In the training period leading up to Washpool, I was very relaxed. My focus wasn’t really Washpool, I saw it all as building towards my next BIG goal, Northburn 100k. That’s not to say I took running it lightly. 50km is a long way and I had been spanked at Washpool two times before, it seems to be a run that always teaches me a lot. I ran two of my longest training runs on the actual course, running through the two sections on the course where I had broken down and struggled previously, hoping to put those demons to rest. In the week before I also started stressing majorly over a time goal I had set. I really wanted to prove I had improved as a runner since the last time I had run Washpool and was willing to try anything to get a better time. My poor coach was hit with a barrage of the usual taper emails, despite the previously cruisy lead up. Thanks to his level headed replies (have I mentioned I can get a bit emotional?) I calmed the fuck down and was relaxed but excited by friday before the race.
The weekend of the race the whole family packed up into the car and travelled to the race site for a weekend of camping. Saturday was chilled out, with a wander to Boundary Falls and birthday celebrations for our middle child, Zara.
Before bed that night Sim expressed that he was worried for me. He knew I still had a lingering cough from the cold I had caught the week before and felt I was run down, due to not sleeping well and ongoing stresses with our eldest child. I hugged him and told him I was good to go. He was also worried that I would be really upset if I missed my time goal, which, going by past experience was a valid fear!
The morning of the race I managed to sleep until 6am. With the race starting at 7 it gave me enough time to get ready but not enough to stress. I got to the start to hear the last of the briefing. I set my watch up but my HR strap wasn’t registering, I had a minor panic and then resolved that I could run by feel if need be. Then we were off, within a minute my strap registered and I relaxed into the plan.
The first 15km were to be to MAF heart rate limits. Of course the first 200m are uphill and with the adrenaline of the start my heartrate rose and I dropped to a walk before I was even out of the campground – just as I had suspected I would. In my head I reminded myself stick to the plan, you’ll catch them later. As we hit the trail I was overtaken by three men running together, they were using a run/walk strategy and we yo-yoed for awhile before they disappeared around the bend and I was left in last place. Again I reminded myself that I knew I would be here and that it was ok and kept going. My body was feeling good, I passed through the section where I had fallen two years ago with no dramas. On the first decent climb I decided to stop to take my jumper off (it had been very cold and I opted to start with my jumper on) and the sweeper caught up to me. I said hi to Julie (another Washpool regular) whilst secretly hoping she would give me some space and trying to keep my “slow” toxic thought process from starting. A few kms later and Julie was well behind me. I got into a good run/hike rhythm and as I made it to the first checkpoint I checked my watch seeing I was on par with my last training run which had been a really good day and that buoyed me. As I passed through the checkpoint (which had already been packed up) I was asked if I needed anything, I shook my head and kept moving, looking forward to the run down into Washpool.
As I ran down the road to the next trail, Julie drove past in a ute and yelled from the window “You’re looking really strong!”. In my head I said “Yeah, strong and slow” but quickly banished the thought focussing on how much stronger I felt than the last time I ran down this hill in a race. I got to the turn off to the trail to find Julie there, she asked if I had passed the group of guys on the way down the hill and when I answered no she started taking the course markings down (ugh!) she told me to enjoy my run and I said thanks and took off to the trail, happy that the group of men couldn’t be that far ahead but feeling the whole “last” thing a bit too keenly. As I went round the gate onto the trail I almost stepped on a huge python, obviously moving towards the sun. I laughed and I brushed past her, closer than I would usually dare, as she just stared at me. I jogged along, keeping my heart rate in check, remembering how I had found lyrebird feathers along here a few months ago and reminding myself I was sticking to the plan and it was all good, I was on the right path. I needed to pee, so found a semi hidden spot and quickly did so, although it was barely worth the effort.
