I tackled this event on 13 Sept, 2014. It was my first ultramarathon (over 42km) and first trail run. Hopefully reasonable goal = 18 hrs (would mean I finish on the same day I started!) Mainly though, I JUST WANT TO FINISH IN THE 24 HR TIME LIMIT!!
How did it go? I finished in 18:42:52 . I was 171 out of 196 starters (solo only, with 14 DNF’s)
A bit slower than hoped, but I am stoked with my finish, and how good I felt at the end considering. For a full story, keep reading!
This event had been a long time coming for me, signing up way back in April (before my Ironman event in May). I basically rolled off my IM training and, after a week or so easy after the race, began simply running for my training. Living in “topographically subdued” Mildura, it was a bit tricky to get enough hills to be confident I could do much running on the hills in this event, so I went in with the plan of walk/run the flats and walk the hills (up AND down). I figured I had the aerobic capacity to get through the 100km – it was just a matter of strength to get through the hills on the course and how long it would take me.
I also carried in a few niggles, namely my right foot (posterior tibial tendonitis) and weird chronic but non-specific pains in my right knee. It’s been bothering me for a couple of years and I’ve had several ultrasounds, xrays, cortisone shots and even an MRI in 2012 – but all that’s ever come up is a bit of tendonitis and bursitis. So it would be a test!
We drove down from Mildura on the Thursday and on Friday explored all the checkpoints where the course crossed roads/carparks where my other half could catch up with me. There were 7 of these water points every 10-20km, and every second one (3 in total) was a major checkpoint where you could have a gear bag to pick up/drop off gear, change things such as shoes and interact with your support crew. Friday night was registration and the race briefing, before a low key 6am start on the Anglesea beach.
We began with a 4km out and back away from Torquay – this worked well as it gave us a chance to see what would be the last 2km home at the end of the event. Due to the large numbers of runners this year and the state of the tide, there were a few holdups as we all got bottlenecked trying to clamber over early rockpiles and cliffs – reminiscent of the Carlton Draught Big Ad where they get stuck on the fence (30 sec into it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY6uJlI-t14). Back through the start arch on the beach, and then the 17km or so along the coast to Torquay.
There were rocky headlands to climb over and rock platforms to negotiate. Being covered in sand, weed and water meant I played it safe and imitated Thunderbird with vertigo…… teetering along trying not to slip or step in a rock hole hidden by weed.
Point Addis was an intemediate waterpoint, where we ducked onto the road for a couple of hundred meters and had a better view of the coast from up high (although the steps to get up here weren’t a positive thing!
Coming into Torquay there were tonnes of dogs on the beach and owners tossing balls everywhere – it became an effort in dog avoidance so your legs didn’t get taken out! One dropped a ball at my feet, so I had a play to keep it happy. This checkpoint was a major one, and I changed my shoes and socks as they were sopping wet due to negotiating waves and rock pools up to knee depth. Collected a fresh gel flask and some other nutrition (my staples of lolly bananas and tic toc biscuits) and I was off, only around 5 mins behind my optimistic schedule.
We began on the crusher-dust Surf Coast Walk, with a few ups and downs. I played leapfrog with a bunch of ladies out cruising on their bikes, only to come across one of them having a mechanical issue with their bike. I stopped and helped them fix it and get underway – my good deed for the day! There were also the spray painted dog poops along the edge of the path which were quite amusing – I figured the local council was doing some sort of survey/count of those not picked up by their owners……
We diverted off this track and away from the coast into Ironbark Basin. There was a stinking downhill and a shocking uphill, by which time my iffy right knee had started to really hurt. I’m not sure exactly what was going on with it, but it felt like a real nerve type pain, as if something was catching in the joint. It didn’t feel like a muscle/tendon/ligament issue, but was steadily getting worse (although I was still running on the flats). The next waterpoint was Ironbark Basin picnic area, where I filled my water bottles, hunted for some “good drugs” and took off for what was meant to be the best section of singletrack on the course.
Fairly soon I couldn’t run at all and struggled to walk up and down hills – but it was a great part of the course. Winding through head-height blackboys, coastal heath, sneaky views, the obstacle course of the local scout camp, the descent of a near vertical track back down into Anglesea and a plunge off the boatramp into waist deep waves back onto the beach for the last few hundred meters into the 50km checkpoint. At this point, I spent a little more time – sitting, downing some more panadeine, changing shoes again, restocking my food and collecting my walking poles for the next hilly leg.
By this point my right knee had totally seized up and I looked like I should have been interviewing for Monty Pythons Ministry of Silly Walks! After about 500m we had to pretend to be the troll under the bridge and belly crawl under the Great Ocean Road – can anyone say LEG CRAMP!!!!!! . That was fun. Not.
