“When it’s your Time, is the goal to leave behind a well preserved body, or do you really want to use it?” -Billy Yang -The Why-
Groggy. I was groggy when I woke up. But the day awaited me and I wasn’t about to snooze the alarm. My anticipation and nerves got me out of bed, I’m a little surprised that they let me sleep at all. I knew I needed food, but that was the last thing I felt like as my stomach roiled. I had some caffiene to look alive. And snacked on a random assortment of foods. Really I knew I should be eating something hearty like porridge but my time and options were very limited. So, I winged it, not probably the wisest decision, but the only one I had.
Luckily I could leave my camp set up, and simply get changed and leave my stuff there. I dressed warmly, as it was cold at 4am. I drove the short way into town, listening to some tracks to pump me up as I went. Leaving my car I had to make final decisions about what gear to take with me on the bus, as I would not see my car for many hours. In the end I probably took too much clothes, only because it was so cold and I would have froze at the startline without my longsleeve. And of course raincoats were mandatory gear, although there was absolutely zero need for them that day.
Loaded onto the bus, I breathed a sigh of relief, at least I had made it this far. Everyone was in different moods, but I laughed at an overly exuberant girl who was chatting to the lady in the seat next to her. She was very much like me. I wanted to pipe in on their conversation the entire time but thought the better of it. Funnily enough, I ended up talking to the young girl when we got off the bus. I never saw her again though after the start line. She had never run a trail race before, or run further than 20kms. I thought she was brave and maybe a little crazy. But I saw her later on the race photographs, and she made it to the end. She looked like she had been through the wars, but she had made it.
There was a wild line for the three portapotties they had deigned to place at the startline, not enough for about 160 ultra runners who needed a nervous pee. I got in first luckily. But I groaned looking at my watch, we had 45 minutes before the start of the race, and it was cold. What did they expect us to do with 45 minutes? Eventually they lit a fire, which everyone huddled around desperately. But time went slowly as I made idle chit chat with others. Finally it was time for the breifing and we huddled around the start line. Although it was still so dark I wasnt sure what direction we were even heading in.
I dont even remember what signal they used to set us off, but everyone started moving and I figured that was my cue. It was a relief to finally be moving, to be starting, to be going somewhere. And the start was easy as we ran down a wide gravel road, the group stretching out as we went. I spoke to myself out loud to slow down, as the starting pace as everyone bunches together can be a bit wild, and I knew I was going far too fast. I found a nice break between big groups where I had space to run and just chilled there. Another lady joined me and we started chatting, I was feeling confident. And then we hit the single track. The gravel road sloped down towards a spectacular sunrise as runners started to wind up a rocky track that led into the hills. That was the end of most of my conversation as all of our concentration went into the trail before us. And so we climbed.
I was hot very quickly. Layers stripped even as the air was still cold. The sunrise over the water was blindingly beautiful. The power of the sun indicating we were in for a pretty warm day with blue skies ahead. There was someone in front of me, and someone behind me, but it didnt take long for the group to spread out severely. I was definitely at the back of the pack already I knew. And before long I was essentially alone out there, which was how I would spend most of the day. A fact that surprised me in the moment.
I gave in on listening to nothing but nature after about an hour and got my earbuds out to listen to my book. Despite being in my own little bubble, I was not in paradise, I was tripping on the narrow single track as I went, and i couldnt stop tripping. I faceplanted once. Then continued to try and avoid tripping, to which I was deeply unsuccessful. My frustration grew and I was swearing as I continued to make my way. Ive run a lot of single track, but no one so narrow and overgrown that only one foot could fit directly in front of the other. I ended up walking some of it, just to save myself from breaking my ankle too early in the race, that would not be a worthwhile way to end the day.
It just went on and on though. And so did I. Plugging away at the first 10kms. Finally the track widened out and I was so excited to actually stretch my legs and find a bit of stride. Some others were with me and we all enjoyed the openess. We both encouraged the other. “Girl you are smashing it” they said and it made me smile. Made me remember to smile. This was my day. And I wasnt going to let some trippy roots stop me from having a good time. Shortly after the trail opened up I found myself running across a beach, then the beach led back up a rocky trail, then back onto a beach, and so it continued.
About 20kms in, I came through a small township, and found my first aid station run by the firehouse in the town. I filled up my water eagerly and grabbed some lollies to much on as I continued on my way. From there I ran on some road, I enjoyed road running for the first time in my life because of how easy it was to put my feet down and find an even surface. Although I was in deep doubt the entire time that I was on the correct route, luckily enough I kept seeing the telltale pink markers every now and then that signalled I definitely was. The oddest feeling was just passing all the normal people going about their daily walks while I was just casually struggling past them.
Getting to the halfway mark felt like a grind. I was eager to reach the point but the trail had other plans. Namely a few rocky beaches that really tested my sense of self preservation. It was very dicey going in terms of foot placement, and often I picked a rock only for it to move on me unexpectedly. When I did eventually stumble into the aid station, running to look like I was trying. I was very excited. I didnt stay long though, I was afraid if I stopped moving that I would never start again. While I was there I overheard a guy dropping out. It hadn’t even crossed my mind, so onwards I went, after grabbing some potatoes of course.
I ran across the beach, doing my best impression of an ultra runner as I passed many beachgoers who cheered me on. But I could see that the only way out of the beach was going to be up, and I was not looking forward to it. I began climbing again, and at some point I came back down, the second half of the race was set mainly on private property that was totally innaccessible to the public. I was excited for this section of the course, little did I realize how brutal it would be to run on literal paddocks.