I enjoyed the single track along the creek, the technical part through the rocks, reminding myself I would be able to get my poles out and go a little harder once I got to the bridge at the 15km mark. I heard voices up ahead and figured the group was now within earshot, so I must be gaining ground. As I got to the bridge the second sweeper was there waiting for me, as she saw me she started removing the race signs and tape. I said Hi! And got to work getting my poles out. I made a steady pace up the hill hiking and jogging. I now had an extra 5-10bpm (beats per minute) to play with on my heart rate. I was feeling good, managing to eat steadily and take in my Tailwind. I knew this section was a grind and was going to be hot. About 1km from the intersection onto the firetrail, the sweeper caught me. She commented that this hill just went forever (yes, it does!) and that she would meet me at the intersection. Great, not only am I last but the sweeper is beating me. Stick to the plan! Forget about her. You’re doing what you need to…
As I got to the intersection the sweeper wished me well as she took down the markings, I heard voices again and figured I would catch the group in the next section. The grind really started, it was getting really hot, occasionally a cool breeze would filter through to the trail but mostly it was just baking. I still kept up my hike/run, pleased my heart rate was recovering quickly on the downhills, pushing as much as I could on the ups, reminding myself I was doing well, just keep moving, ticking off the kms. I stopped at the creeks, splashed my face, wet my buff or drank the lovely cool mountain water, so much nicer than the now body temperature stuff in my pack. I noticed I was thirsty and started sipping my water whenever I ate or had Tailwind. The flat sections were the hardest, I’d much rather be going up or down. I was starting to feel tired, mostly in my head rather than body and thought how nice it would be to lie down and have a snooze in the shade. I kept pushing on the flats, run to that patch of shade then check your heart rate, ok slow down or nope keep going its not high enough. I saw a waratah, in full bloom pushing out over the trail, I thought of stopping to take a pic but didn’t, I felt good and feared stopping would make me lose my groove. As I used my poles I spotted someone up ahead, not one of the people from the group of three who had passed me at the start. Secretly I was glad, finally I mightn’t be last. I tried not to get to excited and go too fast, knowing I would catch him soon. Run the downs, push the flats, hike the ups, repeat. I caught up to him and checked he was ok? “Yep, I’ll get there”. Alright keep moving. I was thinking I should see the turn off the firetrail to the track soon. Where the hell was it? Then I saw the arrow, yep ahead – yay! Only a big climb and another km of flat and I’d be at the checkpoint. I wasn’t where I wanted to be as far as time was concerned but I was still ahead of my best time, so its all good. I started to climb and realised I was thirsty, had a drink and wondered how I was going for water. At the next flat I poked my pack and it was fairly sloshy so I figured I still had a good amount in there, I went through what I needed to do at the checkpoint in my head, I was cutting it fine on time and wanted to be as quick as possible. As I finally got to the top of the climb I caught up with the group. We chatted about what snakes we had seen and they commented on my poles, I said they were great, my poles are my new best friends. I took off, knowing the checkpoint was soon and I needed to get there quickly.
As I rounded the bend, Zara was the first to see me and called out to Sim, while I grabbed my drop bag and got to work taking off my gloves (my hands were so hot!), dumping my poles, I handed my empty flask to Claire, shoved my rubbish at Quinn and rummaged around for my Clif bar and flask for the final section. As I grabbed a handful of chips Sim read through my checklist and said I was good to go, I quickly grabbed a mouthful of coke and took off just as the group came into the checkpoint.
I hit the trail and had in my head, my coaches words “Go hard, bust your arse, chase that time” as I stumbled on to Claire who was waiting to take some pics (thanks Claire <3). I mumbled that I had a mouthful of chips, but smiled anyway and kept going. I pushed up, I pushed down. My stomach starts to feel yuk, but I figured “my body is adjusting to the new pace”.