We ticked around the back of Anglesea on some nice sandy singletrack, followed by 8km or so of hellish steep and rutted 4wd tracks under the powerlines. I gave directions to a couple of lost 4wd-ers who were about to get themselves into all sorts of strife, and then it was back onto singletrack through coastal heath, blackboys, and then dropping down into tree fern gullies and cool waterfalls. Although my leg hurt, it was very special to still be out there under such conditions. I was thoroughly enjoying every sight and sound, and it was no challenge to keep moving to see what was around each bend and over each crest.
(terrible pics I know – but I did my best)
Next came some seriously long climbs up and down to a couple of trig points, sunset, darkness, (more silly walks trying to negotiate the steep rocky descents) and down into the 70km water point. Here I stopped to take care of a couple of blisters that were developing – on the inside/underside of each of my pinky toes. I always carry compeed blister patches and they did the trick.
At this point, I felt I was turning into Monty Pythons Black Knight!
The 7km to the next water stop (major checkpoint) was mostly gravel tracks, up hill and down dale, over a creek and below a dam, where I could hear all sorts of wildlife but see none. My headlamp was good, but those critters were shy!
On the last 2km into the checkpoint, I was having real trouble going downhill – but it never crossed my mind to quit. I could manage using my left leg to do most of the strength stuff and my walking poles to help with my balance. Bizarrely though, around 500m out from the CP my knee suddenly stopped hurting (for the most part) on the flats! Unfortunately, by this point, my left leg had been doing the bulk of the work going uphill, so it was stuffed. But I was now managing to run/walk on the flats and carefully powerwalk up and downhill. Yay! I don’t know what my watch said at this point, but I knew I was a fair bit behind schedule – although still way under target of finishing in the cutoff so it wasn’t going to beat me!
At 77km (Moggs Creek checkpoint) I had a welcome cup of hot vegetable soup, tossed in a packet of chips, collected my baggie of food (tic tocs and lolly bananas) and again set off into the darkness.
There was around 8km of very cool singletrack through the forest, where I could hear kangaroos crashing around (probably yowies, actually), owls and frogs – and again see none! Most of this I powerwalked, to protect my knee from the uneven terrain and save myself for the last stretch. A couple of deceptively long and steep hills later and we dropped back down onto the coast for the last checkpoint at 86km – but not before having to clamber under another Bridge! This one was more like rock traverse than a belly crawl and finished up with a scramble through the brambles to get back onto the road.
On the course map this looked like a fairly flat section, but alas not. At this point, molehills felt like mountains, and with a few descents from the cliff top down to the beach and back up the cliff again, it was still tough! Some of these sections would have been pretty awesome in the daylight, as it was a narrow winding track, with the odd park bench staring out into the darkness, and the thunderous sound of crashing surf below. Spooky……
There was some sweet, sweet singletrack through the coastal heath, where the lack of views was a tease and every spider in the country had it’s web across the path – and with my hair, once they were in, they were in! I was managing some good running in small doses and would run for 100 steps and walk for 15. So I was making better time!
Just before getting back to Anglesea, we dropped down for another few km along a hard packed beach – just in time to see a beautiful moon rise over the next headland. There was another set of steps up from the beach, a bit more climbing to the lookout above Anglesea and then a last descent to the main beach and a lope around the corner to finish in the park.
By this time, it was almost 1am, and the only folks around were the organisers and my support crew (my hardworking and weary husband, who had been at every checkpoint along the way).
I’d carried a can of Pure Blonde (race sponsor) since the last checkpoint to make a cool finish. In the moment, we forgot everything! Beer, photo…… nothing. Oh well – next time eh? I did have a beer once I got back to our cabin – before I’d even taken my headlamp off!
The course was fantastic. It was well marked with arrows, pink tape, reflective tape for the dark sections and hazard tape across the way NOT to take. The water points were incredible, with all manner of foods and drinks – even for bum-enders like me.
I passed 7 people on that last leg after I found my running legs again, to finish 171 out of 196 starters and 14 DNF’s.
I spent around 10mins of the 18:42 on the course actually with other runners) (aside form checkpoints) and loved every minute of it, despite everything. The location was stunning, the people fantastic, and the achievement priceless. It was such a privilege to be able to participate in something like this as the effort that goes into organising it would be stupendous. I’ll be back for sure, after checking out whats wrong with my knee, and tweaking my training a little!
I spent the next few days walking like a Thunderbird and struggling with steps and hills – but that’s to be expected! And all worth it.
Thanks for reading this epic tale!
EDIT TO ADD: the results on my knee were about the best that could be expected. Nothing structurally wrong – yippee!!!!! The conclusion is that it was annoying case of ITBS, possibly initiated by the first leg of the run with the right camber stressing my right side more than I was used to. Then just unlucky. I’m kicking myself the symptoms didn’t click enough for me to try and do something about it – as I was carrying tape and might have been able to help it. But alas… live and learn!