GOW 2016: redemption

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Some of you might remember last year’s attempt at the Great Ocean Walk 100km ultra marathon. It coincided exactly one week after the Allstar Affiliates CrossFit Comp – a 2 day, 7 event CrossFit competition.

I had become bored with ultra running and had fallen in love with CrossFit. I spent the months before the competition working on my pull-ups and improving my max snatch. Running 100km was pretty much the furthest thing from my mind. I knew I could run 100km so I put a bit of trust in my body to just do it. It was the CrossFit comp that preoccupied me.

Come race day, the very second I started running, my legs were heavy. I remembered all the thrusters I had done the weekend before and that became my reason to quit. I chugged along for 32km but the entire time I told myself “you’re tired and you have every right to be.”

Now the truth, that can only be gained with the hindsight of a near perfect 2016 GOW, is that yes I was tired, but it had nothing to do with a tired body. The very nature of ultra running depends on being able to push through, to keep going when your body is falling apart and screaming at you to stop. What was my motivation to enter a two day CrossFit Comp a week before a key race anyway? It was my behaviour prior to lining up at GOW I should have been analysing when trying to determine why I DNF, not the race itself. I was bored with ultra running. I was bored when I got to the start line and I was bored when my legs started turning over. If you’re bored, you’ll never ever be able to run 100km, no matter how strong the body is.

So I took some time off. I stopped entering races because of fear of missing out. I waited for a race to excite me, a race I wanted to train for and slowly but surely, 2016 got back on track. When GOW entries opened for 2016, I knew it didn’t really fit in well with my 2016 race plan. I had told myself the DNF wasn’t a failure so I had nothing to prove. I didn’t need to enter. Yet when entries went live, I found myself tapping my details into the entry form. It was almost an outer body experience. It was the mind that had given up on me in GOW 2015, but already the body was out to prove it was stronger than the mind by overriding the decision not to enter. It was done, I was signed up and ready to go…almost. I had to contact Matty Abel, from DBA runners. Matty had coached me for my first 100 miler in 2015 (okay my only 100 miler). I knew I’d be a much better runner and avoid the dreaded ‘boredom’ with training and running in general if I had his help. He agreed and so it was set.

As GOW 2016 approached, I was determined to make this a very different experience to 2015. It started with car snacks on the drive to Apollo Bay. I felt like everything I had eaten in 2015 was cursed so I took great care to eat different snacks. Carrots and protein balls. Yes, I think these may be safe.

Last year I forgot half my mandatory gear and Andy had to help me out. Not this year, I was a picture of perfection rolling out my gear for the mandatory gear check.

Already looking up…

Then I got to my hotel. Last year I stayed in the back packers and I had a realisation as I yelled at one of the 18 year old fresh faced girls in my room to turn the fucking light off at 9pm that I was way too old and grumpy for hostels. I also realised, 8 years after graduating from uni, that I am no longer a poor student and I don’t have to live like one always. So this year I booked myself a room with a spa at the Stay Inn. The owners probably thought it a little odd that I booked a lush bed and breakfast for one lone traveller and was out by 5am with no breakfast, but how I loved the towels and the pillows and the soft sheets. Ohhhh yes, 2016 GOW was already feeling very different.

My preparation for GOW 2016 hadn’t exactly a been ideal. I had done almost everything Matty had told me to do, which gave me some confidence. However, I had also gotten the flu and Thai Belly twice all in the month preceding GOW. When I felt too weak to run, I spent time on my mind. I worked on visualisations and mantras that would help push me through.  I had some tricks in the bag for my brain when it decided it wanted to quit….but it didn’t.

At 6.30 am the race started. I was very comfortable to let anyone who wanted to pass me go.  I knew there was some single track after the sealed bike track and I also know that if I’m feeling a bit grumpy, this is when the grumps will come out. I can’t stand hearing people breathe behind me and feeling like I’m holding everyone up. It makes me anxious and puts me off my game. Not this year, I was running in sync with everyone around me. We were all moving as one big happy flock (I don’t know what the collective word for happy crazy people who like to run a long way is so flock will have to do).

Goal number one was to get to checkpoint one in under four hours and not feel grumpy or trashed. Somewhere along this 22km section I met Cathy and Michelle. I had so much fun getting to know them both that the checkpoint came up before I knew it. I had gotten there in three hours and felt really fresh. I hadn’t pushed myself hard. I was enjoying the scenery and the company.  I was having a great day!

