2018 WTF 100miler
Saturday, 22 September 2018
Started with no idea and a plan, everything went to shit from there…
Having already run the WTF 50 mile (82km) edition twice, I decided it was time to give the 100 mile (“miler”) event a try. I wanted to attempt the distance a couple of years ago, but at the time I didn’t want to do the training… I was now out of excuses and needed to step up.
I had done a lot of research into the differences between marathon/50 mile training plans which I had completed before, and training for a miler. The miler plans I reviewed had their nuances; some plans were beginner marathon plans “expanded” to the longer distance (which looked awful) whilst others seemed to be too basic to work. I didn’t know what I was doing, so asked (many) questions from friends and local runners who had done the distance before. The common consensus was that success would be found through “time on your feet.”
Already having a good fitness base, with a little over three months until the event, I started to increase the training hours (miles) per week, pounding the local paths and getting up onto the hilly trails when I could. In the two months of specific training, before tapering:
- Longest single run : 67km
- Longest back-to-back : 58+33 = 91km
- Longest 7 days : 174km
- Longest 28 days : 579km
I ran in the early mornings, late nights, in the cold and wet, on the winter “hot” days. I ran by day and by night on every section of the course (with the exception of a segment at night between North Spur Road to Oakley Dam). I lost count of how many loads of washing were done and how many extra trips to the supermarket were made. It seemed I was either running, washing, eating or sleeping! (I’m fortunate to have a very supportive partner). I was tired and sore all of the time; I’d go to bed aching and wake up feeling worse. At the end of what turned out to be my longest week, I was scheduled for a three hour (30+km) run, but after doing 170+km already that week, my body refused so I took a rare day off and did some gardening instead.
I was completely spent at the end of the “training phase”, the taper could not have started too soon. It seemed like months since I had run less than 100km in a week. At the end of the first taper week, I was feeling less tired but more sore. In the second taper week, I averaged “just” 10km per day; on the Tuesday I recorded a (completely accidental) 10km personal best (PB) whilst running to darkrun! By the third week, I was feeling refreshed but the dreaded “maranoia” (marathon paranoia) was starting to set in; every sneeze a flu, every muscle twinge a broken leg! Race-day could not arrive too soon, I was eager to get this over and done with so I could resume a “normal” life again.
As I had no idea of what I was doing even thinking about starting this event, I dedicated some time to thinking about how to finish it. I downloaded previous WTF100 race results, discarded the DNF’ers and started doing some analysis of how the finishers performed through their races. I started to notice some inconsistencies with what I thought I should have been seeing in the data and started to dig a little deeper by looking for race data for other 100 mile events (unfortunately there’s not that much data out there), I grabbed some marathon and 50 mile data too. I had previously thought that pace would decay exponentially however the data was suggesting otherwise; the “best-fit” was that runner’s slowing follows more of a parabola, remember f(x)=ax2+bx+c from school? It was extremely rare for a runner to finish by running at the same pace throughout the event; and even more rare for a runner to finish the second half faster than the first half (negative-split). This indicated to me that finishing was heavily-dependent on fatigue management; which was really bad news for me because I have a demonstrated poor record for it! Taking a line from a movie, The Martian I started to “science the shit out of it” and came up with several theoretical models which I thought would get me to the finish; one model was to maintain a constant pace from the very start.
There is a numerical-band of pace at which we move “efficiently”; we can go faster but only for a short while, and if we try to run slower, it becomes very hard. The slowest I can run “efficiently” is around 6:30/km but I cannot maintain that pace for 100 miles, so I decided on a run/walk routine:
- Run at 6:30/km for 10 minutes
- Walk at 10:00/km for 5 minutes
This meant that every 15 minutes I’d cover just over 2km. To finish the 160-ish kilometre event, all I had to do was this 10/5 run/walk, 80 times : 80 × 15minutes = 20hours! There had only been five sub-20 hour finishers at WTF since 2013. Somehow, I was formulating a plan where I could end up on the podium? WTF indeed!
During my training, I had been practising my run/walk strategy. I spent many hours trying to run slowly but efficiently and nearly as many hours power-walking, trying to maintain a high pace for prolonged periods, uphill when I could. My brain kept churning over the numbers, specifically 7:22/km again and again. My confidence in the plan grew; if I maintained a steady but slow pace from the very start, I gave myself the very best opportunity to finish well. I set a milestone to arrive at Kingsbury Drive aid station on the return leg (98km) in 12 hours, so that if I did start to slow with fatigue, I still had 12 hours to move 65km or so to finish with a buckle.