I could go on and on about this second half. I was starting to feel the struggle by the 25k mark thats for sure. I was expecting it too as I had never run further than that before. But the next 25kms were some of the toughest mentally that I have experienced in my time of running. It went on and on. I scrambled down sideways on single tracks that my feet wanted to murder me for. I hammered my knees on the downhills, too tired and letting gravity take me. I had my head down as I climbed up millions of grassy tracks, convinced that I was going to run into a snake as the sun beat down heavily. In hindsight I had a little bit of heatstroke. I ran down gravel roads and past cows, through sown paddocks and random side of paddock areas. At one point I reached an oasis of chocolate and ice and gatorade and I stuffed my bladder with the ice, loving the freezing cold water it produced.
I saw very little others during this time, and I didnt have enough energy to really do anything other than nod in acknowledgement. Getting out my phone was an effort. And I decided not to really update anyone until I was closer to the finish. Climbing yet another dusty switchback that had me slipping and sliding through the trees, I promised myself that I just had to get to 40kms and then it would be all downhill from there, I mean not literally, but surely the last 10kms would be a breeze, I knew I could run 10kms, was my rationalization.
My weary butt stumbled into another aid station with a little over 10kms to go. I was fighting negative thoughts left right and centre. An old dude I had been chasing since the start dropped right out. He was done. I had no idea why but I walked out of the aid station and kept going. I celebrated at 40kms, but it was far too premature. I passed a couple and they said it would be cruisey rolling into town. I believed them, but in my opinion it was not çruisy at all.
The paddock tracks destroyed me, I know what paddock ground is like, and these were anything but even. Every single step threatened to roll my foot in a new direction. Pain lanced through my feet and through my entire body. I jolted along awkwardly. Running and singing for a bit to keep my morale up. To get across the fences we had to climb these little step ladders. I couldnt lift my legs high enough to get over them. And jumping down on the other side I winced hard every time.
Town was finally visible as I left the paddocks and I was excited. So close. So close to the end. A runner passed me and I was so in the zone that they scared me. They were flying. “Good job, good job”. I almost stopped in shock as I realized the first of the 100km runners was overtaking me. They had started at the same time but 50kms behind us. And he was running like he was fresh out of the gate. A wave of imposter syndrome hit me like a ton of bricks. Who was I to be out here thinking I could actually run? I was just a glorified walker. I would never be that fast, that effortless. But this race was not going to beat me. I was going to finish this, even if I had to crawl across the finish line.
I hit the river as I came into town. And I will be honest, any other time I would have loved it. But I loathed that river as I followed it further and further inland, leaving the coast behind. Every step I took I could see that I would have to come all the way back down the other side of the river. And I just kept thinking that surely I was about to cross it. But no, on I went. I started walking, but that hurt just as much as running, so then I went back to running but it looked more like hobbling at this stage. Each footfall was a stab through my body no matter what pace I was moving at. I stared longingly at dead leaves and forest on either side of the trail, thinking all of it looked like a good place for a nap.
I crossed the river at last, knowing pretty much that it was a long way back down the river before I got to the end. I started crying softly as I went. Exhausted and spent. I looked at each new tree and tried to get to it. Then would set my sights on another tree. Finish line thoughts and mental stubborness kept me going. I would never tolerate “almost finishing” a 50k. That was just not what I wanted. Not after this. I fantasized about jumping in the river too, it was still so hot, and I was sweaty everywhere. But my fate was to keep moving. Finally I recognized my surroundings, and my pace increased a tiny bit as I saw my car in the distance, and knew I was almost there.
I pounded the concrete through town, knowing what lay at the end, finishers already walked away, heading home. I ran through the gates at the club, and the soft grass of the oval greeted me as I finally saw what I had been longing for the last year. The finish line.
New energy flooded me and I ran. I gave everything I had left on that victory lap around the oval. The announcer was commentating as I came around. They actually got my last name right, for once. The sheer effort of it brought tears to my eyes as I neared those arches. Ten more metres, then five, then two, then nothing. Finally I stopped and stood still, fully sobbing as I put my hands on my knees and braced. A microphone was shoved in my face and a photo snapped, I remembered to smile. How was that? I was asked. “Hard” was my response.
They asked me a bunch of questions and I felt like I was some famous ultrarunner. Not just a random mid pack runner who had struggled through her first 50kms. I stopped to take it all in. I did it. I made it to the end. It was somewhat unbelievable even with all the evidence in front of me. I limped to the car with my medal around my neck to get some change for a coke. I sat on the grass of the oval and drank my coke. Absorbing the finish line atmosphere and cheering other finishers on. Sitting down for the first time in about 10 hours. The ground had never felt more comfortable.
I was cool fast. And with no one to really talk to and fatigue setting in, I headed off. I called my mum, and then a friend, to tell them of my adventures. Back at the caravan park, I attempted to shower but basically sat down in the shower for 20 mins before finally taking my shoes off and marvelling at my filthy feet.
I got a hearty pub meal for dinner and got an early night as my body was screaming for rest. What a day.
Hindsight: Overall I am incredibly proud of how well I handled this race. I stayed positive even in my darkest moments. And I handled my pain cave with mental fortitude and resilience. Part of the reason that I decided to do this was just to see how I would react to being in a tough situation mentally and physically. Given some of my life has been painful and hard to endure, I drew strength from that. Looking back I do think this was one of the hardest things I have done in my life so far. It could have been made easier if my training and leadup had been better, partially a timing issue and partially a me issue, given that training for an ultra while always on low battery is going to be hard regardless. But I came out of it with no injuries, just a little bit of soreness and importantly, I want to do it again.
Listening to my voice recording of the day from that very day over a month ago now, I finished with a “Fuck yes, go me!” Which I think just about sums it up.