As I left Checkpoint 1 I focused in on my second goal which was the most important goal for me for the entire race – get to Ian Hoad who volunteers at the light house (32km) and do not beg him for a lift to the finish (as occurred in 2015). I plodded along this section reflecting on last year and running in general. I remembered having a conversation with a runner in 2015 along this same section where she said “this is simply the most scenic, beautiful course I have ever run.” I couldn’t see it. I remember thinking REALLY??? I just couldn’t see outside my own pain cave. This year, I looked around. Everything looked different. It was spectacular and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, a koala greeted us on the trail.

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I spent the last hour of this section working through some deep shit in my head about perspective, emotions, why I run – all that crap, so when I got to Ian I was so happy to get out of my own head for a little bit. We hugged and he told me he’d see me again 1.5km from the finish. Okay, next goal.

From this point onward, the course was undulating, but nothing mountainous. There were amazing ocean views – I mean AMAZING. The trail wound its way up into the headlands, then  onto the coast for some beach running. The sand was tough, but really who cared? I was having such a wonderful time. There is a 3km stretch of soft sand before the Johanna Beach checkpoint. I could have shuffled it but I couldn’t be arsed. I was having a lovely time and I wanted to savour it. Plus I knew all the hard part of the course was after Johanna. So I walked it. I enjoyed a Cliff Bar and I looked out to the ocean and thought to myself how fucking lucky am I?

At the Johanna Beach checkpoint, I was thankful I had packed a dry pair of socks (a few water crossings on sand meant my socks were pretty gross). Fuck me,  Injinji toe socks are so bloody hard to put on when your feet are damp, you didn’t pack a towel and you’ve run 55km. I spent way too long at this checkpoint but it was full of friends and it took me so friggin long to change those socks. Eventually I was out and the fun continued.

The next section is where all the hills are – about 20km of them. I just focused on getting to 75km as the hard stuff would all be over. So I hiked up, ran where I could and ran down, repeat for 20km. Along this section I met Matt – who was awesome. We stuck together for 10km and as we ran as much as we could of this section our theme of conversation was how awesome the 100km distance is. Our positivity smashed the miles away. At 65km, Matt said he wanted to wait for his friend so I kept going. Soon the party squad caught up with me – the O’Briens and Cathy and Michelle. It was such a good party, I wanted to stay for a drink, so I tagged along. The 10km before the last checkpoint were a bit tough. It was tiring after an entire day out in the beautiful sun and the undulations were taking their toll, but I really didn’t want to leave the party so I stayed on board till we got into the last checkpoint.

At the Gables checkpoint, I put on my thermal and my head torch. Had a nice snack of water and chips and off I went. I stuck with the party squad for a little bit but this was the point when we all just had to do what we could do. They seemed to have morphed into one creature, working on each other’s strengths, moving at the same pace. At times I couldn’t keep up and at times I got a second wind. So we played cat and mouse.

3km from the finish I stopped to tend to an injured runner.  George who was volunteering was already there and taking care of things but I stopped to give them my my emergency space blanket and offer up any of my additional mandatory gear. The woman who had stopped to help the injured man was getting very very cold. It was a learning experience as to how quickly things can go wrong when you’re injured or you stop to help and why we NEED to carry our mandatory gear. She had three emergency space blankets and a number of other borrowed cold weather items on that other runners had given her as they had passed by the time I got to her and she was still freezing.

As I left knowing George had things under control I thought I had to make up the time I’d stopped so I gave it everything I had. I could see the road where I knew Ian must be in the darkness, so I pushed hard to get to him. I could only see his light in the black and hoped that it was him. I called out to him. He greeted me. We turned our lights off so as not to blind one another and hugged. It was one of the greatest hugs I’ve ever had.

I ran as hard as I could to the finish line (which was probably 10min kms by that stage but it felt fast). The finish line was full of beautiful people. My people. I had made it. I was, I am, a happy crazy person who likes to run a long way again.

One final comment I will make about this run – Andy Hewat, the race director is one of the most beautiful human beings I have met. He has an energy that is inspiring and he brings that energy to his race. It must be something about Andy that attracts only wonderful human beings to his races as every single person I met out on the trail that day was incredible. Every participant and every volunteer exuded kindness and compassion.  I had such a wonderful day and it was because I was not only lucky enough to spend 16 hours and 36 minutes in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I spent it with incredible and beautiful people. If you haven’t run GOW before and you like nice people and beautiful scenery – do it!

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About tashytuffnut

ultramarathon runner, desert runner, trail runner, musician, vegetarian, tattoos, lawyer.

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