Early last week Matt, my coach, and I worked out my final race plan along with my time goals for the inaugural Coastal High 50 in the Gold Coast Hinterland. I had three main goals. First to beat my TNF50 time, second to PB my 50k time and third was an even faster time that both he and I though would be doable on a perfect day.
My training up until now had been great, even with the hiccup of me rolling my ankle badly some two months before during one of my long training runs. I was feeling confident that I could run well and finish strongly, hitting at least 2, if not all 3 of my goals.
On Wednesday I started coming down with a cold. I threw every natural remedy I know at it and managed to lessen the symptoms but couldn’t get rid of it. The night before the race I had a hard time sleeping due to a tickley cough and runny nose.
Race morning was gorgeous. Waiting at the start was awesome saying hi to so many people.
I was in start group 5, I still have no idea why, I should have been in 9 or 10.
We started the run, the hardest thing I had to do all day was slow to a walk as I past all the people waiting to start on the first incline. I was running to a heart rate plan, just as I did at TNF. As soon as my heart rate went over I would slow to a hike then run once my hr was low enough. The first 20km to were beautiful but awful. Wave after wave overtook me as my heart rate was sitting higher than usual and I was continually having to drop the pace. In hindsight this was probably from my cold.
When I got to Binna Burra I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to make my perfect day goal. I was pretty bummed and it was only the fact that I caught up to a friend, Juanita, that I didn’t get really down on myself. I ran behind her, chatting a little each time I caught up to her, all through Lower Bellbird. My HR was starting to regulate better and I was running a lot more. I had never run this trail before and it was really pretty and ruggard, a lot different to the border track. When we came out onto the firetrail I was feeling good and was able to pick up the pace, farewelling Juanita and overtaking a few people on the way down to the road. I was running all the downs and hiking the ups. The creek at the bottom was heaven, I soaked my shoes and washed my face, feeling much better. The section from there to the road was narrow trail in open forest, really runnable and lots of fun.
By the time I got to the road, about 32k in, I had finished my first bottle of Tailwind and was about 1/4 of the way through the second one, which was right on schedule. My nose had been streaming the entire run and it had been quite warm for the last hour so I was a bit worried about getting dehydrated so I was also sipping on my back up bladder of plain water. When I hit the roadside I was allowed to elevate my heartrate to 155. I thought this would be easy as I suck at flats but getting my body to push was proving hard. Splashing through the first creek it started to sprinkle, which was a welcome relief, now that there was no shade. I started running and walking, counting my walk steps not allowing myself more than 15 steps before I was running again. I could feel myself approaching my low (I generally get a bad one around the 30-35km mark). I kept reminding myself to keep moving, that this would pass and that I would get to see Tamy soon. I knew now I wasn’t going to PB, there was no way I could do Apple Tree Park and Purlingbrook in the time remaining and the quote “we just lost the moon” from Apollo13 floated through my head.
As I descended to the next crossing, keeping my eye on the two people ahead of me who I was gaining on, I heard and then saw Tamy and it gave me a huge boost, I wasn’t expecting to see her for a few more kms so it was a great surprise.
With a hug and a quick chat to Tamy, I negotiated my way gingerly across the crossing. I got back up to the road and it started to rain. The heavens opened and it pelted down. I watched as people in front of me began struggling with their packs and putting jackets on but I just kept moving, enjoying the rain for the relief that it was. My ankle was starting to feel pretty sore at this point and my hip was joining in, I did my usual of acknowledging it and then ignoring it, but I was slowing to walk more often and although seeing Tamy had boosted me I could feel the low descending again.
I heard the next checkpoint up ahead before I saw it and resolved to run the entire way. As I rounded the corner to checkpoint 2 the “Run Goat Run” checkpoint I was greeted by Claire, Pat, Trin and Tallis.
Claire gave me the best hug and kiss and told me I was doing amazing and helped me get my shit sorted along with with one of the checkpoint volunteers. I got my empty bottle filled up with water and added my caffeinated Tailwind to it, then on a whim topped the other bottle up with premixed Tailwind from the aid station. Then with a hug from everyone I took off towards Numinbah State Forest and the impending Apple Tree Park Stairs climb. I was still struggling to go hard enough to get my heart rate up to where I wanted it. My body was aching, I was bummed that I wasn’t going to make my secondary goal and I was starting to question my ability to do some other runs I want to do next year. Yep the low had well and truly arrived. This time I recognised it for what it was (unlike previous ultras) and set to work getting rid of it. I took an extra drink of tailwind, trying the premix stuff – yuk! It was way to concentrated for my liking, I would have to deal with that later. I told myself that I couldn’t wallow in losing my goals, now I had to suck it up and finish as strong as possible.
I had hit Chesters Rd now so pushed myself to pick a point and run, slow to a walk for 10 steps, then run again. More than anything my hip was hurting me so I decided at the step through I would rub my legs and hips with magnesium and stretch my performs. I hadn’t seen anyone since overtaking the last group at the checkpoint and couldn’t hear anyone behind or ahead, but really didn’t want to get overtaken at this point as I knew the mind games would start again. After dealing with my aches I ran from the step through all the way to the creek crossing at the bottom – this was actually my fastest km for the day, not bad for the 39km mark!