As I hit the next down I have the urgent need to pee, so I stop, barely a dribble, hmmm, not good. Get going again, I am huffing and puffing, working really hard, or at least it feels like it, check my heart rate, its ridiculously low, 120bpm. Somethings up. My stomach is churning. I think I’m going to be sick. I slow to a fast walk, hoping it will shake off with a break in pace. In the back of my mind I’m saying “Not again”. I run again, nausea and my heart rate won’t go up. Fuck! This is exactly like UTA100. I walk, I need to pee, no, poo. I try, nothing. In my head I am shattered. My nutrition has been spot on, I have been right on my calories. How can this be happening? And I go there, I’m going to DNF, I’ll pull out at the water point, wait for the sweeper. Its not the end of the world, I can’t go through this again, I’m not vomiting for the next 10km just to finish. I can’t do that again. Why is this happening again? I run for a bit, ugh still sick and need to poo. I try again, yes! Small relief but its the little things, right? At least I haven’t vomited. This happened the first time I ran Washpool, I remember. It happened sooner but exactly like this. After that race I peed blood because I was so dehydrated. I hike the next up and run the next down, nausea. Meanwhile my mind is ticking, work the problem, what’s going on? Its hot, I’ve not emptied my 2L hydration bladder in the now 6.5hrs I’ve been out here. My heart rate is low, even when I’m running, I’ve read about this somewhere… Then suddenly it clicks. I think its dehydration. Its not calories. My body feels good other than my stomach, suddenly it makes sense. OK. Not DNFing, not going to get the time I wanted but fuck it, I will finish the best I can. Work the problem, I need to hydrate. So I decide every time I feel sick I take a big swig of water. My belly starts to feel distended but it seems to keep the nausea at bay a little. I play the shadow game, run as much as you can from the next shadow, going to vomit, ok hike. I push on. I have a moment of tears, fuck! I think I could have done it too, beat my old time. Do the best I can, keep moving. I refuse to stop, as long as I’m moving I’m doing it and not vomiting. I get to the water point and decide to fill my empty flask with some water, in case I run out. I take maybe 150mL, there isn’t much left and I know there are 4 more people behind me. I push as hard as I can, I am feeling a little better but still getting waves of nausea, on a climb I stop with my hands on my knees to breathe, my heart rate still really low. When I stand up straight I get a wave of dizziness, ok don’t do that again. I keep running. Walking. Hiking. Moving. I am bummed. I ran faster through here a few weeks ago, heaps faster. This was where I could have pushed it, I really could have. My legs feel surprisingly good, I am starting to be able to push for longer before the nausea hits. I work hard. With 2km to go my stomach feels ok, not great but ok, and my heart rate starts to normalise. My previous best time ticks by, oh well, you can still push. I run as much as my stomach will let me. I resolve to run all of the last km. Fuck it, if I spew at the finish so be it. Zara meets me at the campground road, pushing me to run faster, my legs feel strong and I run hard, despite my stomach. I finish. 15min slower than my previous best. I’m not sad or upset. I feel like I should be. But I’m kinda resigned to the fact that I’m still learning, today I learned a lot. Washpool seems to be the place where I do that, every damn time!
With hindsight I think my in the moment assessment is probably right. The first time I ran Washpool I had the same symptoms (although I don’t know what my heart rate was doing) and was very dehydrated when I finished. At UTA things went downhill after I had run through the hottest part of the day, I had exactly the same symptoms (nausea, low heart rate and complete bowel evacuation) and things got better once I was consistently sipping water along with my Tailwind, I’m not sure how much I had drunk that day as I didn’t see my bladder between refills, but my gut tells me it wasn’t enough. Hopefully now I have figured that out, I won’t have to go through it again, as it truly sucks, especially when the rest of your body is holding up well. Although its disappointing not to have achieved that time I wanted, I feel like I may have found another piece of the puzzle which will make my next race easier, so for me that is a win. Every race and every run is a learning experience and is leading to something bigger and better. If these tough runs make those bigger ones I have planned easier, I’ll take them whenever I need to. Besides, often its the triumph over adversity that I get the biggest satisfaction from. That and I got to spend a glorious 8hrs in an amazing place, on my own for the most part, doing something that I love.
Shoes – Inov8 Trailroc 245’s
Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight crew
Poles – Black Diamond Carbon Z flick lock
Pack – Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta
Nutrition – Tailwind, Clif Bar (Choc Chip/White Choc Macadamia), Vegimite Sandwiches, Salt potato chips