You’re a Soul Runner

Anyone who follows me on social media would have seen my post about struggling with my speed, mostly due to comparing myself with others.

 photo F28CF91D-E1F9-41DB-8ECF-C301021FF5EE.jpg

“My long runs are rarely just about running. I have kind of been stuck in my head the last week. Trying to work out what it is I’m missing and why being faster matters so much to me. Of course the answer is I love trailrunning and I really want to be good at it. Patience is hard. So, now I have to work out how to stop myself getting stuck in my head. One of those is to back off again from strava. Comparison really is the thief of joy. The other is to look up and see the beauty around me.
.
.
68 days”

Its no secret that I train really hard. I do everything my coaches ask of me. Yes, coaches, I have two of them. I have a running coach (Matt from Judd Adventures) and a strength and conditioning coach (Graeme from Coast to Coast PT). As well as this I also read everything I can, I take my recovery seriously, I am in bed early to get enough sleep, I do yoga for my body, mind and soul, I eat non processed nutritionally dense foods and I have even had a session with a sports psychologist to deal with my fear of failure.

Why? Because I love trailrunning, I love what it has done to my body and mind, I love the places it takes me, the pristine areas that few others see and the people I have met because of it.

Unfortunately, it has also brought something else out in me. A desire to be competitive.

I have never been a competitive person as far as sport is concerned. As a child I was the one getting the “participation” ribbon for every possible event. As a teen I walked in every single high school cross country event and our netball team revelled in being there for fun not competition.

Then I found trail running. At first I loved that I was able to run at all and see areas of the pristine bush and magnificent vistas, pure a simple. That enjoyment is still there, in fact it is the joy of those things that still gets me out on the trails most days. Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to be faster, faster than the runner I was and then I wanted to run faster than at least some of the others running the same races as me.

I have become faster. In fact last week I ran what is possibly the fastest I have ever run. I was stoked that I hit my goal pace, I held it and ran that 3km as hard as I could.

My joy was palable when I came home and I grinned all through breakfast and my shower and then I uploaded my run to strava…

 photo 77E9EB4A-FFDF-4E36-B5BC-0639ABF60652.jpeg

Its a love/hate relationship

 And as I revelled in my fastness, my win as it were, I wandered through the stats of the people I follow and there it was, someone titled their run “Easy pace” and it was below my pace, my fastest ever, drag my guts out and set my heart pounding pace. Then the spiral began that led me to my post last monday.

On my monday run the shit kinda hit the fan. There was anger and there was tears. I got home and posted my picture, leading to the usual debate about the good and bad of strava. As I got ready to go out with my family for the day, my husband asked what was wrong, was my run no good this morning? I snapped back that no, it was great, for me, I ran really well but there were tears and I’m so sick of being so slow. This is nothing new to Sim. Both my hubby and my running coach have dealt with this before. It is a recurring theme, as anyone who has read my blog before will know.

As I sat in the car, trying to compose myself, my hubby spoke and with those words I remembered, yet again, why I love him so. He put his hand on my knee and said “I know you want to be competitive but maybe you’re just not meant to be. I think you really are a Soul Runner”. I must have looked puzzled so he explained that he came up with it from the term soul surfer.

From wikipedia: “A soul surfer (coined in the 1960s) is a surfer who surfs for the sheer pleasure of surfing. Although they may still enter in competitions, winning is not the soul surfer’s main motive, since they scorn the commercialisation of surfing. The term denotes a spirituality of surfing.”

As we continued to drive, I rolled the notion over in my mind and Sim went on, talking about how I glow after running in the bush, how I am bursting with joy when I find a new path or a new vista and how much I really just enjoy the running.

So, it would seem, I am a soul runner, or at least I am taking that title as my own. I do love to run. I love the sound of my feet as they crunch the leaves underfoot or splash through a creek, the feeling of the wind on my face as I sit on a peak watching the sunrise or spying a lyrebird in the brush and a wedgetail eagle in the sky. As for the competitive stuff, it does not serve me. For my psychological well being I have reduced my Strava contacts by two thirds and while I will still use it, mostly so I can compare my own  efforts and track my own progress, I am trying to focus purely on being the best runner I could be running the most amazing places I can get to.

Afterall, I am a soul runner.

Advertisements

Big Scary Goals

About a month after finishing my first solo 100km race I emailed my coach and told him what I wanted to do next. I was sure he would mail me back and tell me that I was getting ahead of myself. That such a goal was way too big to think about, especially considering I hadn’t exactly blitzed my first 100km race. What with the 50 odd km of vomiting and slow movement in the middle, it was hardly a raging success? Instead he replied with “Let’s do it, and if you really want to do that then let’s work towards the big one! What’s the saying? “Shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”?”

You can see why he’s a great coach, right?

 photo E1A29A3B-0DE5-4204-8CAF-73D96406D9E3.jpeg

And then I got scared..

It’s one thing to fantasise in your head about doing these big crazy runs, but when someone turns around and says “Sure, you should do that” and you suddenly go from daydreaming to actually working towards it, sinking your time and energy into it and sacrificing events with friends and family to make it happen, it can be a little confronting. More so, because this particular race is a long term project. It’s not a case of pay your entry, train and go run it. In order to get an entry I need to accrue the required qualifying points and then be one of the lucky few picked from the lottery.