There’s a “universal standard” that runners who finish a 100 mile trail event in less than 24hours are awarded a belt-buckle. To outsiders, it seems like a strange prize, but to runners it’s proof of their mettle, it comes with certain (but humble) bragging rights; they’re highly sought-after and once earned, treasured possessions
I had done some modelling of different fuelling and hydration strategies; I practised a couple of different options during training. I ended up reverting to a tried and trusted formula that worked for me in the past. I’d carry enough fuel and fluid between aid stations which was the minimum intake required, then supplement this at the aid stations if I felt like I needed to. This meant that I could eat and drink small portions whilst on the move instead of trying to scoff down everything needed, making the aid station stop more hectic that it needs to be. All I needed at every aid station was to top up my bottles and hydration bladder, grab my drop-bag with my food and assorted goodies and head out again. This consolidated the plan to keep moving slowly and minimise the time lost stopped at the aid stations.
If you’re interested in learning all the details of the course, visit : wtfultra.com
On Friday, I packed the car and then picked up Tracy from university. We got onto the freeway which was jammed with long-weekend traffic heading out of town. Normally, the trip from home to Dwellingup takes just over an hour; it took just over two hours to finally get to the Dwellingup Chalets and Caravan Park (although we did a couple of reconnaissance detours along the way, so it wan’t all the traffic’s fault!) Our “spa-chalet” was all it was advertised and not much more; the spa was a bath in the corner of the room which also contained a kitchenette and double bed, there was a small en-suite. This was our base-camp and would be utilised by the pacers to prepare for their runs and for them to shower and recover afterwards. We dumped our stuff and drove the short distance into town to pick up race bibs and to lend a hand with setting up the start/finish/race headquarters; then wandered across the road to the pub for dinner and a small beer. We went back to the chalet, where Tracy watched some tv as I taped my dodgy left ankle and toes. We turned in early; I had a pretty good sleep, Tracy was restless all night before the alarm finally sounded.
Dwellingup to Oakley Dam (16.3km)
I tried to look blasé at the race headquarters; I mingled with some of the other runners who had previously attempted this event or other milers before. Most people looked comfortable and knowing about the challenges ahead, an observer might have noted I looked like a deer in headlights as I really didn’t know what I was doing mingling with some of the local “superstars” of ultra-running. There was some ad-hoc final instructions from Shaun Kaesler before we gathered for a “proof-of-life” photo on the start line. I wanted to vomit. (I’ve seen some video taken at the time and I honestly look completely out of my depth!) I was so glad Bel Kennedy counted down, “3-2-1-GO!”
I started my watches and plodded off into the Marrinup “maze”. I ran slowly for the ten minutes then started walking for five minutes. In my first “cycle” of eighty, I was already ahead of time and going too fast. I promised myself the next cycle would be slower, but it wasn’t. After 5km, we headed out of the maze and up the hill under the power lines. The course is a bit straighter here and I could see a line of runners strung out along the trail. I knew I should be a lot further back than I was, and although I thought I was taking easy walking up the small hill, I was over taking a few others. I was gaining time, or, in other words, I was sabotaging my own plan! Although I had practised running more slowly, I just couldn’t slow down enough. I was less than 10km into the event and the plan which I spent so long developing and testing was somewhere ten minutes behind me on the trail.
I arrived at Oakley Dam (“Treasure Island”) in 1:42. Tracy was there for me, and I knew quite a few of the aid station volunteers. I was in no rush, refilled my bottles and pack and even dilly-dallying for a bit, I was ready to leave after “just” 4 minutes. I left the aid station 14 minutes ahead of schedule. This did not bode well for the rest of the day.
