Just over three weeks ago, I ran a half marathon on road. I pushed myself quite hard, but I wasn’t road running fit. I struggled to hold my pace. At the finish, I just had to sit down. I was knackered.
After the race I told my friend who had just run her first half marathon, to take it easy. Take a week off. Let your body recover.
Did I listen to my own advice? No.
The Tuesday morning following the half marathon, I was at CrossFit. I was thinking about my broken toe that I had been ignoring and realised it was quite sore after running a half marathon in minimal shoes. I was mid box jump as I was pondering over my foot and thinking about the next move – rope climbs when POP! I felt what seemed like a hot sharp knife in the back of my leg.
I had done a severe grade 2 tear to the gastrocnemius. 6-8 weeks recovery. 105 days to go to Patagonia – a 250km race carrying all my gear and food that I will need for 7 days. I was (am?) optitimistic. If I can just maintain my fitness as best as possible, that will leave me with 5 weeks to train before flying out to Argentina. Definitely possible.
It’s now been just over three weeks and I have progressed from rest, pain and crutches, to moving around the house pain free, upper body strength work, swimming with a pool buoy and assault bike work outs.
I’m trying to be patient.
Five years ago, a few weeks after running my first marathon, I got a stress fracture in my foot. I had to take eight weeks off running. I took six, then I did myself some permanent damage and had to take 3 months off running. It seemed like the end of the world at the time and years on, I felt embarrassed about that performance. I vowed to never be so pathetic and impatient again.
And yet, here I am, three weeks into an injury and feeling pathetic. I miss running like I miss my mum. Why? This down time has got me thinking. I can still do some workouts, still get my heart rate up and get some endorphins and yet it’s just not the same. So what it is about running that is so special?
At first I thought it was the fact that so much of my life revolves around running – my friendships, my routine, my wardrobe. I thought it was the gap in my social life and the isolation that I might have been bringing me down.
I also know that running is my means to get into nature – to connect with the earth. There are studies that demonstrate that human beings are not meant to be removed from nature. These concrete jungles we live in make us sick. We need to connect with the earth.
So maybe that’s why I’m so sad? I miss my friends and I miss Mother Nature?
Saturday I drove myself to the entrance of a national park and walked just far enough in to get to the first big gum tree. I hugged it and I felt my heart fill with joy. It was momentary however, when I heard terror to my ears – three horrible boys under 10 screaming and shouting. You see, if you hang around the entrance to a national park, you don’t get far enough in to escape the families with young children. I’m all for exposing kids to nature – I just don’t want them near me and I certainly don’t want to be able to hear them.
I left feeling enraged and I realised that whilst I do miss my running friends, I miss being alone more. Running for a long time in isolated locations is the only time I ever really feel alone. I don’t need to check my emails, don’t need to be available for phone calls, don’t need to talk to anyone. It’s the true meaning of “me time.”
The other day I put a call out on Facebook for some suggestions for hobbies I could take up given I can’t run and my other main hobby – music, is also out of the picture as my damaged leg is my drumming leg. I got a lot of great suggestions but reading through them, I thought “I don’t have time for any of these.”
It’s not that I have an abundance of time now that running is out of the picture. I work full time in a demanding but rewarding profession. I study part time. I read a lot and I’m still training – just not running. So I wasn’t looking to fill my time. What I was looking for was something to fill the void.
Growing up I had a lot of energy and at times that has turned into depression, aggression and a whole range of negative emotions and behaviours. When I found music, I felt for the first time that I could be still. I could just purge the emotions and get on with normal life.
When I took up trail running, I got the same feeling but I could never understand why. Running didn’t feel like a creative outlet compared to music. In fact, growing up I had hated sporty people as I didn’t think they could also be creative – you had to be one or the other in my black and white world. But now I get it. It’s the fact that when you go for a run, you can give yourself permission to think and feel and work through whatever it is you need to work through – a bit like writing a song. Work it out, purge it and then move on, get on with everyday life. Having the freedom just to feel for an hour, two or seven – however long you want to run is a total cleansing of the soul.
So that’s it. Without running, my soul feels dirty and my mind clouded. I’m frustrated and angry and not good around people right now – especially children. I know it’s dramatic and I know I will run again, soon hopefully. But the positive in this experience is that it has allowed me to truely understand why it is that I love running so much.
2016 was a big year. I did 4 100km races and a lot in between. By the time it got to my A race for the year – Alpine Challenge 100km, I was so tired. So after that race, I took some time off running. I waited for the passion to come back, waited for a race I wanted to train for. I had originally planned to take a month, maybe two, off running. Alpine Challenge was the end of November. Toward the end of February, I contacted my coach Matty Abel and said “I’ve found the race!” That pretty much meant training for a 100 miler on two months training factoring in taper after having nearly three months off running.