On top of all the qualifying and entry malarky there is the whole “imposter syndrome” thing to deal with. I’ve talked about it plenty before, the feeling not good enough to do these big amazing races that “real trailrunners” do and the struggle with being a slow runner. The thing is, making it to the finish line of Ultra Trail Australia 100 taught me that although I’m not the fastest, I am strong and in the races that I am drawn to, that counts almost as much as speed.

 photo 2476CFAB-D429-438B-BF96-B0C126C84B83.jpg

Finding my strong at UTA100

I’m also blessed with a husband who has always had a “give it a try” attitude. When, at the start of my discovery of moving my body, I asked what he thought of me doing Tough Mudder on two consecutive days, he looked at me like I was mad but replied with “Sure, if that’s what makes you happy”. That pretty much is the theme for us, if one of us wants to do something crazy, like paraglide the french alps for a week, or run around the bush for 8hrs on a training run, the other is there to support them in doing so, which with three kids is important.

I haven’t always been the “just give it a go” type person, for a long time I stuck to what I knew I could do and what wouldn’t cause stress or require the help of others, but I’ve come to realise, with the help of my husband, my friends, my coach and my experiences in trailrunning and life, that life is too short to not give stuff a try and if things don’t work out? Well, it will still be an adventure.

So, what is my big scary goal?

In 2018 I’m hoping to get an entry into The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 100mile trail race. Whilst this isn’t exactly a secret, it’s not something I have really put out there because, well, it scares me! Despite all I’ve said above there is still that part of me that worries that people will look at this and think “Really? You really think someone like you could do that race?” Not to mention that it is 100miles (not kilometres!!), with insane technical trails that scale ridiculous amounts of climbing and descent! But I’m getting ahead of myself, because first I need to qualify, and that in itself is scary!

 photo 5CEA70FD-9403-4C49-8F31-256A6B7C6B83.jpg

With completing UTA100, I garnered myself 5 UTMB qualifying points. To qualify I need 15points from a maximum of 3 races (have I lost you yet?). Getting these points is no easy feat. My coach, Matt from Judd Adventures, and I sat down and poured over the qualifying races, trying to find ones that I would be capable of finishing, within the cut offs. Qualifying races for UTMB are typically steep and 5 point races are 100km or longer. So, this year, 2017, I am looking at two 100km races to get my required points – that in itself is both exciting and scary!

My first qualifying race will be the Northburn 100k on the south island of New Zealand. With 6000m+ elevation gain, not to mention battling the elements of heat, wind and cold (it has snowed on top of the mountain in past years) it will definitely be an adventure! Then in November I hope to take on the Alpine Challenge 100k, running through the Victorian Alps.

Its’ kind of scary even just putting it out there that I have this long term plan, because what if I fail? What if it goes wrong? A DNF, a missed cutoff, an injury, they could all throw a spanner in the works. But hey, I figure at least I’m giving it a red hot try.

So, over the next year, I will be climbing lots more mountains, trying to improve my mountain legs on both the ups and the downs. I will be getting ridiculously excited about each step forward, towards my big goal and if I don’t qualify or don’t get a lottery entry then I have a back up plan, but hopefully these dreams will come true and if they don’t? Well at least I will have had one hell of an adventure in trying.

 photo 25DD966C-F025-4E2C-BFA3-A41CEB856D80.jpg

What’s your current, big, scary goal?

It is the Community as much as the Running

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Runner Nation, last week and it got me thinking about my own journey of running and what has kept me going. Yes, I love running in the bush for hours on end, I love feeling strong within my body and challenged by what is without, but it is the community that keeps me engaged in the sport as a whole.

It seems a little strange, I guess, that a sport that sees me running for hours and hours, mostly alone, has such a strong community feel. This past year I feel like I have been blessed to experience this community from every possible facet. In my head I have tried to categorize these experiences, but the easiest way to share the highlights of my community is chronologically, throughout the year. These are, by no means, the only times community were part of my sport. On training runs and races and even outside in everyday life, in fact almost everyday I will be touched by our awesome community in one way or another. Things like sharing a photo on social media, asking a trailfriend for advice about a problem you’ve had, or sharing directions to a waterfall with a fellow runner. I have even had short little messages just asking if I was ok when I hadn’t popped up on strava for a few days. It all counts.

In February of this year I went to my first overseas race, the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon. I was travelling with a group of runners, but being from the bush I only knew a few of the group, mostly from a handful of races and social media. There is an inclusiveness with most trailrunners. We were all here to run the same race so yeah, come along to the pub and have some lunch, hey where do you want to go for dinner, want to grab a coffee in the morning? Even out on the course there were cheers of encouragement from people I barely knew and many good friends were made, in a trip that barely lasted 5 days. Even now we seek out each other at events to say hi and catch up on our lives in between.

In May I took on my biggest solo challenge to date at UltraTrail Australia. My community of trail friends rallied before the race had even started. Friends volunteered to keep me company on long training runs, into the night and through holidays when they could have spent time with other family and friends. There were messages back and forth of encouragement from friends around the globe. I borrowed gear from a dear friend who had never actually met me but with whom I chatted to regularly via social media. During the race, a woman I have come to think of as my big trail sister, rang me the moment she knew I was struggling, to offer me support and help me work through the problem. We have met in real life less than a handful of times, but barely a week goes by that we don’t chat. There were hugs, high fives and shouts from people I knew and some that I didn’t, offering support, help and encouragement. Not to mention the messages of support that popped up on my facebook each time I made it through a checkpoint, unbeknownst to me at the time. Then there was the finish. I still get teary whenever I talk about it. To hear the cheers of my trail friends as I crossed the line at 6am, after each of them had run their own races in the hours before, is something I will never ever forget.

