The Tan Ultra 53k

First, the stats:

53.578k in 6:06:50

1st female out of 4

8th person out of 15 (1 DNF)
Winning male completed in 4:21:18
Last person completed in 7:44:40

I won a trophy and a crunchie bar! First time I’ve ever come first in anything sporty! I really just can’t believe it.

My partner drove me in because I thought I might be a bit sore to drive home after and I told him I’d probably be around 6 hours and I’d call him to pick me up at the end. I packed my bag with a couple of ladyfinger bananas, kiwi fruit, a promite sandwich on multigrain bread and a couple of V8 juice boxes. I also took a water bottle, and packed some emergency magnesium and salt tablets.

When I got there I was impressed with the 100k runners who had started 2 hours earlier. They were all looking fighting fit and strong and running a decent pace considering how far they had to go. I got there pretty early so just hung out at the lap counting area watching the people go past and talking to a few of the other 53k runners. There were a few other people who hadn’t done any ultras before, but I think I might have been the only person who hadn’t done a marathon yet so already it seemed that I was out of my depth. I was wearing my Vibram Five Fingers although I did bring my Asics DS Trainers incase my feet got sore. People asked me about my shoe choice, but I knew I had to wear the Five Fingers if I wanted to run in comfort. I also brought my old Kayanos with orthotics in to wear after the race for that cushy cushy feeling when my feet would want to sleep.

The course was 14 laps of the Tan track so it was a good opportunity to have a really long run and experiment with eating on the run but without having to carry all your supplies. OK so you shouldn’t be experimenting in a race, but it was my first opportunity so I had no choice. There was plenty of food provided – jam sandwiches, vegemite sandwiches, fruit cake, bananas, chocolate, chips, potatoes, gatorade, water, chocolate coated coffee beans and probably a lot more that I didn’t notice. It really was a fantastically well organised race and I reckon I’ll be back every year.

It was a chilly morning so for the first two laps I wore my arm warmers but then I was fine to take them off. I had a kind of system of running 1 or 2 laps with my drink bottle, then 1 or 2 laps without. This gave me a chance to sip water slowly but give me a break from carrying it. I popped a magnesium before the race so didn’t see the need to drink gatorade. Too much sugar anyway so it’s not really hydrating and it doesn’t have enough salts to do anything in that regard.

I ran solidly for 20k and it was then that I started taking walking breaks. I figured I had a long way to go and just about everyone else had been walking up the Anderson St hill from the start. By the 20k point I had lapped one girl already and knew I was ahead of the others. It was then that I visualised calling my partner at the finish telling him I won! All I had to do was stay ahead. My pace was naturally faster than the others. I just had to keep moving. It’s funny, I have never felt competitive in running, only competing against my own times, but I had a taste of competition, going back to my music eisteddfod days when I competed for the sole purpose of winning, and I wanted to win! I decided if I could do it in 6 hours I would be very happy and if I could win, well, suddenly that became the whole point.

The run itself was good in the lap format. I passed people, people passed me, we could chat for a minute, I could pick up tips from the experienced ultra heads and I could also learn a lot from the lovely people who were smiling, chatting, being very friendly and treating the whole day as a social event rather than a competitive one. It was interesting to see people who looked like they were doing great but saying they were in their own private hell, it was inspiring to see strong people lapping me and the whole event felt great with really supportive people. It was also quite funny when a few people in the general public asked what we were doing and when I told them how far the race was they just couldn’t believe it!

I knew that it would be sensible of me to eat during the race even though I don’t eat in training. I had a quarter of a jam sandwich. It went down ok, but it slowed me down for a whole lap while I digested it. So I tried a piece of banana. Same thing. It didn’t make me feel nauceous, just sluggish. This wasn’t going to work if I wanted to run more than walk. So then I had a V8 juice. Now that hit the spot!!! It tasted good, I was thirsty anyway so it was easy to drink and it gave me instant energy. It really picked me up so I was able to keep going on that.

At around the marathon point, I was getting really tired. The two girls in skirts passed me and I thought I was no longer in the lead. My heart sank. Winning isn’t everything but I already had a taste of it. As long as I finished in one piece that’s all that would matter at the end so I dragged my tired body along. My walk breaks were getting longer and longer. I was finding it easier to run on the up and downhills but the flats were painful. I was hurting and tired and as it was lunch time I was actually starting to feel hungry. I thought I was no longer in the lead so I just kind of gave up and decided when I next got to the lap area I would just sit down, eat my sandwich and call my partner to say I would probably be longer than 6 hours so not to worry if he doesn’t hear from me at 3pm on the dot. Fortunately, before I got to the lap area, a guy caught up to me (at the time I thought he was lapping me) and told me there were only 4 laps to go. 4 laps?! That’s not much, I thought. I can count to four. I can do this. So when I got to the lap counting area, I quickly downed another V8 juice, felt some energy return and kept moving. I was still taking walking breaks but tried to keep them short because I knew the end was near.

During the last lap, my partner drove by and he beeped his horn at me while he was looking for a park! He came to meet me early and it was so great to see him! I picked up my pace (well it felt like it, but after 50k my watch told me I was only shuffling at 7min/km). When I finished the final lap everyone cheered and when they told me I was the first female I just couldn’t believe it! I thought the 2 girls in skirts lapped me ages ago, but obviously not! People took photos of the race director presenting the trophy and crunchie to me. I look more happy about the crunchie but the truth is I was just so overwhealmed that a won! A guy took a photo of my Five Fingers – he thought they were great shoes (and rightly so).

I called my partner and told him I won, just like I visualised previously. By that time he had found a car park and was just wandering around the botanic gardens. While I waited for him I ate a kiwi fruit and my promite sandwich, and chatted to a few more runners and spectators. Then I took some chocolate, put on my cushy cushy Kayanos and we took a walk around the botanic gardens for a while. We came back thinking I’d have some of the bbq that was being prepared but I wasn’t hungry anymore so a quick goodbye to a few people and we headed off.

So it was a great day! I learnt about eating on the run. I learnt about how friendly runners are and that I aspire to be that friendly and supportive. I also saw the great strength in the 100k runners and that is another thing I aspire to.

Since then I haven’t run much. It feels like my feet have some internal bruising or something after all those hours. I have tried to run a few times when they felt fine but obviously that was pushing it too much and I actually feel worse now. My next goal is sub 4 hours at Melbourne Marathon, which is going to be a big stretch as it took about 4:30 for me to get to the marathon point in this ultra, although that did include walking. I am really hoping my feet will get better soon so I can squeeze in some more long runs in preparation for the marathon but at the moment I just have to be patient. At least I now know I can cover the marathon distance! Now I just have to work on the pace.


One thought on “The Tan Ultra 53k

  1. keith

    Sounds like you had a great race! your marathon time will likely be much faster than the time you reached the marathon point in your ultra. It’s so cool you ran the ultra in your fivefingers!! Congratulations!


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