Oakley Dam to Goldmine Hill (25.4km)
There is a long climb out of Oakley Dam and to give back some of the accumulated time I promised myself to take it really easy on the way out. I sauntered up the hill, fiddling to rearrange the food in my vest and passed a couple of people on the way whom I should not have passed. By the time I got to the top of the Pinjarra Television Tower hill, I had passed a few more runners. My running was too fast, and even though I promised myself that if I were ahead of pace when the walk break was due to finish that I’d keep walking a bit more, I didn’t. Descending the hill along the conveyor belt, I could see more runners ahead and each time I looked they appeared closer. I caught Ben Harris as we crossed North Spur Road. He was running with a bloke from Victoria (Daniel?) so I stuck with them for my ten minute run phase and chatted to pass some time and slow down. At the walk interval, they went ahead, but during the next run phase I had somehow caught them up again. This went on for a bit, to-ing and fro-ing, until I was eventually clear ahead and during the walk break they didn’t catch up to me. My day was exploding, I knew it and did nothing about it.
Goldmine Hill (7.2km)
The sun was well up and the sky clear, it was getting hot. My shorts were getting caked in salt-sweat and my calf-sleeves were already turning white with salt. I refilled my bottles at the top of the hill, grabbed my hiking poles from Tracy and departed for the out-and-back section, down the 300m descent and then back up again. I was now just over 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
I know why RD Dave includes this hill in the course, it’s sheer bastardry! The hill is too steep to easily run without smashing your quads on the way down but it will smash them on the way up! It’s also a complete disruptor to any rhythm you might have settled into in the first 42km of the race. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do my run/walk in both directions here, so had planned to run down averaging 5:45/km and walk back up averaging 9:00/km to maintain the required 7:22/km. Each time I looked my pace on the way down the hill I was going too fast, but trying to apply more braking force and slow down on the descent hurt my legs so I tried to “flow” down the hill. I reached the bottom of the hill, tapped the road sign and headed back up the hill from where I had just come. I passed Fraser (from Vanuatu) and used my poles to push up the hill. I thought I was taking it pretty easy, at the steeper parts of the hill each time I looked at my pace on my watch it showed a pace slower than the planned 9:00/km (even 11:30/km at one point) so I felt a bit happier that (at least) I wasn’t getting further ahead of schedule. I got back to the top-of-the-hill aid station and gave my poles to Tracy, re-stocked and after just a couple of minutes I was on my way to the dam.
Goldmine Hill to North Dandalup Dam (5.6km)
As I left the Goldmine Hill aid station, I computed that somehow I gained another two minutes on the schedule! How could this be? Just then, my world came crashing down. Normally, I get twinges in certain muscles foretelling impending cramps, but not today, I went from slow running to dead-stopped cramped within a single stride. I’m no stranger to cramp, unfortunately, but I had not planned on getting cramps this early into the race. It was a warm day, the first warm day since last summer; some runners had already succumbed to the conditions. I thought I was pretty well heat acclimatised, I had done longer, faster runs in training with no issues, but on the one day when I did NOT want to cramp, I was standing on the side of the trail trying to locate the bottles of pickle juice which has moved in my vest to the most inaccessible depths of a back pocket. They taste disgusting (it’s basically vinegar, sugar and salt), but choosing between a gurgling stomach and debilitating cramp is an easy decision. I chugged down one bottle and kept moving; I could feel the fibers in my quads, calves and hamstrings tearing with every step. Run/walk was now shuffle/hobble. Even taking a second bottle of the magic elixir didn’t completely stop the torment my legs were putting me through. This was not the way I wanted to slow down my pace.
I remembered conversations with other runners who all agreed this section was their favourite on the whole course. For just under 4km, the course “fundulates” on single-track through the bush before you pop onto Scarp Road to run across the dam wall to the aid station located on the far side; I hated it.
North Dandalup Dam to Kingsbury Drive (16.0km)
Even taking a slightly longer break at the aid station to get some more fluids in, and to re-stock my pickle juice, I was still 30 minutes ahead of schedule as I departed. Time was becoming less and less important to me as the pain intensified and the cramping continued. My legs were burning and my stomach churning. I was resigning myself to a 100+km walk and was trying to balance the numbers in my head to achieve my goal finish whilst avoiding rocks, roots and miscellaneous hazards. At one point, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t actually been navigating and I’d been on autopilot for quite a while as I dealt with these other issues; I was so glad I had done those recon runs. Just as I was congratulating myself for not getting lost and adding extra distance to an already mammoth task, at exactly 70.00km and the prompting of my watch I took the wrong fork in the trail, and my watch died! I stopped for a moment to try and sort out my electronics, which was already trying to sort itself out and probably would have done so faster without my intervention. I couldn’t wait for the map to reload, so walked the 50m or so I was off course and simply continued along what I remembered the proper course trail to look like. The short detour didn’t annoy me as much as the fact that my watch had restarted from 0km and I’d have to remember to add the time and distance already completed when working on speed/time/distance problems. It seemed the maps now started have “issues” too but I felt very comfortable with my “manual” navigation of the course so forged on with my shuffle/hobble routine.