In July I was honored to be on the other side of an event as support crew in the gruelling 96km Kokoda Challenge. I have completed the challenge myself and know how important support crew is. This was my second time crewing at this particular event. There is a special kind of energy when crewing for a long event for a team. There are long pauses of waiting, not sure of what may be happening out on the trails, then frenetic energy of heading to the checkpoint, setting up, the bustle of dealing with your team as quickly as possible while doing everything you can for them and then its pack up and wait to go to the next meet point. We had a team of 4 support people, so we got to know each other pretty well over our 30+hrs together, plus we met and chatted with other support teams and there was the cheering on and offering of assistance to other groups as they passed through each checkpoint. Standing at the finish line waiting for our team was one of the longest waits I have experienced and holding my dear friend Sarah moments after she finally completed Kokoda on her third attempt rivals the feelings I felt crossing my own finishline at UTA.

In September I was once again able to “give back” a little to my community as I volunteered at a local ultra. I say give back, but my experience probably gave me more than I gave to the participants. As course marshall at the main creek crossing at the Wild Earth Coastal High 50, I got to see many members of the community pushing their limits and enjoying the trails. It gave me a great perspective of my own experience in races. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my youngest son and he probably said it best when he said he loved volunteering because “helping people and making them smile made him feel good inside”. He was handing out the red frogs so got lots of smiles!

Community has been able to expand to not just those physically present in the moment of our events and training thanks to technology. In September I was able to cheer my big trail sister on from a far as she ran her first 100miler in the Glasshouse Mountains and a few weeks ago I watched many friends compete in races of various distances at Blackall. Through tracking, text messages and phone calls my community was brought together, through triumphs and tribulations we shared our experiences. Thanks to Instagram, Facebook and Strava, I can now share my often solo and remote running with friends, both near and far. I don’t feel alone in my running.

This past weekend I raced what is likely my final event for the year, I also celebrated my birthday. I arrived at the race to be greeted by familiar faces, smiles, hugs and surprises. After the race there were more hugs, I was joined by friends (both from the trail community and life in general) to wander a favourite trail and share food. I am forever grateful for finding my community, my tribe in trail runners. Every time I run they are with me, in my heart and in my head. They are the impetus to continue when the going gets tough, they are there when things go wrong and they celebrate the triumphs with me, most of all. If you are part of my trail community thank you for making this thing called trailrunning so special and such an important part of my life, and if you aren’t yet a part of my community I’d love you to join me.

You can follow me here on my blog or over at:

Instagram

Strava

Always The Student – Washpool50 2016

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.

 photo CAEAECB6-98F3-4B0B-87BC-70D438968287.jpg

Zara’s Birthday Cake

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.

The Gear
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

Going Back to the Beginning

Next Sunday I get to go back to where I ran my first ultra.

It will be the third time I have run this particular race at the 50km distance. A week out I am surprisingly relaxed about it. For the first time since I started this crazy, long distance, running business I’m not stressing out about the run, about what I have and haven’t done in training. I know it just comes down to what happens on the day, as a good friend says “the hay is in the barn”.
That’s not to say that I’m not excited or full of anticipation as to what might happen. There is still a healthy dose of “what the fuck am I thinking trying to do this” going on. A few people have commented “What? Only 50km?” when I have replied that my goal race for the second half of the year was Washpool 50km. Let me be the first to assure you that there is no such thing as ONLY 50km (or ONLY 21 or 10 or 5km for that matter). Yes, I have completed and survived my first solo 100km, but that does not diminish the distance at all. 50km is a very long way on your own two feet. There is also, for me anyway, a big difference between racing 50km and surviving 100km. Plus my goals for this race are different. Different to when I first ran it and different to running my first 100km.

When I first ran Washpool three years ago I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My longest run to date had been 30 odd km along my local roads. I had no real nutrition plan to speak of. My training was a hodge podge of road marathon plans from books and the web. The race was a tough day but, despite breaking down at the 30km mark and again at 45km I finished, in what is my 2nd fastest 50km finish to date.

 photo A31BF153-4BE4-4889-9009-D8B7D7C9C30B.jpg

The end of a tough day – my first 50km

A year later, under the mentorship of my coach Matt, from Judd Adventures Coaching, I ran the race again. A couple of km in I fell, hard and my race seemingly went to pieces from there. I managed to beat my previous years time by 5min but I wasn’t happy, there were a lot of “what ifs” in my mind.

Two years on I have made the decision to go back, yes I am more relaxed about it, but I also feel like I have something to prove, which could be dangerous in and of itself.
Since that second outing at Washpool I have run two tough 50km races (The North Face 50 and Coastal High 50), a mountain marathon in New Zealand (Shotover Moonlight Marathon) and finished Ultra-Trail Australia’s 100km race in the Blue Mountains. I have trained hard, I have a nutrition plan and a race plan. I have trained on the course, repeatedly and mimicked the terrain in training runs near home. I have more confidence as a runner, I feel stronger than I ever have. I can see, since UTA, what an advantage being strong can be and I’m feeling really focussed on that.

 photo 54A6600B-D79F-4627-ADEA-4D6E89C3437B.jpg

I found my strength at UltraTrail Australia

The scary thing is I have very specific goals of what I want to achieve next sunday, that go beyond surviving and finishing. Even scarier is that I can see a glimmer of actually achieving what I’m aiming for. Something that previously seemed impossibile for me could be a reality, which is terrifying. It feels as if it is just within reach, if I have a good day. So, it comes down to that. Now I wait out the week and hope that Sunday is a good day. If its not? Well, Washpool has a very special place in my heart and its a beautiful place to go for a run, if I have to go back again it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Check Your Ego at the Door (Trail)

As I chugged along at my own pace this morning on a rare group run I pondered how far I had come. Not as a runner, although there have certainly been improvements there, but in regards to being able to check my ego during running, so to speak. I was very much at the back of the pack, in fact the group had to stop every few kilometres to wait for me and as I arrived at the back of the line a shout would go out to the front “Jo’s here!” and the group would move on to the next point.

