Monday, December 28, 2015

Stepping up

After recovering surprisingly well in the week following Perth Marathon in June this year, after talking with a local ultra runner and event organiser, and with the support and "just give it a go" attitude of my mountain biker husband, I decided to capitalise on the fitness and endurance I'd gained through marathon training and work towards the Waterous Trail on Foot 50 Miler (WTF as it's affectionately known - you can make the connection). There is also a 100 Mile option which runs Through the Night, which is the event's slogan. This event was once run on the Waterous Loop Trail south east of Perth, but has since moved to the Munda Biddi mountain bike trail which my hubby knows like the back of his hand, so I could utilise his navigation and company on reccy runs.

Having never run more than a standard marathon before, and only doing that distance twice, on a flat road course, the prospect of running 82km on a hilly (by Perth standards) trail was more than mildly terrifying. I Googled a few training programs and pulled something together that I thought I could make work with kids, work, and life, and started training. Most programs I found were 16-20 weeks long and suggested a 4-6 week post-marathon recovery before starting, but I only had 13 weeks until the event on September 26th, so 13 weeks it was (and I just ignored the part about marathon recovery)! I was hoping I wasn't going to be hopelessly underdone. The prospect of rocking in the foetal position under a tree somewhere beyond 42.2km, with only snakes and kangaroos for company did cross my mind more than once.

A favourite mid-week training run I do is an 8km tempo. I like running 8km. I like getting to 5km and only having 3km to go. So in my head I upscaled this concept by a factor of 10. Let's forget the extra 2km (because quite franky when you're up to 80km are you even still counting?) - once I get to 50km I'll only have 30km to go. It's just like an 8km, right? Concept sold, to yours truly, by yours truly. Yet another running mind game. I was going to need a few more than just that though to get me through potentially 10 hours on the trail.

My program built up to a couple of 100km weeks, with most weekends having a long (read: stupidly long) run on Saturday followed by a shorter run on Sunday. Fitting all of these runs in meant getting up at stupid o'clock most Saturdays to fit in up to 5 hours of running without eating too much into family time. This all happened towards the end of winter/early spring while it's still quite dark at stupid o'clock in Perth. I bought a cheapy ebay headlamp which turned out to be great, and roped in at least one other person to join me for part of my long run each week. I took my running gear on our winter camping trip up north and hubby would kick me out of the car in the middle of no where and pick me up in town.
Training near Shark Bay, WA - while on holiday
Donned in long sleeves, long pants and gloves, ready for wind and rain (and boy did it rain on a couple of those runs), the longest individual runs I did were a 48km trail run and a 50km on the footpath. Getting those runs under my belt gave me just enough confidence to think I might actually complete the entire 50 miles (even if some crawling was required).

Fast forward to race day. Stupid o'clock turned out to be 3:30am to get ready and drive to the start line for a 6am start. Day was just breaking and it was cold. I started with long sleeves on top of a singlet, long tights and gloves.
Everything packed up the night before and ready to go

The plan was to strip down layers as necessary over the day. I had drop bags at each of the 4 aid stations so I could offload some attire along the way and grab some nutrition. This is probably a good point to mention the volunteers on the course. I didn't have a crew and so was relying on myself (in a physically deteriorating state as the day was to progress) and the assistance of some volunteers to help me out with water & food along the way. They definitely came through with the goods. The vollies on the course were amazing, without them I would have been reduced to a rocking, hysterical ball on numerous occasions (more of that to come). If any of the vollies are reading this, you guys are da bomb!