Kingsbury Drive to Jarrahdale (13.9km)
I took an eight minute break at Kingsbury Drive. My legs were shot and it had been a long while since I’d actually been able to run; I also remembered that it had been several hours since I’d been able to pee. I guzzled some plain water from our bottle in the car and set out to walk as best I could to Jarrahdale. The voices in my head were coming up with some pretty compelling arguments as to why I should quit; they’re hard to silence, but the screaming from my cramping leg muscles (and now my glutes and back) simultaneously drowned them out whilst compounding their reasoning. Any remnants of fun and a good day were gone, and they weren’t coming back. One of the reasons to keep going was that I didn’t want to let my pacers down; they were giving up their time for me so I couldn’t give up on them. Before the start, I had said to everyone there were only two ways for me to leave the course, by finishing or by ambulance; I didn’t need an ambulance but I so wanted to stop.
As I was approaching Jarrahdale, my autopilot took the “direct” route instead of following the course. I was just about to pop out at the aid station from the bush and from the wrong direction when I realised and turned back to retrace my steps and get back onto the proper course. I was livid with myself; the extra 600m or so wasn’t an earth-shattering detour but with destroyed legs and unstable mind any extra distance just hurt more.
I finally made it into the Jarrahdale aid station at the northernmost point of the course. The sun was lower in the sky and the temperature was considerably milder than earlier in the day. Just as I was flopping into my chair, I was rehearsing how I was going to tell Tracy and my first pacer, Abdul, that I was quitting here. 50 miles on the day was as far as I was going and I was sorry I had wasted their time. I had a small stone in my shoe, so Abdul was helping me remove and then refit the shoe. As soon as the shoe was off, my foot swelled so getting the shoe back on was tough; it took a fair amount of playing with laces, pushing and shoving to get it back on, which triggered all sorts of cramps and some not-so-delicate screaming. I was at the very point of saying to Abdul, “Don’t bother. I quit.” when I heard a voice from the blanketed mound sitting to my left. It was Richard “Blue” Avery! He’s an awesome runner and should have been miles ahead of me, and yet, here he is sitting in Jarrahdale! (To read more about Blue, see my 2018 ADU run report.) Sitting next to him was Margie Hadley. She lapped me several times at Lark Hill on her way to her 100km finish when I was just doing 50km; she’s a national representative and she’s sitting in Jarrahdale too! The heat, the pace, the day had taken its toll on a lot of runners. At just about every aid station I’d hear news of which runners ahead of me had quit, and which runners behind were struggling. I’m hardly a competitive runner, but to have these “greats” withdraw from the race somehow boosted my desire to finish. The records will show that I, little lowly slowly running me, beat some of the best names in ultra-running in a 100 mile race; if I could finish!
Jarrahdale to Kingsbury Drive (13.9km)
Abdul and I set out south heading towards Dwellingup, 13 minutes behind schedule, still moving, albeit slowly. I summarised my situation for Abdul and explained that for now, running was unfortunately out of the question and we’d just have to hike the best we could back to Kingsbury Drive. Abdul was sympathetic to my pain, but I could tell he wanted to run; he managed to squeeze a few run breaks out of my legs between long power-walks. We chatted to pass the time, it was nice to have him there as I’d spent most of the ten hours of the race so far on my own. My hiking training was still paying dividends and we were able to keep a pretty handy pace throughout the section. I was still in a very dark place; the light of finishing when so many others wouldn’t was still a long way off. It was also starting to get dark as the trees now obscured the setting sun.