A year ago, hell even six months ago, I would never have accepted the invitation to go on such a group run with so many fast runners for that very reason. The thought of people seeing how slow I am when I run and having to wait specifically for me was enough to make me shrink and hide.

MAF training has been a huge learning curve for me , both physically and mentally (if you want to know what MAF is you can read about it here: HR training and MAF Or google MAF training or the Maffetone Method).

I came to running late and I mean late. I was 35 when I started running and about 3 months later I realised I loved it. After getting as far as I could on my own, first doing obstacle course races with friends and then going from road races to my (now) passion, trail running, I decided I needed some help and guidance from someone knowledgable about running who also got my passion for the bush. Enter Matt, from Judd Adventures. Together we decided that the best fit for me to become a stronger runner and longer (as in distance) runner would be heart rate training, starting specifically with building base using MAF training. So, very basically, I now run 80% of my training runs at low heart rate (for me that is somewhere between 132-137bpm), have I lost you yet? At first this is incredibly and painfully slow. I was walking uphills, I was walking flats and yes I was even walking downhills. Remember what I said about ego? My ego was screaming. This is ridiculous, you are already so slow and now you are reduced to a walk, how will that help you get faster. I guess I’m kind of lucky in that I do most (well, pretty much all) my running alone because I didn’t have to also bear friends and running colleagues overtaking me and seeing my slowness. So, as days turned into weeks and weeks into months I began to see the merit of my training. I was becoming a strong and healthy endurance machine, as opposed to a fast and fit runner, but ego was still there and sometimes it would sting. Early last year I had my most crushing experience to date when I ran a race to MAF, essentially as a training run, and came last (you can read about that experience here: That’s When You Find Out Who You Are). I almost gave up on HR training then and there, because of ego. Thanks to my coach and some amazing runs since then, I have learned that maybe my ego isn’t the best gauge. Perhaps it doesn’t have my best interests at heart.

So, back to today. Here I was trundling along in the beautiful Springbrook National Park and the ego starts to speak.

 

I can go faster than this. This is true, I can, but it is four weeks since I successfully finished my first solo 100k race and also four weeks since I have really run, I am still recovering, I need to keep my heart rate low.

They are all waiting for you. They are, let them wait.

It sucks being slow. Yes, it really does, but I am being slow by choice.

So why? I hear you ask. Why am I being slow by choice? Well, I have learned that there are things more important than appearing to be an awesome runner, or keeping up with the fast runners. I may not be fast but I am strong, I am strong because I run smart and smart for me is to run to MAF, particularly now when I am still recovering. I have some big goals I want to achieve in the future and they aren’t to beat my friends on a training run. My ego still takes a beating, being last, being the slowest, its never easy, but knowing that I am working towards climbing bigger mountains and experiencing some amazing places makes it easier.

Today I checked my ego at the door (trailhead?) and although it was hard I’m glad I did.

 photo 2E0716C2-F9D6-4E95-A5DF-F4655D12C26D.jpg

Nature is great at giving perspective

It Was Never Meant To Be Perfect – Running My First Solo 100km Trail Race

I stood at the bus stop with Sim, my husband and also support crew for the day, waiting for the bus to take me to the start line of my first 100km race. The same finish line I had crossed exactly year early after competing in the 50km race. Within hours of finishing I knew I would be back next year to take on the bigger race, now known as UltraTrail Australia 100, through the Blue Mountains of NSW.

To an outsider it probably doesn’t make sense, to pick one of the toughest and most gruelling 100k’s as your first race, one where flat is non existent and you are always going up or down, usually steeply. Truth is I suck at flat running, I’d much rather be hiking hard up a steep hill than running along a flat trail, but that’s just me.

In the 12 months, between that particular 50k and preparing to start my first 100k, I had climbed many hills, sometimes repeatedly. I had faced my fear of heights, time and time again, to make sure it wouldn’t be a weakness. I had run in the early mornings before the sun had come up, into the night as the sunset and everything in between. I had learnt more about nutrition, about muscles, about recovery than I had ever cared to know before. There were constant emails to my coach, Matt, about training, heart rates, strategies, fears, fuelling and whatever else crossed my mind that was even vaguely race related. There were also messages to friends who had run longer ultras or TNF/UTA100 itself. That morning, twelve months later, I was different to the person who started the journey to the start line, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

On the bus Sim and I mused at how warm it was this year and how I wasn’t as nervous. I was excited and the butterflies were starting, but I didn’t feel the self inflicted pressure I usually feel at the start of an A-race. I was here to experience and to finish. I had time goals but they were not the most important thing. I wanted to finish, more than anything else, to do that and that alone would be a win. Anything else was icing.

We arrived just as the first wave of runners left and I briefly sent well wishes to my coach on the wind, knowing he was chasing his own big goals today. We found a quiet spot to just chill as wave after wave was called, I was in Wave 6, back of the pack, but I was happy with that. Comfortable in fact. As Wave 4 was called as spotted my friends Pete and Juanita through the crowd. Pete was also doing the 100k, in my wave, and Juanita was taking on the 50. I introduced them to Sim and we chatted while slowly preparing to start. As our wave was called I hugged Sim goodbye, telling him I’d see him at the Six Foot Track checkpoint, then made my way to the start chute with Pete. After a brief photo together and a quick hug from Angie and Kylie who had spotted us, I also bade Pete goodbye, moving myself to the back of the pack, knowing Pete is a much faster runner than I.

