Ultra Trail Australia 2016
I set my alarm for 5:00am. I was in start wave 5 – starting at 6:49. I was staying at the KCC directly across the road from the start line. That should be plenty of time to get dressed, eat a banana and make my way to the start line.
At 6:30am I was still in my room, wrestling with my hydration bladder – the bloody hose was stuck and I was having a nervous break down. Finally, it snapped into place – I grabbed my finish line drop bag (which I still needed to drop off) and sprinted to the start line.
Shit! I forgot to set up my Garmin properly. Someone asked me to take a photo for them. “I’m sorry, I just can’t right now!” I snapped as wave 4 starters were off and I still had so much to do. What a biatch!
Finish bag dropped off, Garmin ready to go, spotted Crazy Pants Kirsten for a quick hug and a quick start line photo with Kerry and then it was go time.
I started training for UTA in January. How the fcck was it go time already???
I’ll be the first to confess my training had not gone quite to plan. I first ran UTA (then TNF) in 2014. At the time, I thought never ever again. But after losing my running mojo and then finding it again on the 1000 steps in Ferntree Gully one grey cold Melbourne morning, I decided this would be my race. I was going to train harder than I’d ever trained before and smash my 2014 race time.
Then I had a bit of a nervous break down – for real this time, not the melodramatic kind that had me throwing my hydration bladder across the room on race morning. Everything was going well in my life. I had just got married, just got a promotion, just had an amazing relaxing holiday/honeymoon, but it just takes one thing to tip the ship. A bully in my life and I lost my confidence, lost my focus, lost my drive, lost my ability to get through the day without heart palpitations, night sweats and random bouts of tears.
I considered withdrawing from the race, but I didn’t want to. Ultra-running was the one thing I had over this bully. Every time she put me down, made me feel like the fool – I knew I had her, knew she couldn’t run 100 miles, couldn’t run 250km across the desert, couldn’t hike all day in the mountains. Nope, she wasn’t better than me at all and she wasn’t taking this from me.
So I decided I would do this run on my own terms – slow and steady and that’s exactly what I did.
UTA starts with a 5km road section which is pretty runnable though it is hilly. From the start, I walked the hills. My approach was to take it very conservatively until Nellies Glen (which is around the 52km mark and is when the climbing and the stairs start) then I would give the race everything I had.
This was working quite a treat. I was feeling really fresh and really enjoying myself until lunch time. At that point in the race, I realised I was really friggin hot and wasn’t wearing a hat. My face felt like it was cooking. I could have fried an egg on my face it was so hot – why wasn’t I wearing a hat???
This feeling that my face was frying continued most of the afternoon until check point 3 when I decided I would wet my buff to try and cool down. Brilliant decision, except the sun was going down and I only packed one buff and I would need it going into the night to keep warm. Great thinking hot stuff!
Checkpoint 3 to 4 felt good. I enjoyed the runnable stuff before Nellies Glen and then I enjoyed the climb. My knees were making a strange sound when I got to the stairs but there was no pain so I just turned up the tunes. If you can’t hear it, then there’s no problem (a little something I learned from years of driving a 30 year old Datsun).
When I got to checkpoint 4 I felt confused and to be honest, a little angry. I needed to sit down so I could get what I needed out of my drop bag but there were support crew everywhere – sitting on all the seats. I hate to get a bit grumpy here, but if I were support crew and I saw a disorientated tired looking runner stumble in the checkpoint and I had NOT been running for 57km, well I’m pretty sure I’d offer my seat to the person who had been running for 57km. That didn’t happen. So I sat on the floor, but my hips were spasming so I had to put my legs out and lay down as I rummaged through my drop bag for supplies.
Then a nice lady came over and said she had seen me running all day and thought I was doing really well and could she help me at all. She was someone else’s support crew but I’d been just in front of her runner all day. I said no thank you but I was really chuffed she asked. A word of kindness goes a long way at that point in the race.
I didn’t want to stay at checkpoint 4 long. Too many people – too many crew and not enough chairs. I felt weird. So I filled up my water, grabbed a few snacks and left.