Back to the race (where race = constant forward motion with no accompanying speed in this instance). The gloves were dumped at Aid 1, where I didn't stop more than to throw them into my clear zip lock bag (which I didn't retrieve until more than a week after the race - they could have walked themselves home!), and continue. I didn't want to break rhythm so early in the game by stopping. I'd been running with three other runners who were also first timers at the distance. We knew that we were probably being a bit ambitious with pace as most kms were around 5:30 min/km, but were walking the hills (with purpose! - a mantra I had practiced in training) to save the legs and figured slowing down was inevitable later in the day so we just stayed comfortable and didn't look at the watch too much. We all had a goal of "under 10 hours" and found the company helped pass the kms. Aid 2 came and went - I filled my hydration back and offloaded some rubbish but wasn't there for any longer than necessary. By that stage our group of four had split in two and I knew at that point that I was lead female. In the lead up to the event a few different people had suggested I was a good chance to place, and I'd largely ignored those comments as my only goal was to complete my first 50 miler and I didn't want any added pressure. It was at Aid 2 however that the pressure began to creep in. It became a game of holding my place - something I've not been terribly good at over shorter distances in the past. I knew there were at least two other women (who both have more endurance experience than I) not far behind and I was just waiting for one or both to come steaming past at any moment and leave me in their dust.

Somewhere between Aid 2 & 3, my trail buddy broke away from me and as I came to a turn in the trail I saw him up in the distance, going the wrong way. I had completely forgotten his name at this point (I've never been good with names), and so yelled a non-specific "cooooeeeeee" until he turned around. I waited for him to catch up and off we went again together for a while. It wasn't long before he broke away again though, and I was flying solo. Only there wasn't much flying happening. I hadn't run this part of the course before and it felt mountainous. It was at some point leading into Aid 3 where the wheels started to fall off for me. I'm not sure if it was as I passed the 50km mark and entered previously uncharted territory, or if it was the middle of the day and things were warming up (and I was still wearing my long sleeves), but as I stumbled into Aid 3 at 55km, one of the vollies asked if I was ok and if I was going to faint. I didn't realise I was looking quite that bad but stammered out "water.....head" and they obliged. I had only eaten Clif Shot Bloks and a banana up to this point and more than five hours had passed so it was probably time for some real food. I scoffed a stack of about 8 Pringles from my drop bag and a salami stick that someone handed me. OH MY GOD! That salami stick was hands down the tastiest thing I have ever eaten, ever! And I don't even like salami. It somehow breathed life and healing into my muscles, lungs and soul like nothing ever had before. Salami-induced euphoria - it's a thing! The vollies filled my pack with water and fed me electrolytes out of my drop bag, and again I was on my way.

Even with magic, euphoric salami running through my veins, nothing could detract from the fact that my body had absolutely no idea why my head was insisting on continuing with the torture. The next aid station was only 11km from the last, the shortest distance between any two aid stations, but those 11km felt like the previous 55km and more. One of the girls passed me somewhere in here and while I wasn't sure whether to curse her, hug her or cry, I felt the pressure of being in first place lift. I thought I'd be more upset about losing it, but even though I was mad at myself for hitting a wall so early, I was relieved. There were hills like I didn't remember, even though I knew this section of the course well, and at 60km I was reduced to tears for the first time (not the last mind you, the valve had been opened).  I had pre-warned a friend that if the proverbial sh*t hit the fan, she may get a phone call. And phone call she got. She had also been warned that the only answer was "keep going, don't stop" which she fed me smoothly. We worked out that I only had a half marathon to go, and as I reached the top of a hill I had walked the entirety of while on the phone, I promptly told her I had to hang up and run down the other side so as not to waste a downhill. She continued to send me motivational images via text for the rest of the afternoon.  

I somehow made it to the final aid station, known as Treasure Island. The vollies at this aid station (whose surname is Treasure), put on the best spread you could imagine, in the middle of nowhere. There were Tim Tams, Nutella sandwiches, boiled eggs, potato chips, coffee, coke..... the list goes on. They even had pizza delivered there later in the evening for the 100 milers as they passed through. I was so relieved to have completed that last section that I ripped my back off, passed it off to someone to fill with water and sobbed uncontrollably on the trestle table. This took both myself and the volunteers by surprise and yet again I was asked if I was going to faint, or vomit this time, and did I want to sit down. I was to do neither, and certainly didn't want to sit down for fear of never getting up. I just needed a couple of minutes to recompose. Mrs Treasure gave me a big hug (for which I will be forever grateful), I skulled from an open can of coke I found on the table, the owner of which I neither knew nor regarded, grabbed another salami stick and went on my way. Sixteen kms to go. I had this. I was actually going to finish.