As I waited to set off I pretty much ignored everything around me. I kept my head down, fiddling with my watch until we began to move. It had started.

As we turned the first corner I heard my name and got a high five from Travis and Kelly who stood on the corner, so cool to see so many people you know so far from home. The first section is about 5km of road. An out and back, it is a deceptively long little hill and I knew from last year that I needed to be conservative here, so I immediately dropped to a hike. I fell in behind two men who were running the race together. One had done it a few times and was helping his friend to complete his first race today. He commented on how people were working way too hard if they were sweating and breathing hard already, which I have to admit I took comfort in, and that it was nice to see some others were being sensible too. I pretty much cruised the road section, keeping an eye out for friends, watching my heartrate and just enjoying the atmosphere. We finally hit the trail and I relaxed. This is where I wanted to be.

 photo 75B4C36A-7BA6-4CC7-A6DA-A151019C18CA.jpg

First view of the Three Sisters on our way down the stairs

It was slow going, lots of stairs (stairs we would meet again in some 94km and going up instead of down) and lots of people but generally moving comfortably. When we hit the section known as landslide, I was starting to get frustrated, I knew I could move faster but people were gingerly picking their way along the technical trail that I felt, for the most part, more comfortable jogging along. After a few “excuse me”s and requests to pass I had clear trail ahead of me and it was glorious. I jogged along, marvelling at the views, then the forest, the gentle curve of the trail and the lack of sounds other than the wind, I almost could fool myself that I was just on a training run. Then I hit the Golden Stairs. I was watching my heartrate carefully, resisting the urge to charge up what I knew was the first of many steep ups for the day. Its hard when everyone else is content to push and huff and puff up the stairs but your strategy is different. I resigned myself to jumping off every landing to let the stream of people through and making sure I kept to my own pace. As we came out onto Narrowneck I breathed a sigh of relief, my race plan was never to look at the whole 100km, I was doing a series of runs from aid station to aid station. The first run to Checkpoint 1, was the one I was most worried about as I was fearful of missing the cutoff. I knew it was only a km of fireroad until I hit the checkpoint and I was positive I could make it in time. I settled into a comfortable hike up onto the plateau, enjoying the view, smiling for the race photographers and passing words with fellow runners.

 photo 6666FD84-EA68-4D51-8D86-4D5F007ECD66.jpgI breezed into Checkpoint 1 at exactly 2hrs. I filled my bottle with help from a volunteer and was on my way again in minutes. I felt good, I was happy I had beat the cutoff by 40min and now I was working my way to Checkpoint 2, Dunphy’s Camp, hoping I would get to meet an Instagram and FB friend who was volunteering there. After running along the Narrowneck Plateau for around 9km we hit single track leading down to Tarros Ladders, a set of aluminium ladders rigged on the cliff face especially for the run.

There was a long line up and we were told that there would be an 8-10min wait or we could take a diversion track of an extra 400m, I decided I would rather be moving and took off down the track, getting some more clear single track which was nice.

I was still getting frustrated on any single track that was downhill and slightly technical as people were moving slowly, slower than my comfortable pace, and I actually find it more slippy when I go slow on the downs, but I kept reminding myself I had a long way to go and taking my time was for the best. As we popped back out onto a dirt road I figured we must be getting close to the next checkpoint. I couldn’t remember how far it was exactly, I hadn’t, for once, memorised exact distances and what times I needed to be where. I was here purely to finish. The times I had figured out a few weeks before were more for Sim, so he had a vague idea of where to find me when. In fact, I didn’t even know what time it was, I had set up my watch so I couldn’t see, although I could work it out from the runtime ticking over at the bottom of my screen.

As I went up and over the fence into the checkpoint I spied Jamie on his phone and gave him some stick about it. After a quick hug, I walked in to refill both my bottles and was out again a few minutes later, looking forward to making it to the ridge at Iron Pot mountain and knowing that I would see Sim at the next checkpoint a little way after that. The climb up to Iron Pot is a steep one and by now it was getting very hot. It was an unseasonably warm day and being out in tracks through paddocks, where the heat reflected off the grass, made it even hotter. As I reached the top of the mountain I could hear the sounds of the didgeridoo and the clap sticks as the local land owners welcomed us into their amazing and spectacular place. Words can’t really explain the chills, the goosebumps or the feelings that welled up as I ran along that ridgeline. Something about the reality of actually being there and that yes, I was actually doing this. As I ran back past the local land owners I thanked them so much for being there, for making that part of the race so special. The elder thanked me back, saying they loved being out there, seeing people enjoy their place and then he commented that I had the most awesome shorts and that he loved the colours. Yep, everyone loves the duds!

The descent down off Iron Pot was again, frustrating, but once I asked to pass a few people I got a run on. I was starting to feel very hot at this stage, I remember hiking past a dam in the middle of the paddock thinking if it wasn’t so mankey looking I would dip my buff in it and how much of a relief that would have been. I was drinking well, having my electrolyte and water but I was starting to feel queasy in the stomach. I wasn’t worried about it. On every long training run and race there has been a point after the 30-35km mark where the same thing has happened. I usually feel a bit blah and yuk for a km or two and then the feeling passes. I was actually surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. We came out onto a road near some farm sheds, which I recognised from one of the many TNF100 movies I had watched, and fell into an easy jog beside a very long legged runner who was power walking. He commented that I was doing a nice steady pace and I replied that I thought he had an unfair advantage with his long legs. We jogged/powerwalked together to the base of the next climb where I dropped back to a hike as he continued to powerwalk ahead. As I began the climb, watching my heartrate carefully, I was hit with a wave of nausea. I was surprised, this wasn’t usual. When I got to the top of the hill I decided to have a toilet break and see if that helped. For a moment I thought it had, I started running down the road at a gentle pace only to find myself holding onto a tree, doubled over, vomiting on the roadside a moment later. A few people called out to ask if I was ok, to which I replied I was just having a moment and I’d be fine. I took a deep breath, took a few sips of electrolyte and then water and started walking, convincing myself that it was a one off and if I gave my body a moment it would settle and I would be fine. The nausea was coming in waves. Every time I started to run it would hit with force. Over the next 3km I vomited 3 more times. I texted my friend, Jill, that I had been vomiting every km and that I wasn’t keeping anything down. I was worried because I thought I had another 3km to the checkpoint at least and I couldn’t work out why this was happening. She rang me back, calm as ever and went through what was happening and what I was doing, while I kept walking as fast as I could bare. I got off the phone, in my head I was trying to work out what the fuck had happened, all while trying to smile for a photographer, when I realised I could see the checkpoint and that Sim would be there.

