2017 Australia Day Ultra Marathon
Saturday, 21 January 2017
It’s been about ten months since this event and I’m just writing the run report now. Why? Because I have just signed up for the 2018 edition and realise that I never wrote about the first time I ever ran 100km.
Time has dulled some of the memory of this event, but I need to get a few things recorded so I can do the same things I did well in 2017 in the next event, and avoid the things I did poorly.
This wasn’t my first time at Australind for this event. I signed up for the 2016 edition and was going to run my first 100km. That year, we had just arrived back from a South-East Asia holiday a few days before, so I was jet-lagged, under-prepared and under-trained for the attempt. I was having trouble adjusting my diet from the asian food of the holiday to two days of carb-loading pasta and bread. I felt pretty ordinary going into the event and it only got worse from there — I retired after “only” 50km.
2017 was going to be different.
The Australind course is pretty simple: for 100km, run 8 laps of a 12.5km out-and-back course along the Leschenault Inlet i.e. 6.25km each way. The course is part shared use path, part (closed) road, and very, very flat. Most of the course is open, but part of the road section has some overhead trees to provide a small amount of relief from the sun (which can be brutal at this time of year!)
In 2016, Tracy and I drove from home to the midnight start, and after the event, drove home again; Tracy very nearly falling asleep behind the wheel. This year, we decided we’d drive down to the start from home, but stay in Bunbury after the event to avoid dying in a fiery accident on the 2 hour drive home!
On the way down, I ate some porridge and some sweets to keep the fuel supply topped up. Of course, this meant I was “full of beans” and could not get any last minute sleep in, no matter how tired I was feeling at the time. We arrived at the start area where Shaun, Ron and few helpers were busy setting the final touches to the race organisation. Some runners had established camps and there was snoring coming from tents as they got their final few hours of sleep before the event. I tried to lay in our little shelter-tent whilst Tracy had a snooze in the back of the car — I don’t think either of us actually got any rest.
I had a nutrition/hydration plan to take in concentrate Tailwind at the start of each lap, at the “halfway” aid station, the end-turn, and then second passing of the “halfway” station. I’d top up or grab anything else each time I saw Tracy at our little support shelter near the start. This plan however, was thrown into disarray when Shaun said the halfway station wasn’t looking after personal gear. Bugger! I quickly rethought the plan and shuffled all the bottles into the two eskies, one for the start and one for the end-turn. I’d have to down one bottle at each station, then carry one bottle to the other end of the course — not ideal, but doable.
It wasn’t long before more people started arriving for the start and this noise woke the camping runners from their slumber. Eventually, everyone was up and about, making their final preparations, scoffing down a little more water and stuffing in those final few calories before the inevitable start.
I had dreams of completing the 100km in sub-10hours, based on the fact that I had a pretty good training regime coming into the event prior to this one, Six Inch Trail Marathon but that dream took a tumble when I did 17km into the 47km event! My recently dislocated knee was untested and felt very weak; my broken finger was still splinted. I had to be realistic about my chances; just finishing the 100km would be a pretty remarkable effort, especially since three weeks earlier I was couch-bound with my leg in a brace. A very stubborn part of me still believed sub-10hours was possible, the realistic remainder was hoping that just finishing in sub-12hours was possible.
The first half
As it’s been a while between the event and this report… some recollections may not be entirely accurate!
It was cool and dark as we headed off just after midnight. Everyone settled early. I ran for a bit with Emma and Harmony, others came and went. Chatting was kept to a minimum, not because this is a long event, but due to the proximity of residential properties along the course. Not far from the turnaround, a group of locals(?) had set up some sort of camp-cum-redneck-rave in the bush with loud speakers blaring out country music; a complete contrast to the runners who were trying to keep the noise levels down. We tried to spot the camp through the bush but couldn’t from our vantage.
My knee felt a little stiff at the start, but soon loosened up. I was wearing a protective splint on my broken finger and was cautious not allow it to get snagged on my clothing, especially the hi-vis we were required to wear during the dark hours. The pace was conversational and right on target for the ten hour finish.
At the start of the second lap, I was running by myself as others had stopped at the turn to restock supplies, or unload at one of the two toilet blocks on the course. I saw Chris “Wheelsie” Kellior up ahead in the gloom and thought I’d run alongside his wheelchair for a while; I put on a little spurt of effort to get to him. We were chatting about all sorts of unimportant things to keep distracted from the task at hand, when I started to notice just how undulating the course is; you don’t really notice it when running, but when your pushing along in a chair the gradual increase requires more effort (Wheelsie talks less) than the gentle down-slope (Wheelsie talks more as he “freewheels”) My pace alerts were sounding on the “downhill” as I increased speed to keep up with Wheelsie. My knee wasn’t enjoying the change in pace either so towards the end of the second lap, I kept my pace during one of the long inclines as Chris slowed slightly, and ran ahead. I finished the lap very slightly ahead of 10hour pace, but I’d be running on my own for pretty much the next 75km.