My watch seemed to be getting confused about the out-and-back course loaded and kept telling me to head north back towards Jarrahdale, or that we were -1 metre off course, instead of telling me how far we were from the finish. I basically gave up looking at my watch, so kept pestering Abdul to tell me how far it was to the next aid station. When we set out on this section, I had roughly figured that we had 80km to go to the finish and to get a buckle, I needed to get there within the next 13½ hours; required pace was just over 10:00/km. Abdul would give me info on the last kilometre travelled, if it was a good split, or kept quiet if it was slow; his reports got more sparse. I could see all of my time-based goals disappearing, and even the “simple” goal of finishing seemed impossible on more than a few times. I stopped for a pee, nothing, then stopped a little later for my first actual passing of urine in many hours; we celebrated a “small victory” that the colour wasn’t dark enough to be concerning, yet.
It was just getting dark as we approached Kingsbury Drive. I was thinking that I’d try to save my headlamp battery, but when I nearly tripped I decided that staying upright was far more important than a few minutes of battery life, and switched on my light. I thanked Abdul for walking with me and we checked into the aid station.
Kingsbury Drive to North Dandalup Dam (16.0km)
I sat on the bumper of the car and ate some pot noodles which Tracy had prepared for me, they were the best things I’d eaten all day. My next pacer, Anna, was there patiently waiting for me, in fact, the whole team was there! As I ate my noodles, they formed a little huddle just out of earshot; I assumed Abdul was briefing them on my progress (or lack thereof). After they broke from their huddle, Grant and Adrian tried to explain some “numbers” to me. They mentioned some different paces to achieve some sort of finishing times, but it went in one ear and out the other. I despaired the opportunity for any finish time-goals had gone, and that I should just focus on finishing.
After adding a long-sleeved shirt under my wet, stinking t-shirt, gloves, and re-packing my vest, Anna and I headed out into the dark. I apologised to her that we were now over 45 minutes behind schedule, she brushed it off and reiterated some of the previously discussed numbers and paces. I’d been told Adrian and Grant had been pawing over a spreadsheet however something didn’t seem right with the figures. I tried to do the maths in my head and came up with something along the lines of, 65km and 11 hours to go, maintaining the previous required pace circa 10:00/km. Anna tried a couple of different ways to encourage me to run, some worked, some didn’t. At one point I was actually running again and started to believe I could finish with a buckle, then I’d kick a rock which started a chain-reaction of muscle spasms up and down both legs and in my back. Although I’d avoid falling most times, I went over once. I sat in the middle of the trail and needed Anna’s help to get vertical again. My legs were tired, especially my right leg and my gait was terrible, so my toes was taking a pounding as I found more and more rocks on the path; I didn’t need to stop and look, I could feel the pressure of blood pooling under my toenails. I was very dehydrated, I could tell because i had no saliva and it was taking about an hour to eat a single Clif bar. I’d break a small chunk off and stuff it into a corner of my mouth and it would remain there for many minutes; I’d chew it again and again, like a cow with its cud, then finally take a sip of hydration to wash it down. I stopped for a pee, under the light of the headlamp its colour was either bright red or deep-brown. In “normal” circumstances, you’d be rushing to take in massive amounts of water and seeking medical attention, but this is (apparently) normal during ultras. I promised myself to try to drink more fluids, then chuckled to myself about every broken promise I’d made to myself so far.
As we neared the dam, I realised it had been a long while since I’d actually suffered a cramp. Sure, I’d had spasms when I’d kick an immovable object, but not a full-blown cramp. Maybe it was the copious quantities of pickle juice? Maybe it was the cooler evening? Maybe it was that, although now dehydrated, I was taking in more fluids than before? Maybe the muscle fibres which cramp were now completely destroyed? I wanted to tell Anna, but I knew that if I’d jinx myself if I said anything so just kept mum.
North Dandalup Dam to Whittaker Nightclub (8.6km)
We popped out of the bush onto the road at the aid station. Tracy had some more pot noodles for me, they were still good! My maths was pretty shoddy, but I figured we had picked up a little time, I didn’t want to delay too long here as the buckle was in play again. I’d been on the move for just over 15 hours and had just over a marathon to go. My personal best for a marathon is 3:23, tonight I was fingers-crossed hoping I could do it in just over eight hours.
Anna was staying with me until the next aid station, I was pleased with the progress we were making. After the last runner had been through the aid station at the top of Goldmine Hill, the volunteers relocated the aid station to the other side of the defunct Whittaker Mill, and set up the “nightclub”. I was dreading going back along the section of course after crossing the dam to the top of Goldmine Hill which I hated earlier in the day. As soon as we turned off the road and trudged up the hill (kicking a few more rocks for good measure) we arrived at the top of Goldmine Hill; the return journey didn’t suck as much as the outbound section, but I still hated it. As we saw the lights of the aid station in the distance, Anna said for us to put on a good show and run into the aid station. I thanked her for dragging my decrepit body for the last 25km and flopped into a chair.