A few hundred metres out of Aid 4, up another disgusting hill which I was walking, I saw the female who was in third place. She had taken a wrong turn somewhere and added a few kms. Given how close she was now, I knew it wouldn't be long until she too overtook me. She was looking much fresher than I was feeling, despite a detour. I continued on, passing one runner who had missed the aid station (and hence a 6km out & back section) and was coming back to finish it and avoid a DQ. I was reduced to regular walking breaks by this point, but was beyond caring - I was going to finish by whichever means possible, and even if I did little more than walk the entire last 10km I would still come in under 10 hours. I'd just finished these calculations when I came across another runner who'd missed the aid station. We were a good 6km past Treasure Island so he decided against a 12km deviation to rectify the mistake, and to continue on with me and tack on some kms at the end to make up the distance. Missing the aid station however had meant missing out on the opportunity to refill his water. I was carrying a small bottle of electrolytes as well as a freshly refilled pack of water so I gave him my electrolytes and decanted some of my water into an empty bottle he was carrying. Missing the aid station had also meant his crew were still there waiting for him, not knowing why he hadn't yet arrived. I had better reception on my phone than he did, so we used that to let his crew know what was happening. While all this was happening, we were continuing to walk the uphills and run as much of the downhill and flats as we could. Both feet, but my left in particular, were really starting to hurt by this point and I was convinced that multiple bones were broken and that I would turn up to work after the weekend in a moon boot (possibly two - hysterical melodrama had now been added to the list of emotions experienced throughout the day). Every time I started to run, it would hurt so much that all I could manage was a few hundred metres at a time followed by walking. Cue tears #3. The thought of walking the last 7km was more than I could bear.

We passed Marrinup camp site and my trail buddy #2 decided to hit up some campers for some water. I decided not to wait for him and just get this thing finished so continued on in a pattern of run 300m (or until I could run no more), walk 100m. Soon there were 3km to go. I ran a little more in excitement but soon needed another walk break. Then the fork in the track appeared. You go right to the town, or left to the caravan park and finish line. I rounded a left and saw a small group of people and a finishing tape between two trees. It was the sweetest finish I've ever experienced. No giant crowd, no spectators lining a finishing chute, no timing clock, just a few friendly faces, most which belonged to finishers before me and spoke of the pain and excitement I was feeling. I had just run (well run a decent chunk and walked more than I had anticipated of) 50 miles in 9hrs 17minutes and 50 seconds and come in as 2nd female and 8th overall. It then occurred to me that I never had been overtaken by the women in 3rd place. It turned out she had taken another wrong turn and added even more kms to her day, but still crossed the finish line with a giant smile and seemed to be in less pain that myself. I was hurting like I have never hurt before, and while I couldn't negotiate anything other than flat ground and my feet resembled something from a horror movie, I was buzzing on endorphins. Hubby and the kids had gone to Marrinup to see me pass through, but I'd beaten them there. I called to find out where they were and politely warned him not to show up without a giant iced coffee. He came through with the goods and my girls fed me lollies they had brought.

I had to use my hands to manually pull my legs into my car for the few days that followed, and couldn't negotiate the single step down to my driveway without sliding my back along the house and walking my hands down the wall, but I think I may have just caught this ultra running bug, and the trail running bug to boot!


  1. Inspiring read Pam .Super amazing effort you're just sooo TUFF good on yah

  2. Inspiring read Pam .Super amazing effort you're just sooo TUFF good on yah