During a 50km trail race so many things can happen. The inevitable lows and the hilarious highs. And hopefully, somewhere at the end, a feeling of achievement, of overcoming.
Surf Coast Century had more highs and lows than we had ever expected.
Myself and my twin sister – visiting from Hong Kong – were both excited nervous about the prospect of running the Surf Coast Century 50km – Imogen’s first 50km race and my second, sans sprained ankle. We knew it would be a mental and physical test – and to some degree that it would test our twinship.
I had been feeling good, strong and fast – despite confirmation that Bill and Bob were still alive and kicking, even following another dose of antibiotics and six weeks on an anti-parasitic diet with some questionable American herbal medicine. I knew Imogen had upped her training in Hong Kong too, so we were ready.
Imogen landed in Australia a week before the race so we focused on a few days of training in Melbourne (and perhaps a little bit of red wine). We ran trails that we’d run together eight years ago when we first moved to Australia. Even in the sideways-torrential rain (thanks Sydney), it was wonderful, nostalgic. And…
Yes, pain. I could feel something in my foot – an uncomfortableness. I put it down to wearing different shoes. But it persevered, got worse through the week.
Dr Google suggested metatarsalgia – inflammation of the ball of the foot – which I was happy to go with, so I took some painkillers and walked around on my heel a lot, assuming it would pass.
By Friday, the pain had thankfully lessened and we headed to our Airbnb in Angelsea, exploring and enjoying the atmosphere of the race event (and buying matching neon socks, of course #twinning).
The evening was spent enjoying wine with other runners, and trying to work out pace and food timings, which I knew would go out of the window at some point during the race. But I like to plan – and I wanted to know we would have enough (Jess-friendly) along the way to refuel.
Plus, I really like eating.
Our rough plan was to take the flats at between 5.00min/km – 6.00min/km depending on terrain, ease off on the hills and pick up the speed on the downhills. We would alternate gels and potatoes every 45 minutes and take salt tablets every 10km. Gatorade and water as needed, and stretching at every checkpoint (20km, 27km and 36km). If we needed to stop, to walk, we would communicate with each other.
We were a team.
We weren’t starting until almost midday, and it felt weird to wake up naturally and spend a chilled (yet quite frantic) morning eating, packing our race vests, eating some more and repacking our race vests. And a bit more eating.
We were both eager to get going; to know what would happen and how we would go.
Breakfast was the usual – sweet potatoes, beets, avocado and eggs. We boiled our 1kg of potatoes that we would take with us and – much to Imogen’s amusement – put them into small sealed bags and into our race vests.
Nervous excitement. Maybe a little bit of disbelief that we were going to run 50km together.
My foot? Was painful, more painful than it had been for a few days, even with rest. But for some reason I rationalised with myself that it would be fine to run on – the pain might even go away.
At 11am, and hour before the start, I made Imo eat more sweet potato and beets – but she refused to drink the beetroot juice. All the more nitrates for me then (not to mention liver detoxification….)
We put our matching odd socks on, our race bibs and our packs.
A pair of running Shorts.
We headed down to the start line with Bex – my partner and our support crew, who would greet us at each check point, mostly to feed and water us, but probably also to check we were still alive.
The weather? Wind and rain – thanks, Melbourne.
We got to the event and the atmosphere was amazing. We chatted to other runners, and volunteers.
The race start was on the beach, so we made our way down there – about 1km away, a good warm up (despite the wind and rain).
Imo and I stood towards the front, under the arch start, excited.
The guy with the mic came over, singling out the twins with the odd neon socks.
Imogen took the opportunity to tell him (and everyone else at the start line) about our race plans, and also that she didn’t want to lose… to me. She talked about why we were running the 50km (I don’t think anybody really knows…), whether we were running together (absolutely, side by side), and what our tactics were (run and eat).
20 seconds, the crowds came forward.
Our first section was a short out-and-back along the beach around a flag and back under the arch start. It seemed pointless… For photos? Maybe.
We. Were. Off.
We began, a good pace towards the flag, excitement.
Around the flag and back towards the arch, past the crowds who had originally cheered us on as we started.
My foot, it hurt. I shook myself, could I do this?
I looked at Imogen running beside me.
“Ok with the pace?”
She hesitated then nodded (she told me later that she definitely wasn’t okay with the pace and was under the impression that we were only ‘sprinting’ for the cameras). We slowed into a rhythm which also eased the pressure from the sand on my foot.
We headed off the beach (both relieved) and onto fire track with the crowds, taking photos and being generally silly, but still maintaining pace.
We went into the single winding trails – still relatively flat.
We were running Leg 3 of the 100km – known to be the hardest with the most elevation. And suddenly we found out why. We went up, fire trails that had split into mounds and holes – clay that had separated because of the weather. It was tricky to say the least, jumping between the mounds, trying not to fall into the holes.