I dumped half my premix Tailwind from the aid station and decided to take my chances and top up from the creek. I wasn’t relying on my HR at all now, I just wanted to push as hard as my body would let me, there was lots of hiking because it is a lot of uphill and a lot of stairs, but I wasn’t letting myself slow to walk either. I remembered an article I had read, by Andy Dubois, a few months ago about how being mindful of each step gave it much more power. So, with hands on knees I power hiked up to Woonoongoora Camp. I was breathing hard when I got to it, but surprisingly my HR had barely hit 150. I broke into a run on the flat single track, knowing I was getting close to the dreaded stairs and just wanting to get them over with. The stairs started and I hiked each set, ignoring my calves and my aching back, trying to run the flat spaces in between and focussing on how good it would feel to get to that sign at the top. About halfway up I heard voices and knew I must be catching people up. I kept focussing on each set of steps, telling myself each step was closer to the top. Then a horn blasts and I hear “Oh its so good to see you out here Jo! You look so strong” in that gorgeous french accent that belongs to Audrey. She is full of smiles and enthusiasm. I tell her “but I’m not feeling strong” and she says she can hear my heart beat and it is strong as a lion. Ah, Audrey, you are so awesome, I think and I tell her so as I pass her. Have to keep going, almost at the top.
I reached the top of the stairs and looked at my watch, I had just passed my perfect day goal time. Ah well. I wondered what Matt was thinking, knowing he had said he would be waiting for me at the finish at that time. I later found out he had waited and refused to leave the finishline for ages because he was sure I would come in any minute.
I hurried on through to the checkpoint. A volunteer asked if I was ok, did I need anything? But I just wanted to keep going and get it done. 7km to the finish. He walked me across the road and I ran, determined to run anything that wasn’t up and some of it that was. As I got to the flat spot on the fire trail I spotted someone ahead and decided I would catch them, before I got to the single trail. The next section was MY section. The bit I love, I can run it and run it well. I overtook him just after the single trail, then I came up behind another runner, by the shorts I guess its Pete, but I’m not sure until I get closer. I know something has gone wrong for him, he is a much faster and stronger runner than I am. His ITB is hurting him, but he will finish. I tell him he will as I overtake him, I’m going to run all the way to the bottom and push hard. I overtake another person, keep pushing. I cross the creek, splashing my face again. Up the spiral stairs onto the flat, run. I run as much as I can, push push. I think about when I did this with Tamy, as I cross the creek again and when I ran it that beautiful morning with Pat.
Anywhere I remember Tamy or Pat running it on those runs I push myself to run too, imagining them ahead of me. Surely the waterfall is the next turn, nope, my watch dies, no matter, next turn? Yes! Down onto the bridge, first time I haven’t stopped to just look at the waterfall when I’ve been here. Last lot of ups. I hike. I hike hard. I run when I can. I pass another runner. Then the event photographer takes a photo, about 1km to go she says.
I turn the switchbacks, waiting for that change in the forest that signals the top. I run, more of a jog, but I run. Overtake a few more runners and pop out at the top of the falls. Not far now. I get to the last bridge and Matt, my awesome coach is there. He smiles, asks if I’m ok, gives me a big hug and tells me to go finish. I jog towards the finish, the stupid little up annoys me, I start to feel emotional, I’m not going to make my goal, I’m angry, but I’m happy I’m finishing strong. I run across the finish, Chris puts my medal on, gives me a hug “Are you ok?” He must have known about the goal times too. “Yep, I’m ok”.
I’m not elated, I’m not excited but I’m ok. Tamy finds me, hugs me, lets my hubby know I’ve finished (he already knew, he was watching the timing). I tell myself I did ok. I congratulate other friends who have finished and are finishing. Yes it was a great run, it was so beautiful. Lots of hugs, well done. Matt finds me and we chat briefly about it, I say its ok, but its not. I think he knows he’s in for a heap of emails over the next week! More hugs.
On the bus I listen to stories. How hurt everyone is, how sore, how broken. The doubt creeps in. Maybe I didn’t push hard enough, maybe I could have done it but I was too soft to hurt enough. That night I talk to Sim, he knows I’m disappointed, he keeps reminding me I’m sick, to go easy on myself, that he thinks I’m amazing.
I wake early the next morning, I dress to go run. There are aches but not the clunky soreness I had after TNF50. I decide I need to see a waterfall. I run and I run, my ankle is sore but ok, my hip is fine. I get to the waterfall and I breathe deep, allow the sadness to hit.
The tears fall, it was meant to be my run, I was meant to shine, to do extraordinary stuff, but it didn’t happen. I start the hike run back. I want to crunch numbers, to analyse, because that’s what I do. I want to find what was good and learn from what wasn’t.
It’s monday as I write this. I have looked and analysed. I have cried over the loss of my dreams from saturday, but I have also found things I’m proud of. I am really happy with my second half of the run. My times from Numinbah through to Purlingbrook were comparable with most of the top 10 women finishers, it was just my first half that let me down. This time I didn’t fall apart at any part in the race. I kept determinedly hiking and walking was minimal. I have no doubt that, if I hadn’t have come down with that cold on the thursday, I would have finished faster and would have hit my secondary goal and maybe even my big one. I guess I’ll have to do it again next year to prove that.