Matty said let’s start training and see how we go. If my body wasn’t up to it, we would enter the 100km instead.
It was also around this time that my nan, my best friend, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One day I returned to the hospital after running the Razorback as a training run. My nan was talking to a friend telling her I was a “champion.” I said I don’t win races Nanna. She said she knew that, but she also knew the types of races I chose and the guts and determination with which I took on such challenges and that made me a champion.
So with that in mind, I told Matty it’s the 100 miler. He said let’s shoot for the stars so we did.
I put my absolute trust in Matty. Matty coached me through my first 100 miler and to Alpine Challenge. It takes all the worry out of planning for a race. I just do as Matty says as I know Matty knows best.
About a month before the race, my nan died.
I got really sick.
But we got there. The training was done, and it was time to race.
I flew into Adelaide and my amazing friend Tanya picked me up and we drove out to the Flinders Ranges. She had brought along all the camping gear we needed. Once again, I was saved from using my brain. Tanya was originally going to pace me but a nasty mountain bike stack meant walking was pretty painful for her. This meant I was going into the 100 miler with no crew and no pacer. Solely dependent on my drop bags. I had drawn up a race plan with a best and worst case scenario and felt pretty confident that everything would be okay.
(Tanya set up camp and even poured me a homemade kombucha)
Race morning – 10am. The late start meant I was feeling really relaxed. I had had time to eat a proper breakfast and had gotten a really good night sleep. There was a fuss about the GPS trackers at the start line. They had been handed out the night before but no one had realised they needed batteries so the race director had gone out to buy 72 AA batteries in the Flinders Ranges (I’m sure that cost him an arm and a leg). In a very vague and calm manner, order seemed to have been restored.
10:02 am and we were off. Very quickly I found myself mid pack – I couldn’t see the front runners ahead and I couldn’t hear or see the runners behind me. I came to a bridge with a Yumigo sign and an arrow pointing turn left. My gut told me that wasn’t right but we had been told the trail was marked. This was a marker. So I took it. It really didn’t feel right. There was an app we could download ahead of time with the map of the course that should tell us if we were on track or not. I got out my phone and the map said I was on course. Still it didn’t feel right. I had stopped for so long that the back runners should have caught me by now.
Then I saw a group of hikers who told me “yes you’re going the right way” so I kept on shuffling. Then I saw another hiker who said “you’ve gone the wrong way – go back!” At this stage I was about 2km down the trail in the wrong direction. So I turned around and headed back up the hill. Then I heard her yell “runner come back!” So I went back down the hill. There was a bit of course marking that she pointed me too – a ribbon tied to a tree. So we figured that must be the way to go. I followed that trail and came out to the bridge with the arrow I had originally taken in the wrong direction. It was a loop I hadn’t needed to do. With all the fucking around I figured I was about 45 minutes behind the last runner.
I know the first part of a miler should feel easy but I was so stressed. My breathing was laboured and I could feel my heart racing but I had to push on. I pulled out the course notes I had printed from the website and realised that I really shouldn’t have done that loop but for fuck sake – a marked course is a marked course isn’t it? I had no faith I was on the right track anymore but I just kept running. I ran most of the way up Mary’s Peak and just as I was about to go the wrong way again a couple of hikers called out to me “you need to turn down here.” Another junction with no trail marking. In fact the junction itself was really difficult to spot. I thanked them profusely and asked if they had seen any other runners recently. Then I heard from the foliage “yes, we’re runners!” It was Kym and Kate – my new friends. They explained that the rest of their group had gone the wrong way at that junction and had gone to the summit of Mary’s Peak and so were now behind us. As we climbed down the rocky drop off Mary’s Peak together I wondered how the fuck I was going to get back up here at the 145km mark. I had thought this was just a little hill but it was full on rock climbing.
Kym and Kate were great and we were soon in good spirits again – taking a few snaps as we descended from the rocky drop off of Mary’s Peak.
As the rest of Kym and Kate’s group caught up, I made new friends. I got familiar with the sound of Michelle’s voice which turned out to be a life saver later in the race.
We got to the first checkpoint and I realised I was about 1.5 hours of my slowest predicted time. Oh well, shit happens. We pushed on. I stayed with the group for a little bit. I really enjoyed chatting to Katie here – we spoke about strength training and CrossFit and realised that our parents lived only a few streets away, but I realised I had a lot of time to make up if I wanted to get close to my goal time and the course was fairly runnable so I pushed on ahead. Checkpoint 1 – 2 was the most enjoyable part of the course. I didn’t get lost and I was able to run most of the way.