I walked into the checkpoint only 10min behind my “perfect day” goal time, but I did not know that at the time. Sim cheered me down the hill, telling me I was doing amazing, but he got no smile. I grimaced at him and blurted out that I had been vomiting for the last 3km while I underwent a mandatory gear check.

Sim immediately changed tack. He took me to where he had set up a began repacking my pack while I went to look for some watermelon, I was so happy to see some. I sucked on a piece as I walked back, still trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Sim asked me about the views from Narrowneck in a bid to distract me from getting down and I told him about the magic of Iron Pot Ridge, but I was worried. I was set to go and Sim told me I needed to keep moving, he would see me up top in a few hours and that I could do this. As I walked out of the checkpoint I spotted a guy dousing himself with a cup of water and I remembered wanting a wet buff earlier, so I wet my buff and continued on out the gate, onto the Six Foot Track. I got up to a jog and then stopped to vomit yet again. Dammit! Up came all the watermelon. I was feeling down. I couldn’t work out what had happened, why I was sick. I figured all I could do was keep moving, stopping whenever I needed to spew and get to the next checkpoint. Pulling out wasn’t even a thought, I just needed to stop the vomiting somehow and keep my fluids up in the meantime. It was starting to cool down now and I changed to sipping not only when my timer went but also if I felt even a hint of thirst. I knew I wasn’t drinking nearly the amount I did in training, but I figured keeping a little down was more important. I was also getting really frustrated with my pace, my heart rate was really low, I was hiking everything and continually being overtaken by people jogging or by people walking every time I stopped to “have a moment” with a tree. If I tried to jog or run the nausea would hit with a vengeance, so I walked. I got to the base of Nellies Glen and prepared myself to hurt. This was a climb I was worried about. I put one foot in front of the other, surprising myself at my pace considering my heart rate was still sitting so low. About halfway up I came across a guy lying on his back in a singlet, legs up the wall listening to music. I stopped to ask if he was ok, he said he was having a break and I cautioned him not to get too cold, I had just stopped to pull on my thermal as it was getting chilly. I was still getting waves a sickness but managed to get to the top without another spew, as the ground evened out I started to jog but again I felt sick, so I stopped, pulled out my headlamp as it was now dark and hiked on.

I came around the corner to find another runner stopped still in the middle of the track. As she heard me come up behind her she asked if I could please help her. I grabbed her hand and she explained her legs had locked up and she couldn’t move. Still holding her hand, I started walking with her, as she leaned on me we chatted about how things go wrong sometimes, even when you think you’re doing everything right. She had done UTA last year but pulled out at Six Foot Track, she was sure if she got to the aquatic centre she would be fine after a massage. Able to stand on her own, I picked up my pace and came out onto the road, knowing I must be getting close to the next checkpoint. I stopped, thinking about it and realised I needed my road safety vest, I called back to Fiona to double check, yes. I stopped to get mine out and put it on, Fiona walked passed explaining she didn’t want to stop for fear of locking up again. Once I had my vest on I caught up to her and helped her with her pack and vest and then I jogged off to the checkpoint, hoping the vomiting was gone for good now and that this was a turning point.

I came into the Aquatic Centre and Sim was waiting, cheering me in yet again. I was almost in tears, telling him I was still being sick, that now I was so far behind my goal times (I wasn’t) and that I was so frustrated because I had just walked so much that I could have normally run. He told me I was wrong and that we needed to get on with it. He took my watch off to charge it and I changed into a long sleeve top and clean, dry buff. We debated me taking the spare headlamp in my pack but decided I didn’t need extra weight and I would be fine without it to the next support point. I had a few sips of coke, hoping it would help my stomach like it had at the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon and noticed another message from Juanita on the blanket and smiled.

 photo 3EC68EEC-559D-48A9-9B35-E513642226B0.jpg

I went to the bathroom, checking my pee (as you do) and happy to see it was pale meaning I was still absorbing some fluids at least. I got back to the blanket to my pack being ready to go. Sim handed me my watch and told me I had been there long enough. I stood up, put my pack on and walked across the auditorium as Sim cheered me and Fiona called out “Go Jo!”. I stepped out the door, into the cold and the night and I cried, this wasn’t how it was meant to be.