The third and fourth laps were pretty uneventful: the highlights being the sun rose, so we could ditch the hi-vis and headlights, and the redneck-rave quietened as they finally decided that too much was too much! If I remember correctly, the 50km racers also started event sometime in here, so suddenly there packs of fast runners flying by (which made you feel slow) but there were also a lot more slower runners to pass (to make feel like you’re fast). I continued to “plod” along at ten hour pace (remember, I should really have been aiming for twelve hour pace!) and feeling ok. Being an out-and-back course meant that you got to see those ahead and behind you twice each lap, it was good to measure your progress against the fast front-runners in the lead and the not-so-fast tail end, although at times it was difficult to differentiate the runners from different races.
I reached the 50km mark in just under five hours, more than a hour faster than I should have been versus my realistic 12hour time.
The Second Half
I knew I was going to be in “going-too-hard-too-soon” trouble, but I just didn’t expect it to hit so soon. I reached the turnaround in the fifth lap and found myself loitering, chatting with Randy who was attending the station. I was drinking and eating, but I wasn’t moving because the “I don’t want to do this anymore” voices were starting to get louder. At the end of this lap, I also had to stop for a little bit longer for Tracy to apply some vaseline to an area under my right arm which had begun to chafe. My knee was also starting to hurt; not unexpected after 62.5km of pavement pounding, but still there was a long way to go. The ends of each lap were becoming “dangerous” so I had to mentally prepare to get in and get out as quickly as possible without stopping for too long.
At the turnaround of lap six, I was prepared to grab my stuff from the esky and get running again, except that when I got there, I couldn’t! I couldn’t open the esky because my hands had “stopped working”. When I eventually got the esky open, I couldn’t remember what I was opening the esky for because my brain had “stopped working”. I plunged my hand into the icy water in the esky and grabbed the towel I had there and draped this over my head. The cold and wet suddenly woke me up and I remembered what I needed to do; it alerted me to the fact I was falling way behind on my nutrition. I grabbed some extra sweets from the station, and feeling a little more aware and awake, waved bye to Randy again and headed back to the start. It was at this point the first twinges of cramp started.
I was carrying a bottle of pickle juice; I had tried using dill gherkin brine during Six Inch and it worked, this time I had bottles of the commercial product. I sculled down the bottle and just like the advertising promises,
the cramp was gone! The sugar I had taken was still working at the end of the lap as I remembered to pick up another bottle of pickle juice to replace the one consumed.
I started to slow down during the seventh lap. I was fatiguing because I wasn’t taking in enough calories, I was dehydrating because I wasn’t taking in enough water. It was getting hot. The cramps were being kept at bay by the pickle juice, but I carried a bottle in reserve for just in case. From memory, the 25km event started during this lap, so now there were some seriously fast runners on the course smashing around their two-lap event. Thoughts started to develop about them finishing, sitting in the shade, drinking a cold beer; I had to keep focused on what lay ahead of me. I had started a run 5minute:walk 3minute routine and I was still moving well. At the start of each run component, I had to do a couple of high-knee lifts to try and encourage my sore knee to bend. My hamstrings didn’t appreciate this, but the knee was the bigger issue. I took another bottle of pickle juice to keep the hamstrings from cramping, but with only one 12.5km lap remaining, I knew I could hobble to the finish if needed.
During the last lap, things were just on the verge of falling a part. I was now on a run 3minute:walk 3minute plan (which was disregarded more than once). The run components were done just faster than 6:00/km but the walks were too slow at 10:00+/km. At the halfway station, I was handed a defrosted tube of coloured fruit-flavoured drink (when they’re frozen, they’re called “pops” but in their liquid state, they’re just messy!) I was grateful for something to drink other than Tailwind, but I really didn’t have the coordination to keep the contents from spilling everywhere! As I reached the final turn, I picked out the last bottle from my esky and used the towel to wipe off the sticky liquid from my arms and face, I looked up to see the road leading off into the distance towards the finish. On any other day, this would be a cake-walk, but that wasn’t this day. I said my final farewell to Randy (and the others) at the aid station and headed “home”. Thankfully, the halfway station were all out of defrosted-pops, so I could remain relatively clean until the finish. I was nearly at the finishing park when (someone) started running alongside me. I think I knew the person, but I was so befuddled I could’t recognise them. It wasn’t a competitor in our event, he was wearing “civilian” clothing and not running attire; he was also clean! Whoever-he-was was encouraging me along in that final kilometre and was very supportive. He told me to finish strongly, before saying, “I’m going to leave you now so that you can bask in the glory of your achievement of running 100 f*cking kilometres!” and disappeared! Before I knew it, I was “sprinting” through the support village at the finish area. I could see the finish gantry and Tracy just on the other side of the line with a big smile on her face. There were people all along the course clapping and cheering. The pain subsided as I looked up to see the screen at the finish with my time, 10:49:50
We waited at the finish for the other 100km (and a handful of 50km) runners to finish. After the presentations to the winners, we packed up the support station and headed into Bunbury. We checked into the Lighthouse Hotel and I had a nice, very long, hot shower. I think I opened a beer, but fell asleep before finishing it. After a nap, we headed out into town to find some dinner. Walking was painful, but achievable. The small hill leading up to the hotel took a little longer than usual to negotiate; I may have been overtaken by someone using a walking frame, but they weren’t wearing a ultra-marathon shirt and finisher’s medal!