As I left Checkpoint 2 I said to the volunteer “is there anything I need to be extra cautious of on this next stretch?” He said follow the creek bed and watch out for course markings. It’s a lot of goat track but don’t stress as it’s pretty well marked. This is when things went downhill pretty fast. There was no trail. It was completely overgrown and spider infested. My legs were gashed up from spotting markers in random spots and trying to get back on trail.
I was getting a bit down and thought it might be time for some Pantera so I pulled out my IPod shuffle, only to discover the lock had come unlocked in my pack and it was flat – I got through half a Chimaira song before she went dead. FUCK! I couldn’t afford to use my phone for music as I hadn’t expected to be so dependent on the phone map to tell me when I was off course. I didn’t expect my phone battery to last as it was so I couldn’t afford any unnecessary usage. It was going to be a long 100 miles.
Things were becoming more and more overgrown and I realised I hadn’t seen a marker in a long time – which wasn’t unusual except for the fact that the giant spider webs I was passing hadn’t been broken, meaning no one had come down this far.
I sat down on a log thinking I was going to cry but I was too angry to cry. I looked at my phone map and I was clearly off course but couldn’t figure out where I was meant to go. I started back tracking to the last marker I saw – maybe a km or so back. Then in the setting sun, I heard Michelle. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, I couldn’t see her, but it was definitely her pitch of happiness and laughter carrying through creek bed. So I tried to move as fast as I could to find her. There she was with her party squad. I was broken. We had travelled about 35 official kilometres. I had already done around 5 extra and spent hours lost. I was ready to pull the pin. I just had to get to the next aid station. When Michelle showed me where the turn off was from the creek bed, there was no course marker. Just as we headed up we heard another two runners – Anna and Glen behind us. They had also gotten lost. They were quite a bit in front of me so they must have lost some good time being lost in that creek bed.
I asked Michelle if I could stay with her party squad. I coudn’t think of any other way that I could finish this stupid race. She was so kind. Her whole squad were so kind. So we all stuck together, trying to navigate through the bullshit. 9 pairs of eyes working together.
We put on our torches early – mostly because it was the only way to spot the trail markings. Whilst we couldn’t see them in daylight, in the night our lights reflected off the markings and gave us a better sense of where we should be heading. As the sun set we exited the bush and onto a proper trail. I knew if we kept going at this pace I wouldn’t make cut off as I expected to slow down in the back end of the course, but I also couldn’t afford to separate from the group and get lost again. Anna and I started jogging together at this point and realised we were quite similar speed and our original finishing goals were the same – 30 hours. Her and Glen were running the race together and I asked if I could run with them. Anna said she thought her and Glen’s trail marriage would benefit from having a baby – and so trail baby Tash joined the gang.
We came into Checkpoint 3 together and Glen and I were both pretty angry. I tried not to yell at the volunteers as they were doing their best but I was so frustrated. One of the volunteers said “If it makes you feel any better, every runner except one has gotten lost.” I was livid. No it did not make me feel better, it made me feel unsafe. This course was advertised as a marked course event. I was not prepared to navigate. I didn’t have a topographical map. I had printed the maps from the website but they were bullshit. I had also printed off the course notes from the website but they were not Paul Ashton quality course notes. In fact they omitted crucial details like “left” or “right.” Thank Christ I had the course map loaded to my phone but I hadn’t expected to be so reliant on it and didn’t expect my phone battery would last.
We left Checkpoint 3 and only 1km out of the checkpoint realised we were lost again. With frustration and a bit of debate as to whether we went left or right, we retraced our steps and eventually got back on track.
Through the night, the three of us pushed on – all eyes were needed to spot the Heysen Trail markers which were our only way of knowing we were on course. We had to walk most of this section as the terrain was uneven and we needed to focus on finding the course markings. However we stayed positive as we knew from Checkpoint 4 to 6 the trail was an actual trail and we would be able to run most of it (or so we thought).
As we came into Checkpoint 4 one of the volunteers came out to meet us. He was a legend, just like all the guys at Checkpoint 4. He said that someone’s crew were waiting for them at the checkpoint. None of us had crew and I knew Tanya was pretty unwell so I didn’t expect it to be her – plus I was 4 hours off my time target and there was no way for her to know that given the GPS trackers weren’t working, but holy shit! I saw the bushbashing Festiva parked next to the checkpoint and new it was her. What a deadset legend. I was really worried that as I was so far off my predicted finish time I didn’t have enough battery for my torch. Instead of spending one night out on course I was looking at two. She pulled out a set of batteries and sent me off into the night. What a bloody deadset legend – can’t say that enough.
Checkpoint 4 is an out and back – it heads out to Checkpoint 6, passing Checkpoint 5 and then returns as Checkpoint 4 becomes the new Checkpoint 8. As we left the checkpoint we were so disheartened to realise that the course wasn’t a dirt road like we thought and instead were sent off navigating through the forest. We got lost again. We kept meeting the faster runners who were on their way back in who all looked a little freaked out – all of them having gotten lost in the forest on this section. Most of them had teamed up with other runners – safety in numbers I guess.