The temperature had dropped so I had to start shuffling straight away to keep warm. In 2014 I had not run with a watch so I had no data to go on for beating my 2014 time. Even though I knew I hadn’t done the training, I was secretly hoping I might still be able to do it. I remembered leaving checkpoint 4 in 2014 to a sun high in the sky. The sun was starting to set today, and so I knew I was well off my goal time.
There was nothing to cry about though as this part of the course passes through numerous look out points into the Blue Mountains. Running through this point of the course under a red sky was absolutely magnificent. I thought about taking a photo, but then I remembered that they still haven’t invented a camera as powerful than the human eye and so I absorbed it. I let it fill my soul.
I started out this leg a bit messy cause I was still a bit freaked out by the chaos at checkpoint 4. Then I dropped a glove and had to retrace my steps to find it, but finally I got into a groove. There are a lot of stairs between checkpoint 4 and 5 and I told myself it was time to shine – it’s your fccking time Tash!
I knew I was carrying way too much muscle as a result of my CrossFit addiction to be a fast runner but I was a strong runner and the stairs were where I could let loose. I went as hard as I could and was so happy that I was only overtaken by one guy during this leg (and I caught him again coming into checkpoint 5). I did overtake at least 30 runners – most of them were having a hurl party. There was a lot of carnage and I was pretty happy with my decision to conserve during the hotter parts of the day.
When I got into checkpoint 5 I saw Kerry. I was so happy to see her briefly. We had done a lot of our training together leading up to UTA and become very good friends. I knew how much this race meant to her and I felt so happy to see her at this point of the race, knowing she would finish strong.
I also saw George and Jon who offered me cold vegetarian pizza which I politely declined. I hadn’t quite joined the hurl party but there was a bit of heaving going on and I didn’t think cold pizza would cure what ailed me with 22km to go to the finish.
As I left the last checkpoint, things quickly deteriorated. My knees felt like they were getting hacked by a chain saw. I regretted every piece of cake I had eaten in the lead up to UTA. Too much booty with 9km of downhill to go, the knees were SCREAMING. I put on some grind-core to silence out the grinding of my knees. I played air guitar with my trekking poles to lift my spirits. I felt okay, but I could still hear my knees grind-coring (yes my knees are so metal, they grind-core) over the blast beats. Not good.
I moved at snail’s pace and was overtaken by so many runners. I didn’t care – I wasn’t racing them. I was racing my inner demons who were telling me to pull out. I had given up on beating my 2014 time, but I knew I could still finish within 20 hours to get the buckle (only sub 20 hour finishers take home a finishing buckle).
So I made a deal with myself – go as slow as you need to go without chundering, but do NOT stop moving. I was relieved when the 9km of downhill was over and I could start climbing, but it was momentary. I was slooooowwwww! Finally, I saw the 95km sign. I had made a deal with myself when I first entered that I would run this section. I had hiked most of the way into the finish in 2014 and I knew this section was runnable until the last km of stairs so I wanted to leave everything I had out on the course and push it. I pushed as hard as I could up the stairs, almost vomming twice – almost.
When I got to the top of the stairs there were two runners slowly moving toward the finish line. I thought it was a bit dirty to overtake at this point in time, but I just wanted to be done so I ran past them both to cross the line in 19:11. I was handed my buckle and I burst into tears just as George was there to make me laugh and sort me out.
I’ve never been so emotional crossing a finish line before. Yes, this wasn’t my fastest race or my most impressive, but it was my most meaningful for a number of reasons.
I had lost my love of running and training for UTA brought it back. Racing UTA made that love all the more stronger. I really suffered out there. I acknowledged it. I embraced it. I kept moving. I did not give up.
I set myself some goals and targets that had nothing to do with my finish time – run (not hike) from 95km – 99km, climb the Golden Stairs with joy in my heart, acknowledge the sections of the course that caused me fear (not deny the fear) and continue to move steady. I did all these things.
I raced most of this race on my own – never stopping to chat to someone for more than a few minutes. I didn’t have a coach in the lead up. I didn’t have a crew during the race. I needed to relearn how to do things on my own and to embrace solitude. I did this – I craved company and support and then I found the words of strength I needed within myself.
And finally – I was reminded of just how amazing this community is. The incredible people that are ultra-runners, the unconditional love and support we offer one another. I feel so blessed to have found this community.