A little way down the road we turned into an easement that would take us back to the cliff tops. It was freezing cold, so I stopped to put my thermal over the top, worried about the cold making me worse. I started jogging, enjoying the cold on my face but annoyed at the constant drip from my nose. I saw the eyeshine of a fox and watched as it bounded away and then stepped off the path to do my biggest spew yet, getting my shoes and legs in the process, so glamorous!! I continued on the path as it wound its way through Katoomba and when I finally stepped onto the single track, that I knew would take me around to the Three Sisters, I felt some comfort in familiarity, I had done this part before. Up the path to Echo Point we heard the ring of bells and someone yelled “Great job, Jo!” I smiled at the use of my name (it was on my bib) and was met with a smile from Lucy Bartholomew followed by “Go girls!”. In disbelief, I wound my way across the platform to the where the trail restarted only to have Sim grab me for a hug and the man next to him thank me for helping his wife, Fiona. I smiled again and kept moving, worried about what I might say or feel if I stopped.

Here started the stairs. My sense of time and distance kind of get lost here. There were stairs. I went up, I went down. I stopped to breathe. I stopped to keep the nausea at bay. I stopped to spew. People stopped to ask if I was ok. I kept moving. At times it was a slow crawl and others I moved ok, not fast but ok. At 8:30, an hour after leaving the aquatic centre and after yet another spew, I messaged Sim to say I was worried about getting an electrolyte balance or dehydration. Little did I know that was the last spew for the race. I was taking it very slow, I was sipping as much as I could stand and every time I began to feel nauseous I would stop, do some yoga breathing and will myself to keep down what precious nutrition I had taken on board. It was somewhere in here that I had my one and only emotional meltdown, it was fleeting (or so it seemed) and consisted of me whining to myself for a moment that this wasn’t how it was meant to be, but I let myself feel that for a moment then kept moving. Sim met me just before the water point at the Fairmont and convinced me to get checked by the medics before continuing on. It had taken me over 3hrs to cover around 10km, he was understandably worried. I had now travelled a little over 69km.

As I sat at the waterpoint, waiting for the medic to become available, I realised I hadn’t been sick for quite sometime. I talked to a volunteer, under Sim’s watchful eye, and she felt as I was obviously very lucid and talking fine, I was in a much better state than some others she had seen. After explaining to Sim that I hadn’t felt dizzy at all, wasn’t stumbling and felt ok everywhere but my stomach he agreed that I should be ok as long as I continued to take it easy. It was going to be slow but be damned if I wouldn’t finish. As I left the checkpoint I grabbed a handful of potato crisps on a whim and crushed them up to eat, licking the salt off my fingers thinking they were divine.

I was worried about this section, I had found it tough here last year but I knew it was a whole different ball game tonight. I was still stopping occasionally to keep the sickness at bay but in between I was managing a steady jog and I could now stomach more Tailwind electrolyte and water than I had been able to since before the Six Foot Track. I got to Wentworth Falls and marvelled at the emptiness. Last year it had been full of tourists, tonight there was no one, just me. I stopped at the top of the falls to apply some paw paw cream, I could feel some chafing beginning and took that as a good sign, meaning I was moving more. By the time I hit the 75km marker on the Kings Tableland fire road I was buoyed, remembering my excitement at being halfway at this point last year and thinking tonight I was three quarters of the way. As I hit the road I fleetingly thought I should text Sim to let him know I was a few km of road to the checkpoint. The thought was lost as I stopped to breathe again, damned stomach. I jogged most of the way to the QVH checkpoint, happy I could manage that, my legs being willing, feeling good for the run, even and my heart still very low, I’m not sure why. As I ran into the checkpoint the DJ stopped to ring the bell to let everyone know a runner was arriving. There were claps and murmurs of well done, but none of them were Sim. I looked around, wondering if he hadn’t seen me. Not being able to find him I rang him. The conversation went like this:

Him: “Hello?”

Me: “Where are you?”

Him: “In the car on the way to the checkpoint…… Where are you?”

Me (laughing): “Um…I’m at the checkpoint”

Him: “What the hell? How? It took you over three and a half hours to do the last 10km and you just did another 10 in just over two??”

Me: “I’m feeling better”

Luckily I had everything I needed to get my nutrition sorted. We agreed I would sort myself with what I had and if he arrived before I left, so be it. As I got my Tailwind bottles and water sorted, whilst stuffing my face with potato chips and chatting to the volunteers (one of whom recognised me from Instagram – hilarious!!), I realised I would have to wait for Sim.

My headlamp had been stuck on the low setting for at least an hour and I was worried about getting through Kedumba in the dark as it was. I messaged him to let him know and went into the runners tent to relax and eat more chips. I chatted to a woman supporting her hubby who told me I would be done by sun up, which made me smile. One of my goals had been to finish before the sun came up again. It was lovely and warm in the tent, a little too comfortable, so I decided to wait outside in the support crew area. I stood beside the bleachers doing little bits of yoga to keep the blood flowing and checking my Facebook to get a boost from posts from friends. Another woman waiting for her runner noticed me and asked why I was waiting, I explained and she offered to help me out anyway she could, of course a headlamp is a hard one to help with. Sim soon arrived and he was so flustered and apologetic. Poor thing, he’d had a rough day already sending me out when I was obviously ill. I told him it was fine, I wasn’t worried, I was just so happy I was feeling ok, plus it was a little funny. I swapped headlamps to the one Buff had lent me as a back up, I debated carrying my dimmed one as well, but figured I should be fine. Sim checked I still had everything I needed, gave me a hug and shook his head in disbelief as I marched determinedly out toward Kedumba.