Whilst I hadn’t given cut off times any thought until now I suddenly realised we were so far behind schedule that we should actually consider them. Glen checked his course notes and we discovered we had til 4.15am to get to Checkpoint 6. We never found Checkpoint 5 so we weren’t sure how far we had to go. We pushed on but we were upset. At 4.07am we pulled into Checkpoint 6. Anna burst into tears. I was lost for words. I thought we were out, but the checkpoint staff said we were the last ones to make cut off and to get in and out as quickly as possible.
My nutrition strategy for the race was Tailwind with the occasional snack. Here is where I started to fuck up. I tipped a very small amount of Tailwind into my bottle and in a frenzy to get in and out of the checkpoint as fast as possible, just focused on water.
We pushed on out of Checkpoint 6 with 20km to go to Checkpoint 8 (once again we never found Checkpoint 7) and a cut off time of 8.30am. We had to go back through the bullshit forest. This time we didn’t get lost but we had already come to terms with the fact that we were probably out of the race. We passed Michelle’s party gang and a few other runners on their way into Checkpoint 6 knowing that they hadn’t made cut off. Given they’d already travelled 86km plus all the additional kms getting lost to get there it was a sad passing.
When the sun came up I figured I’d have a Cliff bar for breakfast. I think this was the first thing I’d eaten in 7 hours other than the half scoop of Tailwind. My stomach had forgotten what to do with food and I wanted to hurl. I told Anna and Glen to push on ahead and try and make cut off. I dawdled behind heaving in the bushes and stumbling at snails pace. I started to think about my Nanna – what a fucking shit way to honour her memory. All I wanted to do was something beautiful with my grief and instead I was going to DNF at 106km after 22 bullshit hours of getting lost and angry.
No no no! I started running. I could see the checkpoint.
“Have I made it?”
“You’ve made it!”
Glen and Anna were still there and Anna said “Please tell me you’re going to continue on with us.” So I did.
(The relief of having made it to Checkpoint 8 was overwhelming)
(The view coming out of Checkpoint 8 and heading into a new day – day 2 of running)
Day 2 was pretty good. We were so tired but the trail was easy. Dirt roads and no navigation required. We were so happy that we had made that cut off point that we had a spring in our step. It also helped that the volunteers at Checkpoint 8 were deadset legends.
At Checkpoint 9 my friend Tanya turned up. She was so happy and we were so happy. I had meant to pick up my second watch here but as I was so far off time schedule my first watch had long been flat and I couldn’t be fucked. Something I regret now as I always like to have the strava file. Oh well. I had also put shorts into this drop bag which in my daze I forgot to change into so it was a long day in the sun in long thick pants.
(Just out of Checkpoint 9 I asked Tanya to post this to my FB page to assure everyone I was still alive – just)
Just before Checkpoint 10 Tanya turned up again. She was having a ball bush bashing in her Festiva. Unfortunately my good spirits were heading down down down at this stage. They didn’t pick up when I got to Checkpoint 10 and the volunteers said “Are you on track to meet cut off? Are there any other runners out there?” They explained that they had no satellite phone and no way of communicating with the race staff. They had taken a GPS tracker off of one of the runners so they could use the SOS feature if things went real pear shapped
(Tanya bushbashing in the Festiva – who needs a four wheel drive?)
It was all pretty uneventful from here until about 5km from the final checkpoint. Late in the afternoon. We were so tired. I felt like I was losing my mind. I was falling asleep as I plodded along the trail. Tanya had caught up with us again and rode behind us on her bike chatting. I was too tired to talk. I told her I was quitting – that I couldn’t possibly get myself back up Mary’s Peak in my current state. All I remember her saying is “your legs know what to do, trust in your training.” I was a brat and I think I argued with her but then when I got to checkpoint 11 I knew she was right and I was bloody happy again. I was actually looking forward to that climb.
So up we went – up up up, and there it was – a magnificent sunset. I was too afraid to take a photo as I could have fallen off the rock ledge, but I took a moment to take it in and we kept on climbing.
We were at the top and then it was down down down Mary’s peak. It was fine. I was in a good mood and it wasn’t Mt Feathertop so down down down we went.
Then we got to a dirt road and knew we had about 7km to get to the finish. We knew cut offs had been extended by half hour but we wanted to make the original cut off – we could do it. We had an hour. Anna and I started shuffling. We stopped and waited for Glen to catch up but his hip and knee were hurting. We were getting cold and Anna didn’t have gloves. I’m not proud of what happened next, but we started shuffling ahead – to keep warm and cause we wanted to make that cut off. Glen got further behind. We agreed we would run back out to meet him if we got to the finish first.