Whittaker Nightclub to Oakley Dam (23.1km)
Just like at Kingsbury Road, the pacers formed a little huddle to discuss (I assume) progress and motivating techniques. Meanwhile, I was given another cup of noodles by Tracy and some more plain water whilst my pack was being refilled. I was trying to do some maths as I ate, I knew I had 40km to go, but I didn’t know what the time was (the one screen I don’t have programmed on my Garmin!) I took a guess at it being somewhere around 10pm or a little after, so I’d have to maintain a pace somewhere around 11:00-12:00/km Whoa! That meant that Anna and I had made up some serious time on her sections. I actually started to believe a buckle was on the cards, and maybe more!
I was to be paced by Grant on this section. He came from the huddle and told me some numbers they had been working on, again they went in one ear and out the other. The temperature was dropping so he encouraged me to get moving before I got cold. With fresh batteries in my headlamp, food and water in my stomach and some renewed vigour, we headed out of the aid station. Like with the other pacers before, I briefed Grant about how I was feeling and how sore everything was, he ignored that and suggested we run for a bit, so I did. At the next walk-up-the-hill break, I asked about the paces he was working with as their numbers didn’t seem to gel with mine, and the time. I reworked my maths aloud so Grant could tell me if I was making errors, we needed an average pace of 11:42/km or so to finish in 24 hours, and just over 10:00/km to finish in 23 hours; he agreed with my math. (My lovely pacers still believed that a sub-22 hour finish was possible so they were using a different set of paces to me!) Grant and I pushed on for the remaining hours of Saturday night. There’s a long climb after crossing Torrens Road which can be tortuous at the best of times, but we made it to the top in pretty good time. I was still kicking rocks and by now a couple of toes on my right foot felt as if they were broken. I had recently taken some painkillers which only helped a little, but was hesitant to take any more in case I started to do real damage to my kidneys, on top of being chronically dehydrated. I kept drinking as much as I could, but playing catch-up is harder than staying-ahead. I stopped a couple of times for a pee, nothing.
We made pretty good progress as midnight came and went. Grant would tell me if our pace was dropping as an incentive for me to run, it sometimes worked. We crossed North Spur Road and started walking the long climb up along the conveyor belt to the the Pinjarra TV tower at the summit. I remembered how good I felt the previous morning coming down this hill and how rotten and spent I was feeling now. There wasn’t far from the top to the next aid station, and with the exception of a little “kicker” it was all downhill. I felt like crying when we finally went past the tower, not only because my quads and glutes were now totally destroyed but because I knew that all of my goals were now back on the table. Even stopping for (yet) another non-pee break, we made pretty good pace both up and downhill into the aid station.
Oakley Dam to Dwellingup (16.3km)
At the final aid station, I thanked Grant for his support. Tracy repacked my bag and Shon served me hot soup. Adrian (AK) was champing at the bit to get underway. We headed back up the hill and saw a couple of other runners and their pacers heading down. I told myself I didn’t care if Todd passed me as I wasn’t racing for position, when really I did care. We turned off the road onto the trail and started running. There was a sector which is slightly downhill and relatively clear of “soccer-rocks” and other “kick-ables”. We were flying down this section when I started to think myself that we’re going too fast and should I kick something then it could be bad, when I kicked something and went “apex over vertex”. I landed heavily on my right hip, I jammed my right hand onto the path hard enough to shred my running glove. I sat in the dirt for a moment trying to recompose myself. AK assisted me to my feet.
