Hottest things is my shorts

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2014 Bunbury Three Waters Running Festival 50km

Ultra-marathon #1

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hey, uh, hi. Can you help me? What’s your name?
“My name’s Roosevelt E. Roosevelt.”
Roosevelt, what town are you stationed in?.
“I’m stationed in Poontang.”
Well, thank you, Roosevelt. What’s the weather like out there?
“It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. A little crotch pot cooking.”

Good Morning Vietnam

I had a cunning plan for this event: I wanted to complete the event in 5 hours which meant maintaining an average pace of 6:00/km. The Six Inch Trail Marathon earlier in December was still fresh in my mind. I learned a lot from that effort, applied myself during training for this event and prepared as best as I could. I was in a good position for a good day out.

The Course

The course was two and a half laps of a pretty flat roads, with a short sandy path through the dunes and some boardwalk along the shops and cafes near Koombana Inlet. From the start, we head out for a lap of Big Swamp (the home of Bunbury parkrun) and then back passed the start/finish (approx 10km) and then do a loop along the Bunbury waterside of Koombana Inlet and back to the start finish again, which makes each lap 21.1km. After doing two complete laps, do another lap of Big Swamp and then finish to make 50km. There’s an undulation going around the lighthouse, but there no hills per se.

On the day, there are 5km, 10km, half-marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon distances.

The Start

There was a festive feeling before the start. There were a lot of people milling around, some preparing for shorter distances, some preparing for the long effort. There were a lot of parkrunners and a lot of Team Mito (looking resplendent in their green shirts). Just about everyone was sucking in water, everyone knew it was going to be a tough day in the sun; it was forecast for 31C but it would be a lot hotter on the black bitumen under the direct sun.

The time came to head towards the start line which was on the opposite side of the oval from the Bunbury Runners Club building and the festivities. As the ultra-runners and marathoners filtered from the general throng, I got a sudden sense of belonging but at the same time, isolation. I recognised the faces of some knowing they were fast runners (I might not have known their names) but there were a lot of “others”, like me, who made up the 40 or starters in the ultra-event (wearing orange bibs) or the marathon event (wearing yellow bibs). I don’t know if it was just me, but the start seemed a little disorganised, but as soon as we were off things seemed to get pretty organised pretty quickly.

First Lap

We did our half lap of the oval and then headed out onto the road towards Big Swamp. It was already warm and the heat off the road was telling on the undulations along the coast road. Just like at Six Inch, I was running with Dan Baldwin as we had very similar strategies, before the start. Those strategies however went out the window in the first minutes after the start when we joined Ben Harris and started running at his pace. We did the lap around Big Swamp and went back out onto the coast road to head back towards the start/finish area for the first time. My pace alarm was sounding almost continuously as we kept running at Ben’s pace. Eventually Dan and I both agreed that we were going too hard too soon and wished Ben good luck as we dropped back to a pace more suitable for our plan.

Dan and I were running along the harbour groyne when we met one of the marathoners, “Lightning Lynn” and her companion. Lynn (VF50) was dressed head to toe in a purple fairy-esque costume, including a purple mask, wearing #13 in her 13th marathon. The four of us ran together for a while, chatting and laughing on the out and back leg along the waterfront. On the way back towards the cafe area, Lynn took a tumble on the pavement, but bounced back up and kept running, smiling. It was this “obscure” incident which made Dan and I cognisant of our pace again. We were still a long way in front of the planned pace with a long way to go to the finish, even though we were running slower now than we first set out with Ben. Lynn slowed more than us, but she’d visited the floor, but Dan and I were still moving faster than planned.

Coming back through the start/finish area to complete the first 21.1km in 1:57:33 (watch approx.) averaging 5:35/km, Dan’s wife, Tania, had our re-fuelling goodies ready for us. I was pretty much on track with my fuel and hydration, but it was nice to get some cold drinks again as the electrolyte in my pack was warm. I grabbed my second bottle of Perpetuem. I had also started to taking a gel each 10km.

Second Lap

Just as we were starting our second lap, the twinges in my calves started too. I was well hydrated and well fuelled; it got me thinking about what was causing my cramps. Was it heat related?

We completed the second lap of Big Swamp and were heading back along the coast road towards the start/finish area, again. My calves were starting to be problematic so I think Dan was a little relieved when I said that I was stopping at the roadside ablutions for a wee after 28km and would catch him up. As I was peeing, my calves seized. I hobbled back onto the road and tried to start running again, I could see Dan way off in the distance. It might not have been called running, but I made it through the start/finish area again and Tania had a smile and some more cold drink for me. On the small incline after this (32km completed) my quads decided they’d join in with the cramping “fun” too! From here, I could only run/walk, running until one set of muscles started to twinge, then walking until they released and then run slowly again. This was going ok, but the runs got shorter and the walks longer.