About a kilometre on and Anna’s friend came out to meet her. They started running together and I couldn’t keep up. Before I knew it they were gone. Then my head torch went out. Fuck! Well that was my karma right there to bite me on the arse. I shouldn’t have left Glen.
I managed to get a very low beam of light out of my torch but wasn’t sure how long it would last. I had about 5km to go and so I started running as hard as I could, hoping I could outlast the last rays of battery my torch had.
There it finally was – the finish. Michelle was there to adorn me with my finishing medal – and Tanya, a bloody dead set legend – waiting with a warm jacket and a protein bar.
Alarm was set for 3.15am. This is early, even for me. Restless with a deep paranoia that I wouldn’t wake up in time for the start of the race, I slept very little. Two espressos later, adding last minute items to my running pack, I shake it with a caffeinated excitement and I hear an odd sound. I shake the pack again with curiosity only to realise a moment too late that that curious sound is the straps of my running pack tearing.
Hmmmm…..It’s now 4:00am. Race start is 4:30am and I still need to pick up a last minute item of mandatory gear from a friend at 4:15. Unusually, I don’t sweat it. I post on Facebook a last minute plea but it’s really just for amusement. It’s too late now for any real help to arrive.
I remember the gaffa tape in my car, still in the glove box from a month ago when my car got broken into and I taped it back together so I could go to Bright and run 4 Peaks. Hmmmm…..I remember the time my dad crashed his motor bike on a ride from Adelaide to Philip Island taking the scenic route along the Great Ocean Road. Unusually, he didn’t sweat it. He gaffa taped his bike back together and rode on. If it can’t be fixed with gaffa, it can’t be fixed.
I tape my bag together and am feeling confident it will last my predicted 24 hours out on the course. No one else seems convinced. Friends offer me last minute efforts of help – it seems there is an empty pack laying in almost every hotel room in Falls Creek, just waiting for me. Olivia even offers to hike a pack in for me on the course. For some reason, I can’t accept this help. I smile with sure confidence.
Time is moving quickly and before I know it, we are off. The first 5km follows Packhorse Trail. It feels like I’m just flowing down, gently, in the dark, guided by the light of my torch. I’m afraid of the cold. I run most Summer days in pants and a thermal. The weather predicted a pleasant day along the course, but the cold Falls Creek morning has me rugged up in a long sleeve, a thermal and a wind proof jacket. Over kill, even for me. At the trail junction – I take off all my layers. What the fuck was I thinking? As I stuff my layers in my pack the zip breaks. I keep this to myself. I fiddle with it enough so that I think most of my gear won’t fall out. As I’m fiddling with my pack on the side of the trail, 90 % of the field passes me. I’m not too worried but as I start to run, the padding of my additional layers removed, the pack starts to swing.
The holes in the straps mean it’s hanging too low and has no support. It’s grinding on my back and I feel chunks of skin being worn away…all in the first 10km of a 100km race. I’m getting frustrated and I know I can’t fix the pack now but I can fix my head. I have to let go what I can not control. Yes my back is going to be red raw at the end of this race but I’ll be in so much pain by the time I get to the finish line that will be the least of my worries. I think of what I’ve gone through to get to the start line. I am not going to let this pack bring me down. I develop a new strategy. The pack won’t break if I stay happy. If I get frustrated or sad, the pack will break and my race will be over. It’s time to get happy!
I take the first climb incredibly conservatively and at this point the remaining 10% of the field overtake me. I suspect I’m at the back end of the pack but I get a little shock when the sweeper catches me and tells me I’m dead last. I think about giving it in at that point. I’m a couple kms away from Warby Corner and I know I can be back at my hotel room in just over an hour. If I run back that’ll be enough of a jog to justify a pizza and a long soak in the hot tub. Then I think of what I’d say to Matty my coach. I quit the race cause I wanted pizza? Because I was coming last? Because I was slow? I don’t even like Pizza! Such BULL SHIT! They were all bullshit excuses and there was no way I could use any of them. So I strolled on into Warby Corner, the first check in point of the race. A few other runners were there with their crew. I had no crew so I sorted my nutrition out, said good bye to Barry who was sweeper for the first 25km of the course and got shuffling with the goal of not meeting the next sweeper.
Shuffling out of Warby Corner I got happy and I pretty much stayed happy until 85km into the race. I met some new friends, I drank water from the river, I climbed some mountains and ate some snacks. Oh and I didn’t meet any more sweepers! It was all pretty joyful.
Going into this race, the part I was nervous about was Quartz Ridge. It’s a rocky trail descending off Mount Bogong and is quite exposed. I get vertigo in high open spaces. I feel like the world is slipping out from under me and need to climb with my hands touching the earth. I suspected this might occur at some point during this race. I chose this race for that very reason. I wanted to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. There were a few shady moments where my heart beat loud in my chest, but I was generally okay. I didn’t freak out. I moved slowly and carefully, but I was okay.