As I got onto the flat I ran, and goddess it felt good. For the first time in almost 10 hours I was able to get my heartrate up to my normal training levels. I ran down into the valley, not caring how much my legs ached, how cold it was or how far I had to go. I was so happy to run. I passed so many people who seemed broken, shuffling along, many on poles, reminding me how I had felt in those last hours of Kokoda Challenge (Kokoda Challenge is a 96km team event through the Gold Coast Hinterland) some two years ago. But not today. I was still fighting nausea but I was on the home stretch now, I refused to let it win, I only slowed to walk and breathe now, instead of stopping altogether. I did stop to pee however, another good sign! I knew this section would take time, I started singing to myself, chatting to people I passed, my legs were shakey if I stopped for any reason. Then my borrowed headlamp started flashing. I figured it was a warning so I turned it to the dimmer setting and dismissed it as a minor glitch. Onward I went. My mood was better, I was drinking well, although I was well and truly over the taste of Tailwind, I played a game with myself trying to remember what each section had looked like in the daylight last year, who had I spoken to at this point? As we started up one of the longer climbs I had been hiking along side a young woman using poles, she was hurting but started charging up the hill while I dropped back in pace, knowing this was a long long hill. She looked back startled and asked “how long does this hill go for?” To which I replied “For fucking ever! But that’s not very helpful is it? I don’t honestly know, its just long”. She smiled and dropped her pace as well. So we went up and down and up again, through the dark and cold and sometimes warm night. I took to carrying my gloves in my hand so I could put them on when it got cold but take them off when it got warm. It was easier than stopping to change tops and seemed to keep my temperature regulated. I was hanging out to see the last water point. I knew it was less than 10km to home from there and I could walk that in if I had to.

I heard the generators first, then saw the flood lights. I remembered the trail from here so well, at least I thought I did. Everything is different in the dark. I grabbed more chips and kept going. I was steadily overtaking people know, I moved strongly picking the next light and willing myself to get to it. Still on the dirt road, about 500m before we would move onto trail I passed a guy sitting on a large rock on the side of the road. His headlamp was off and he was gazing out into the bush. I enquired if he was ok and he replied he was fine “Just enjoying the serenity, soaking it in, we’re almost done you know”. He was right we were almost done. Its kind of bittersweet that point, I tried not to dwell on it for fear of crying. I had said all along that I knew if I got to Checkpoint 5 I would finish. But here, now, it was a reality and part of me didn’t want it to end. Yes, it had been a long day, yes, I was tired and couldn’t wait to have a shower and not smell like pee and vomit and sweat and dust and Tailwind, but once I finished it would be over, I would go back to being ordinary little me not an extraordinary person of endurance. These thoughts flitted through my head but I tried to ignore them and keep going with the task at hand.  Up through the sewage works timing point, past the tents of sleeping volunteers and photographers, through ankle deep mud after managing to keep my shoes dry up until this point. Past more people, onto the single track, I kept waiting to see the 5km to go marker, knowing there were markers every kilometre after that. My legs were aching a lot now. Fallen logs and steps going down seemed cruel at this point, although I laughed as I winced negotiating them. Flashes went off at intervals as cameras with movement sensors took photos, it will be interesting to see how those turn out! I expect a few grimaces and shocked looks in mine! It seemed to be taking forever. I was at 4km out and hesitant to try and run for fear of tripping, I had been on my feet for a long time and my headlamp was dim now, so I moved as quickly as I felt safe to. Then the headlamp went dead. My first thought was “Really? Seriously? Are you kidding?” I laughed, ah well, what’s one more thing? I got out my phone for a light and searched for my backup torch. I found it and unceremoniously shoved everything back in my pack, worried that if I lost something I would undoubtedly get a finish line gear check foisted on me. I got to where the stairs up started, not the actual Furber stairs, but the first few little runs of steps. I was happy to find going up was ok, easier than down by a long shot. I overtook a few people struggling on these, shaking their heads as I rhythmed my way up. I passed the bottom timing point, holding my torch in one hand, other hand on the rail and started going up. I knew it would take time, it’s a long way, so I counted the number of stairs, losing count most times before I got to 100, but not caring, it was just to pass the time. About halfway up I messaged Sim to tell him I was almost done.

I was trying to not think about anything but the numbers, not what I had been through, not how far I had come, not that the finish line was so close, just the stairs, how many was I up to?

I hit the wooden ramp and I knew I was practically there. I ran past another timing point, perturbed it didn’t beep, fleetingly worried that someone might think I cheated if it didn’t register. Then I heard my name, not just once but a few times, from people, not just Sim. I was taken aback. No way. I got to the top of those three stairs to hear the cheering and calls get louder and I was overwhelmed. The tears started to come, I shook my head as I ran down the shute, past where I had stood some 23hrs ago waiting to start. I leapt over the finish mat.

 photo D347FD7B-1AE0-4DAA-B5D8-19C7DC43ADF6.jpg

Fuck yes! I did it! It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was hard and awful and ugly in parts and yet that made it even more worth celebrating. I was given my medal and my finishers towel and then Sim just held me. I was home. I closed my eyes and was happy I had finished. I opened them to be surrounded by my amazing trail friends. They had been watching my progress through the night and had come to cheer me on to finish. As I hugged each one I was in a kind of disbelief. That they were here, to see me… And then my coach, Matt, stepped forward and hugged me and I was floored. Overwhelmed.

I want to gush here about my amazing husband, about the friends who were there with me at the finish and also in spirit, about my incredible coach, who had finished the 100k some 12hrs earlier, but I think you have all read and heard it all before. So let me just say because of them the the experience was not only richer, but possible.

So, now how do I feel about the race? I am proud. Proud that I pushed through some tough times to get to the good. I was under my C goal and finished before the sun came up again. I learnt a lot, about what I can do, what I can push through and about what I would do differently next time. I am a little disappointed, I think I could have gone sub 20hrs and got a shiny belt buckle, if only… but maybe the lessons mean more, in the long run. If it had been a perfect day, a perfect run, maybe it wouldn’t mean as much?