It was now mid-morning. The locals were heading to the cafes and restaurants on the waterfront for their Sunday brunches. People shouted their support, some offered coffees and toast; the smell of bacon cooking was distracting. One marshal positioned near a licenced cafe said he’d have a beer waiting for me when I came passed his position again. A while later when I passed him again, I asked where my beer was. He jokingly replied that I was taking too long and he feared a warm beer might upset my runner’s stomach so he drank it for me! It’s small things like this which make these events a lot more fun, especially when you’re struggling as I was.

I was still fuelling and drinking, but the cramps weren’t dissipating, in fact they were getting worse. My mood darkened, this was no longer fun, but I was determined to finish.

As we came back towards the start/finish area (yet again) I was “moving” with a couple of others who were moving at about the same pace. As we stepped onto the oval, they lined themselves up to cross the finish and complete their respective events. A marshal stood before me and turned me around the corner. I stopped to grab a drink at the aid station there, looking enviously at those I’d been running with who were now stopped, being showered with cold water, led to chairs in the shade and having medals slung around their sweaty necks. The lady at the aid station pointed towards the road and said, “You have to go that way!”

I had completed the Marathon distance in 4:18:49 (watch approx.) with an average pace of 6:08/km. More significantly, the pace during the second half-marathon was about 6:41/km.

Last Bit

As I headed back onto the bitumen, I couldn’t see any runners ahead of me nor behind me. I felt like I was in one of the many Badwater movies I’d seen, the lone runner battling the heat on a lonely road. As I crested one of the undulations, I did catch glimpses of other people, but as it turned out they were just locals out for a walk or spectators waiting for stragglers like me to come through. At one point Steve Chilcott popped up on the side of the road and offered some encouragement, coke and snakes; he’d been popping up all day but it was really nice to see a friendly face at this time. At the turn off the coast road towards Big Swamp for the final time I see Richard Back on the side of the road; he shouts some support and I try to put on a brave face and jog a few more metres. These were the last running strides I took as the cramping was now beyond my control; I could only walk the last 4km or so to the finish.

As I was walking around the back of Big Swamp, I saw a corner marshal ahead. She had been sitting in the baking sun, by herself, all morning. She gave me a big smile, a few words of encouragement and a high-five. I felt much better and even picked up my pace a little as I headed to the last aid station. I grabbed some water and thought I might give some coke a shot. I drank the coke and threw it straight back up through my nose! Luckily, I had picked up a cup of water too, so used this to wash the coke-snot from my face, gross!

The final few kilometres dragged on. As I came over the crest of the final undulation on the coast road, I could see the finish area and hear the loud-speakers. I tried to put on a brave face and jog to the finish; I don’t think I was very convincing.

My official time for the 50km was 5:26:00, an average of 6:31/km.

As I crossed the finish line, my body shutdown completely. I stood there, just over the finish line, with my hands on my knees, I couldn’t move any further. In front of me was the official photographer. I forget her name, but I had recently taken a photography course run by her. I was so befuddled, instead of saying, “Hi” or anything useful, all I could think was, “Do not throw up on her!” One of the course marshals came to my aid and escorted me to a chair in the shade. A lot of parkrunners and Team Mito had finished their respective events by the time I arrived, so there was lots of people around. I moved myself to the ground and lay flat with my legs raised on the chair, some kind soul brought ice and placed it on my head; it melted almost instantly!

Beer O’clock

After a bit of rest, some cold water and jelly beans, I was feeling a little better. Adrian Kenny brought some beers over and I began feeling even better. People were now taking their shoes and showing their blisters and sharing war-stories before the official presentations got underway. I took my shoes and was feeling proud to discover I had a “war-wound” that I could share; I had a very small blister on the third toe on my left foot. Others had blood-filled monstrosities though! Ouch!

After all the official stuff had finished, I grabbed a lift with Fiona Evans, Katryna Tyza and Sam Farman to the house they rented for the weekend. We grabbed some beers and sat on the porch and analysed our day’s activities. Sam showed us her feet which were blistered and very sore looking (she had been taking showers to cool off at the beach-side facilities along the coast road and spent most of her ultra with wet feet); I was going to “show off” my tiny blister, but it had already disappeared!

Aftermath

Although I didn’t run for a couple days afterwards but I wasn’t sore. I used the time to start researching the cause of my cramps. Dr Tim Noakes (author of “The Lore of Running”, the ultimate tome of running knowledge) has recently developed a theory that, although electrolyte depletion and dehydration can cause cramps (it takes “extreme” levels to do so) that many athlete’s cramp is caused by “rapid onset muscule fatigue” caused by going too hard too soon on weak muscles. This certainly sounds like the case with me, because every event in which I have suffered cramp I have gone faster than planned from the start. So, I definitely need to do more speed work and strength work in training and learn better pacing (going slower from the start will result in a faster overall time).