arse. The one who went the fastest or picked the most daring trail was the winner.
The last time I went to the snow with my sister we were early adults. We hadn’t gotten along very well for years and we hadn’t been to the mountain together for years. For some reason, the mountain was calling us both. So we went and we had a great time. This time, we invented the game, “Who can jump off the ski lift and face plant with the most style.” When I became road kill for some snotty nosed four year old decked out in his uber cool ski gear it was clear that I was the winner.
As these happy memories danced about my mind, I decided the mountain was not something to be feared. Like any other trail race, this was going to be a day to enjoy. I must remember to be grateful for the earth, for my body and for the opportunity to play out in the trails.
The ultra marathon was being held on the Saturday and I was running the marathon on the Sunday. So I went down to the finish line to see some of the elites finish the ultra. I don’t think that was such a good idea. I have never seen elites cross a finish line looking so shit. They were shaking, collapsing, trembling. The fear was returning. The common theme amongst these broken men however was the fact that only moments after collapsing in a heap, their faces were painted with a huge smile. Yes, I wanted that smile. I knew what that feeling was about. I would be getting myself to the start line tomorrow. I wanted a piece of that.
Sunday morning rolled around and there I was at the start line. It had rained an hailed all night on the course and when my room mates Tay and Jan had returned around midnight after completing the ultra they both warned me I would need poles to complete the course. I had never used poles before. Tay was generous enough to lend me hers.
When I was 7, I stole the pencil off the girl who had the neatest hand writing in my class. I hoped that pencil would give me special powers to write as neat as her. As I took off at the start of the Buffalo Stampede Marathon, I thought of all the amazing races Tay had completed with these poles. The woman ran Northburn 100 miler only two weeks prior to doing the Buffalo Stampede Ultra! I hoped Tay’s super powers would transcend through these poles and give me the strength to get through.
All was fine until we got to the first descent. Holy shit! This was not a down hill, this was figuring out how to fall off a cliff without killing yourself! Bloody George, who also ran Northburn 100 miler looked like he was dancing down that descent. I yelled out “you’re making this look easy!” He returned “what about now?” as he pulled out his GoPro and starting papparazzing everyone’s pain.
Yes George and I wouldn’t be running too far together today – the man was mad! He was having the time of his life. Me, not so much. Runner after runner passed me on that down hill. Mentally, I gave in. Scott Knabel caught me and asked how I was going. My reply was something like this…”fckked, this is fccked, I’m fccked. Fcck this shit, what the fcck! FCCCCKKKK!!!!”
Scott got me laughing and reminded me that we were here to have fun and enjoy the day. I wouldn’t make it with a negative mind. I needed to shift my head space. Scott helped me do that. Together we just laughed at how fccked that first descent was. Eventually we made it. We wished each other well and then I had to try and make up some ground so I sped off.
The rest of the race was bloody hard, but at every climb I would remind myself of the alternative which was a descent. I’d take the climb. So I learned to enjoy the climbs and tolerate the descents. You can’t change a course by swearing at it, you have to embrace it with all of it’s challenges and just keep moving forward, so that was what I tried to do.
I needed to get to the 24.5km check point by 5.5 hours. There was a 2km section of this course that took me (and a lot of others) 1.5 hours to climb. I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to make it. This would be my first DNF. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t a failure. I had tried my best. If I didn’t make the cut off, it was out of my hands. But try as I might, I could not visualise myself DNFing. What I could see was me at the finish line with that great big colourful medal around my neck. I wanted that medal! I tried to push that image from my mind. I didn’t want to add to the disappointment, but I couldn’t. So I ran with that image in my mind – me and that great big colourful finishing medal. I just ran.
And then I was there – 24.5km. I had made it in around 4.5 hours. As I filled up my water I asked another runner how he was doing. He asked me if I had run much of the last 10km. He was feeling really defeated and said he just couldn’t even manage to run. I realised I had run all of it. I was back baby!
….but then….King of the Mountain….the race inside a race. 10km of climbing. The first 2km were very steep. I was feeling a bit rotten as I hadn’t looked at the course profile properly and was starting to think that the whole 10km was going to be this steep. I started to worry about cut offs again, but the thing is, I was passing runner after runner.
So I pushed on, running when I could and power hiking as fast as I could when running wasn’t possible. I passed a lot of the runners who had gotten me on that first descent. I was feeling really good.
I got to the Chalet and I was having fun. Only a 7.5km little loop to go. I stopped having fun about 4km into that loop when we had to crawl through this rocky crevice and I got my foot stuck and had a flash back to that 137 hours movie. Would I have to cut my foot off to finish this race? No, lucky I could just take my shoe off.
I will confess to having a mini melt down at this rocky crevice. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I let fear enter my mind. I lost a lot of time stuck in my head playing games with fear. Then another runner approached. He encouraged me on and even offered to wait for me when I lost my shoe. Bloody champion.
Finally I was through and only 2km from the finish. I was hoping to make 8:30. Then a woman approached me very emotional. She had taken a fall and wondered if I had some pain killers. I did but they were in the bottom of my pack. That man who helped me through the crevice would have lost a good 20 minutes off his time helping me. It was time to pay it forward. I took my pack off and hunted for those pain killers. I checked she was okay. When I was convinced that she wasn’t going to die on me, I left her to continue her own race and I needed to finish mine.
Finally, I crossed the finish line. There was George in his hot pink outfit looking like he’d just had a quick little stroll around park run rather than running a ridiculously difficult marathon two weeks after running a ridiculously difficult 100 miler.
It was done. 8:51. Four in four.
“Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”