As I made my way down this trail I thought of my friend Vanessa who ran the 100 miler a few years ago. I was thinking of her standing at Langfords Gap – around the 85km mark of the race I think it was that year. She was standing beside her husband, after she had just patched up her blistered feet and was ready to tackle the night knowing she had a whole night and possibly a whole day of running ahead of her. I said to her, “you look so happy,” and she said “I am!” She looked radiant and it’s an image I never forgot. I was thinking how much her feet must have hurt at that point in the race yet she was so happy to continue. I tried to channel some of her mountain spirit and then I felt my phone vibrate. Who could that be? It was Vanessa! We spoke as I hurdled down Quartz Ridge, up and over up and over up and over the tree cemetery. My courageous friend. I knew if I could channel just 1% of her strength of character and her spirit I would finish this race happy and how could I not after her thoughtful phone call? I’ve never spoken on my phone during a race. This was a joyful first.
I was already running happy, but after Vanessa’s phone call I was running with love. I was familiar with the course and each time I thought a particular climb or particular section of lonely trail might bring me down, it didn’t.
I had another incentive to run happy. I knew my best friend had driven up to Falls Creek during the day and would be waiting for my at Langford’s Gap, the 70km point of the race this year. She’s not an ultra runner and we all know as ultra runners, ultra running isn’t much of a spectator sport. I was feeling blessed and grateful as I cruised into Langford’s. To add bliss to my bliss out, the sun was setting over the mountains, the sky was pink and there was my friend. I knew I smelt bad. The day had turned out to be quite warm and I had run through rivers and sweat out the day in a clammy damp shirt, and yet my wonderful friend hugged me. That is a true friend.
Langford’s was the first and only opportunity to change out of my wet shoes and socks that I had run in all day. The feeling of brand new dry Injinji’s brought me to pure ecstasy. I lingered a little too long at Langford’s chatting to old and new friends, having a snack, putting on warm dry clothes. Eventually it was time to leave and I knew I had 15km to Pole 333. No more mountains to climb – this should be easy. But it wasn’t. Daylight had left and the fog set in, I couldn’t see more than half a metre in front of me. The trail was easy enough to follow from here to Pole 333 but my head was playing tricks in the poor visibility. About 5km out from Pole 333 I started to get down. The trail was really wet and I was spending a lot of time rock hoping to keep my feet dry from the big pools of melted snow. It was a time consuming task and I was over it.
I got to Pole 333 and couldn’t make out the direction I needed to follow. I asked Clare from Alpine Search and Rescue the way and I was terrified she was trying to send me down the 100 miler course. I’m sorry Clare!
From Pole 333 I knew I had 15km to the finish, but my head. After Pole 333 the 100 milers go in one direction and the 100km runners in another. Most of the lights in the dark were following the 100 miler course and I felt so alone. I should have felt happy I only had 15km to go instead of 80 or whatever absurd distance they had, but I couldn’t get myself out of my slump. I had no niggles or injuries, but my feet hurt more than they’ve ever hurt before. I struggled to run and my shuffle was probably no faster than a walk. As I jogged into Pretty Valley Pondage my head torch went black – no warning. I channeled Satan and screamed “FUCKKKKKK!” to the black sky like it was 2010 and I was back singing in a metal band. Then I realised there was a volunteer standing a few hundred metres in front of me. I apologised profusely and he was such a gentleman. My hands were so cold by this stage I couldn’t manage to undo my pack and get my spare torch battery out. I had to ask for his help, something I don’t do well. He was so kind. Thank you kind volunteer man.
Then there was Mount McKay. It’s an out and back to the summit and as I “jogged” up a woman and a guy who was crewing for her were jogging back down. He said to me “Are you sure there isn’t ANYTHING I can do for you? Is there ANYTHING you need?” I realised then that I must have looked like complete shit. I said “just the finish line thanks, that’s all I need” and continued on with my shuffle.
THEN, I saw a man walking in front of me. I thought why hasn’t he got a torch and where is his running pack? He’s not a runner, he’s a creep! What’s he doing out here with no torch at midnight? Creepy creepy! Feminista of The Night, I tried to catch him and then suddenly he disappeared. He wasn’t real. Uh oh.
As I pranced about in the bush following the “green sopped poles” after Mount McKay I felt so disorientated. I had to keep checking PDF maps as I was convinced I was going backward, but then I hit the dirt road. Then the sign saying I had 2km to go to the finish. I tried to run with everything I had, which wasn’t much given I coudn’t keep any calories down from Pole 333 which seemed like an eternity ago at this point. 900m down down down. My poor feet! Finally, the finish. 22:03.
