This was going to be an interesting ultra. The first of the year and the first in my low mileage experiment. I had not run over 30k yet this year and in the weeks leading up to it I didn’t run more than twice a week. I bet this is the exact opposite to how everyone else there had been training!
As soon as I got there I was amongst familiar faces and friendly people. Ruth, who won the women’s 50k barefoot last year was volunteering this year, and introduced me to Dave, who was wearing Five Fingers for the run. The surface isn’t that rough, but with some rocky sections and gravelly bits with big stones I think his feet must be super tough!
We ran together for the first bit at a nice easy pace. He was aiming for around 7 hours, which suited me as that would be just slightly faster than my pace last year. I thought if I can stick with him I’ll be right. Soon Matthew from Seattle joined us. This was very interesting as I got to learn about mountain lions and his encounter with a black bear! I am just fascinated by the wilderness, trails and scary animals in the States! We were all feeling pretty good after the first loop of 15k. Then there was the climb to the top of the hill. I swear that hill was longer this year. And this is where I fell apart.
Both my achilles tendons could not handle that steep climb. I was hoping to pick up pace as I ran down the hill but the forces on the achilles while leaping down from the steep giant stairs were too much and I was hobbling down the hill saying ouch, ouch, ouch with each step.
I tried to keep up with Dave and Matthew but at 20km decided to sit back and take it easier. It’s amazing how much power you lose when your achilles’ are not doing their job so from then I could only run the down hills and walked even the slighted incline. I was concerned about running by myself but the course was much better marked than last year. In fact, the course marking was exceptional so I just had to pay attention.
As I got closer to the 30k return-to-base my achilles were starting to feel a bit better. But then it was time for the second trip to the top of the hill and it got worse again.
It was interesting that there seemed to be quite a few international people there. Matthew commented on the fact you don’t need to do any altitude acclimatisation here and later I heard a German and someone else with an accent I couldn’t pick saying how nice and flat all the races are here! And this is not a flat course at all!
After the second trip to the top of the hill, and hobbling down saying ouch, ouch, ouch again, there was some really nice single trail running on a gentle downhill which made me feel much better. I was comfortable just spending a day out in the You Yangs and happy to take it easy from there. There was plenty of encouragement from other runners coming from the opposite direction as by now the 15k and 30k field were out and about and the whole area was abuzz with friendly runners saying hello and offering general words of encouragement. I love ultra runners!
Once I got to 40ks I was pretty happy there were only 10k left to go! My leg muscles were feeling great, but my achilles’ were not good, and I was ok with 1/2 walking and 1/2 shuffling the rest of the way home. I was thinking about how well marked the course is. Brett is a fantastic race director and it was great to not rely on the map to get around and to be confident seeing course markers every 100 metres or so. My mind was wandering, thinking I’d really like a nice cold beer when this is over, and which bottle shop should I stop at on the way home that sells the best ales. Once I got to 41k I was thinking how strange it was that I hadn’t seen a course marker in a while. Not that it was possible to get lost, so I must be on the right track.
I got to a junction and came across some markers for the 30k and 80k runners, but nothing for the 50k-ers. Well I just followed the 80k markers because I was pretty sure we were going the same track, but opposite directions here. Unfortunately my Garmin had told me its batteries were running low and I didn’t clear that warning, so missed the beep that should have happened much earlier to tell me I had gone off course! It said I was 500m out. Ugh. Nothing like going off course to get you back into gear and running again!
So I went back down the path I had come from. Or had I come from there? Where exactly was I on this map? My watch was telling me I was now 700m from the course! So I ran back to the junction. I still wasn’t on course, but I wasn’t as far. I found a km marker for the 80k course and worked out where I was. So I ran down some other path and managed to get back on course, after doing an extra 1.5km!
From here I picked up the pace as much as I could. I was previously on track for doing a similar time to last year but now I was ages behind! I got a bit confused at times, losing focus with fatigue, and concerned about wasting more time. At one point I nearly followed an 80k runner, thinking that was the right way despite course markers telling me otherwise. It was demoralising looking at my watch which said I had only 5k to go when it was really 6.5k due to the detour. I was even more concerned when sometimes my watch would beep saying I’m off course, but then 2 seconds later say I’m on course again. There was no way I was going to run any further than necessary!
Getting closer to the finish there was a slight uphill and my achilles’ couldn’t keep up with my eagerness to get to the end and not be much slower than last year. I was reduced to walking again, but fortunately managed to run to the finish line. It was a great finish with lots of cheers and friendly runners. Brett cheekily suggested I keep going and do the 80k. No thanks! Maybe if my achilles tendons worked.
So all up I did 51.5km in 7:49. Very slow. My leg muscles felt great though and I would love to know how I’d go if there were no injury issues.
During the race I drank about 1.2L water, ate 2 punnets of strawberries and a small handful of sunflower seeds and diced coconut. I forgot to take my dad’s homemade boysenberry cordial and I know that would have given me a bit more energy but it wouldn’t’ve fixed my stupid achilles. I wore my Adizero PRO flats. They were really comfortable and sturdy on the technical sections. No blisters, chafing or any of those uncomfortable things associated with long distances. At one point I popped a magnesium and electrolyte tablet when I thought my calf was going to cramp, but it never did. Not sure if it was the pills that fixed it or if I actually drank enough water for a change.
My legs are feeling fresh, despite hitting the gym a few times already this week so this coming weekend I will be doing the Sri Chinmoy 30km, then after that I have booked into the physio for his magical quick fix on my achilles, which will be just in time for the Tan Ultra 53.5km.