We got going again and AK asked me to consider lightening my water load as we ascend the hill along the conveyor belt. I wasn’t too sure what hill he was talking about, but decided that in my dehydrated state I had better keep as much as fluid with me as possible regardless of how much it weighs. We kept on through the bush trails until we arrived the powerline section and turned away from the noise of the conveyor belt. Just then, AK realised that we weren’t actually going up the hill as I’d already done it before arriving at Oakley Dam! It was a light-hearted moment and worth a quiet chuckle. Just after the powerline section is my favourite section of the entire course; it’s single track for about 1km winding through high, dense scrub. After about 400m you cross a road, this marks 10km to go to the finish. When you run this, particularly at night, it feels like you’re flying even if you’re injured, sore and barely hobbling. AK let me lead the way. The fun was over way too soon as we met the last climb. My hip was beginning to stiffen and my legs just didn’t want to rotate any more. I tried taking a gel, but I just couldn’t swallow it. Every time I sipped at my hydration, AK said, “Good idea!” We arrived at the powerlines for the final time and trotted gingerly down the hill. 5km to go. It was just coming up on 3:30am so I had 30 more minutes to watch my sub-22 hour finish slip away.
Things got a little darker in these final 5km. Everything hurt. When we went passed the house with the big dogs, they barked. We were just going around the next corner when we heard the dogs barking again, meaning Todd was hot on my heels, just a couple of minutes behind. AK was encouraging me to see the loom of light from the township, but I just kept looking at the trail where I’d place my feet. My headlamp battery was spent too and switched over to “reserve” mode which is a little dimmer than normal, meaning the tree roots and trip hazards in the Marrinup maze were just that little bit harder to see. I chuckled that I’d been in reserve mode for the last 100km!
We turned to follow the railway line, 100m to go. AK encouraged me to run across the line, so I started a shuffle. We exited the trail and saw the finish gantry, Tracy and a small contingent of supporters. I stepped onto the grass and under the arch. Someone shouted out for me to stop my watch, I thought to myself, what’s the point but stopped it anyway. 22 hours 15 minutes.
It was precisely that action of stopping my watch reminded me that I’d actually finished a miler. I might have smiled as the finishers bling was slung around my neck and a finisher’s photo taken, internally I was awash with emotions. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout out, “Hooray!” I wanted to do some sort of victory dance. I wanted a lot of things but was just too exhausted so stood there, dumbfounded. Of the 100% I had to give to get across the finish line, I received no change. I could go no further under my own steam. I was assisted to a chair so Todd could run across the line without me blocking his way (he looked to be in a lot better condition than I was!) Tracy wrapped a blanket around me and gave me big hug. Best finish!
Tracy brought the car as close as she could and helped me into the front seat. I started shivering uncontrollably as we headed off for the two minute drive to the chalet. I’m not sure whether the shivering was because I was cold or whether it was just muscles shutting down after over 22 hours of abuse. When we got back to the chalet, I managed to get undressed without falling over and clambered into a hot shower. There’s a bit of a joke between runners when you get into the shower to discover all the places where you have chaffed; there was nothing funny (at the time) as I discovered all of my chaffed areas!
I managed a pee, which was returning to a more normal colour, so the extra work I was doing to catch up on my hydration was finally starting to have an affect. Still, I drank a 2L bottle of water and climbed into bed. As I lay there, all of my leg muscles tightened, it felt like I was paralysed. Somehow, I nodded off to sleep, only to be awoken 15 minutes later to have another pee. I struggled out of bed and hobbled into the bathroom, trying not to wake Tracy, and AK who was snoozing on the couch, then hobbled back to bed. 15 minutes later, I needed another pee. A few hours before, I couldn’t go, now I couldn’t stop! I think I managed a couple of hours without interruption.
It was mid-morning when we got up and drove the short distance into town for breakfast and coffee at the Blue Wren Cafe. Afterwards, we joined the rest of the runners and their supporters at the Race Headquarters to await the presentations starting at noon. There were a lot of stiff and sore runners there, I was certainly not the only person who was struggling; the winners looked fresh and as if they could do it all again. (I’ll tell stories about them later). One thing I noticed at the presentations was the smaller number of runners in attendance than there was at the start. I listened in to discussions on what happened to so-and-so. It seemed that almost half the starting field failed to finish the course; many blaming the heat and conditions on the day for their demise. Was I tougher than them? Or, better prepared?
RD Dave gave me my belt buckle.
Another big thank you to Tracy for pretending to understand my want to run a miler and being there during the months of training, and of course, on the day.
Massive shout-outs too, to Abdul, Anna, Grant and AK for pushing me through the dark places and the night to achieve 3/3 goals. Without your support, there is no way I would have finished.
To all the race team, David Kennedy and and the aid station volunteers, providers of water, food and gentle shoves to get back onto the course, thank you.