Through most of this race I thought to myself I’ll never ever run the 100 miler. That was easily the hardest 100km race I’ve ever run. It had everything that terrified me – mountains, heights, navigation, extreme weather, isolation. It also had everything that made my heart sing – mountains, heights, navigation, extreme weather, isolation. It’s the fear and the challenge that make it all worthwhile – that make running for 22 hours out in the mountains the most exciting thing I can possibly think of doing.
And so, a week has passed. My feet now fit back into shoes. The hole of gapping skin on my back from my broken running pack has mostly healed. And I feel myself wondering – what else is out there that scares the absolute shit out of me? That is worth all the sacrifice just to conquer? There’s always the 100 miler 🙂
The race was one thing but there is so much preparation that goes into a race. I was born in one of the flattest, driest, hottest suburb in Australia and mountains and the cold are not something I take for granted. I ran in the mountains for the very first time only two years ago and nearly died. A few weeks later I crewed for my friends who were running Alpine Challenge that year – so I could learn. I spent the following two years taking every opportunity to train in the mountains with my wonderful friends Kerry, Celesta and Jacqui who taught me so much.
I am no champion. I don’t win races or come close to the front of the pack, but what I do means something to me. I pick challenging races and I work through my fears. These experiences teach me to value and respect myself and teach to me to fight and survive in real life when times get tough. Most of all, they bring me love – for the planet, for its people and for myself.
I want to dedicate some of the love I earned in this race to all my friends, but some special love, respect and hope for my dear friends Vanessa and Kerry.
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.
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!
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.
A couple weekends ago, I got my first DNF. I have dreaded the DNF since I started running ultramarathons nearly four years ago. Up until now, it hasn’t happened, but that dreaded Saturday morning down at Apollo Bay….it hit me….rational thought.
There is nothing rational about running ultramarathons. The reason I have never DNF’d before is because a little black out, dehydration, a kidney infection, these things were just par for the course. I have always been prepared to go there for a finish. Don’t get me wrong, not every race is about reaching the lowest of lows but for the mid pack runners who spend a bloody long time out on course, chances are something might go wrong. I have always been prepared to run through the wrong and deal with the consequences later.
Saturday, I just wasn’t prepared to go there. I could not be bothered, so I did not bother. I pulled out after a lazy 32km.
I thought I was exhausted and had nothing in the tank, but once I got to the finish line to hand in my GPS tracker and officially pull out of the race, I started to feel guilty for not doing stuff. So I volunteered to help set up the finish line. I raked the finish line oval with a broken rake. I woke up the next morning with a bloody sore back, but I certainly had enough energy to do that. So I probably had enough energy to finish the race…. BUT….I couldn’t be bothered.
I have always believed ultra marathons are a mental sport. It’s why so many of us who are not naturally gifted athletes can have a real go. Never have I believed this more than following my DNF. My mind was not prepared to race that fateful Saturday and so my body did not have a choice in the matter.
Now, to get philosophical, why couldn’t I be bothered?
I was stressed. Life was being a bit of a bitch. The race had been the furthest thing from my mind. I hadn’t mentally prepared and got in the game.
Now post DNF, what has this reflective time taught me?
Well I’m still stressed. Life is still being a bitch.
I was out running on Sunday and I thought to myself, funny how I haven’t even thought about the DNF too much since the race. Running just isn’t that big a deal in the whole scheme of things.
Then as I continued to plod along in my run my stress caught up with me. I was thinking about work. Having arguments with people in my head. Reflecting on hurtful things people have said. I was getting anxious and I started to run harder. Then I started to think about all the times that running had gotten me through. I started to think of running as an unconditional BFF. Through all my terrible times, running has always gotten me through, always brought me some happiness.
In fact all the other things in life suddenly didn’t seem so important. Work – fuck it! A holes – fuck them! Money – who needs it? All those things on my to do list – fuck em!
Running is so important for no other reason than it lets me forget all those stressful things. It lets me connect with nature, with my running community, with myself. It makes me happy.
And so to running, my unconditional BFF, I say to you I’m sorry. I’m sorry I put all those grown up things that adults are supposed to prioritise above you. They are not more important than you. In fact, I only survive in this adult world with you by my side. Thanks for being a great friend through all these years and I promise to give you more attention, to treat you with the love and respect you deserve.
In April this year, I ran my first 100 miler. It was also the first time I trained with a coach and so I left nothing in the tank. I gave everything I had in those months of training and I was really happy with my finish time, but when I returned to Australia I was flat and I was bored.
I had run every trail I knew of in the lead up to my miler and now they all bored me. I was too poor to enter any big thrilling overseas races. Poor and bored – a terrible combination.
So I thought, why push it? I’m not getting paid to do this, so why do it if it’s not making me happy. I took the pressure off and decided I would just run when I felt like it.
After years of having giant and exciting adventures to look forward to, I must admit it was hard when people said “what’s next?” to me with a look of expectation and excitement. The look of disappointment on their faces when I responded “I’m not sure” was difficult to digest.
Slowly however, I started to realise that I don’t do these races for other people, I do them for me. If they are disappointed in the fact that I’m a little tired, then perhaps it’s time they signed up for their own adventure.
And so I life went on. I found myself looking forward to my CrossFit sessions more than my runs and that was okay. I was going with the flow. When I got the Rapid Ascent email about the Surf Coast Century, I put a post on the CrossFit facebook page casually asking if anyone would like to put a relay team together.
The response was quite overwhelming. Within a few weeks we had three teams registered. Most of these guys had never run a race, never run a trail race and never gone near the half marathon distance. And I left out a lot of details. I didn’t tell them about the hills. I didn’t tell them about carrying a pack with all their mandatory gear while they ran. I also didn’t tell them that only three of them would be running a half marathon. The rest would be running 23-28km. These were all just minor details, best kept secret.
I was quite shocked by the enthusiasm of these new runners. They had gone from walk one minute, run one minute to running 12-18km loops in the Dandenongs including Glasgow Track! I didn’t push the training. I didn’t want to force them to do more than they wanted to do, yet every weekend, at least one of them was asking to come along to a trail run.
Whilst they were running hilly loops in the Dandenongs on a regular basis, the common phrase thrown around was “but I’m not a runner.” This all changed one night when we joined in with the Surf Coast Trail Runners Night Run in the You Yangs. Everyone had a ball and finally, it hit home that everyone in the team was now a runner.
At the last minute, we had to recruit two new team members. This didn’t give anyone time at the box to train up for the event so I relied on my trail running community and they didn’t let me down. Olivia and Chantelle joined the team. It was such a joy to have both women on board – not only did they allow the teams to compete by filling in, but they fully embraced the team mentality we had gone into with this event. I think everyone soon felt like they had always been part of this team, it all just felt so familiar.
Soon the big day was here. As I expected, everyone surpassed their own expecatations of themselves. I won’t recap the entire day as I can’t really put into words the hurt and the joy everyone felt – individually and as a team. Here are my highlights in no particular order.
1. Paul losing his car key at the beach minutes before the race start.
Despite a frazzled start, Paul certainly got his shit together and annihilated most of the course in the final 15km.
This also is a reminder of how good the trail running community is because someone found Paul’s key!
2. Luke pushing through the pain to finish his first half marathon.
It would have been really easy for Luke to pull out when he started to feel an injury coming on and his race wasn’t going to plan. But he knew his leg 2 runner was waiting for him so he pushed on. Time is irrelevant, he just completed his first half marathon and a pretty brutal one at that!
3. Kirsten going from a non runner to a friggin amazing runner in 3 months!
When I first met Kirst, she could only run one minute walk one minute. Three months later, she ran her first half marathon on sand!
(leg 1 runners Paul, Luke and Kirst)
4. Carolyn finishing 28km
When I was organising the teams, Carolyn said she couldn’t run 28km. I pretended I didn’t hear (sorry Caz), but I did that cause I knew she could AND she did!
Yep, she hurt and yep she broke down but that’s just what happens. What differentiates winners from quitters is what you choose to do when you hit hell. Caz pushed on – she’s a winner!
5. Brian getting the doctor’s approval the day before race day to run and seeing him cross that finish line all smiles.
6. Seeing Roisin’s beautiful smile all over the course – what a motivator.
(Leg 2 runners Brian, Caz and Morv)
7. Morv crossing the finish line – her smile and her spirit, the essence of trail running.
8. Andy fanging it to the finish line so we didn’t miss David cross the finish line.
9. David crossing the finish line and me saying “I’ve signed you up for your next race” and David nodding and saying “Yes, Ok.”
10. Luke catching me on leg 3 despite me having a huge head start. I knew he would and I was so happy he did – a great runner and a great guy.
11. George taking Olivia pizza and beer out on the trail – about time he repaid the crystal glasses and moet on the top of kozciosko favor!
12. Chantele running through the finish chute with a beer in her hand and an enormous smile on her face.
13. Liam offering to carry one of the 100km runners to the finish, not because the guy was injured but because he looked like he was suffering and Liam didn’t like seeing him suffer and wanted to help.
All these highlights capture what trail running is about. If there was any doubt in their minds before, I hope it has now been cemented that you are all runners!
Concluding with my own story. I was motivated to organise this relay because I had grown bored with my own running. Seeing the joy as these guys embraced everything new about trail running – the beauty, the cammraderie, nature and pushing your own limits, well it all reminded me just how much I love running.
So thank you all team!