And the rain hit too.
I had strapped my foot up prior to the race, and I was pretty sure it was making the pain worse. So, we stopped, and I took the strapping off.
We continued up, cheering on other runners as we passed them, and we were passed. The matching neon socks were a hit.
The slippery mounds of mud slowed us to a walk, and I was grateful at that point. I looked down at my foot, demanding answers. Then I realised Imogen was taking a selfie of us. Back on it, back running. No excuses.
We hit 45 minutes and 8km – still on the fire trail, and we took gels.
At that moment I decided to take painkillers. Against advice from the race organisers – so I agreed with myself that I would drink more water as a result, if that helped.
Imo and I chatted, laughed, checked in with each other.
“How does everything feel?”
10km came and we took the salt tablets, careful to avoid cramps. They were sweetened tablets – much better than the salt in packets (literally, salt in packets) I’d taken during UTA50.
And we continued and the sun came out, and we were happy, running together.
Then the single track came into the Otways, and we were even happier. Absolutely stunning, literally breath-taking trees and forest with blue skies in the background.
We had stuck with a few of the same people, some doing the 50km, some doing the 100km – our pack. We checked in on each other.
I realised we’d hit an hour and a half already, and around 12km.
We laughed – couldn’t help but stop at the side of the track and take a photo of our potato feast.
“Having a picnic?” One of the runners joked as he ran past.
We continued the slow incline up the single track, surrounded by beauty.
15km and something magical happened – the pain in my foot lessened, the painkillers had finally kicked in.
Then we were on the downhill, picking up the pace.
I checked our timings – we were coming up to the first check point at 20km (although we didn’t reach it until our watches said 21km….ugh), and we were on pace to finish the race in 6 hours – our ambitious target.
We headed to the check point, relief at hitting 20km, and refuelling, and the people cheering.
I saw Bex, and I think she was pretty happy to see us both in one piece.
Imogen headed straight to stretch (on the floor, against trees, whatever worked)… I headed straight to the lollies and fuel.
“How’s the foot?”
I laughed and shook my head.
We stopped for around 4-5 minutes, making sure we had refuelled, stretched (mostly into the duck squat position which felt amazing) and then we were off.
Stiff legs soon became un-stiff as we hit the single trail back into the forest. Back into beautiful nature, through freshly rained on mud trails.
We continued to chat away, swapping the lead to cater for each other’s pacing.
It’s when Imo took the lead that it happened.
One moment she was there, in front of me and chatting away. Her foot caught on a tree stump and she suddenly disappeared into the mud.
And not just disappeared into it – she was still moving along it, skidding face down through the mud for what appeared to be an eternity.
She came to a stop and didn’t move, my heart missed a few beats and my brain went into overdrive – a repeat of the adventure race where Imo had come off the bike right in front of me. Head first.
I couldn’t move, I was frozen, horrified.
A small laugh. “I’m okay, I’m okay”
She lifted her head up from the ground and I dropped down beside her, looking for signs of injury.
“Does everything work?”
She pushed herself off the floor – caked in fresh mud, literally covered from head to toe, face to foot.
Runners passed us and stopped to check on her – beautifulness.
Then we were alone.
I helped her up, still checking for injury. Scrapes across her hands, knees and elbows, but nothing serious.
And then we looked each other. And we laughed.
For at least five minutes, uncontrollably.
We looked at the skid marks she’d left in the mud – almost two metres long, and we laughed some more.
She looked down at herself – her hydration pack tubing was caked in mud, her race bib was hanging by a pin.
“Jess, I’ve got mud in my eyes”
We were 2km away from the next check point, so we decided to run there to get her cleaned up.
Sporadic laughing as we ran, happy and relieved.
We came into the check point and the guy with the mic was there.
“Here comes the twins in the neon socks….oh my god, what happened to you.” He pointed at Imogen.
We laughed some more.
The first aiders took care of Imo for a few minutes. And then we ate – boiled and mashed potatoes and lollies.
Over half way. We headed back out – not so much stretching this time as repairing Imogen.
Leg 3 was over and we were heading into Leg 4 – coastal pathway and beach.
Single track turned into fire trail, towards the sea.
At one point we had to crawl on our hands and knees under a bridge, trying not to fall into the overflowing estuary beneath us, but our muscles were relieved by the different movements, arms not legs.
Then we were running on the Surf Coast Trail, up a hill, up more, past some horses until we reached the top.
Blue skies and blue sea, and sand beaches for miles.
We took some photos.
We hit 30km – more salt tablets and a more painkillers.
We had slowed a little but expected that, swapping between running and a farmers shuffle.
My foot hurt again, but I rationalised that everything hurt, and that made my body move.
With the distance we had covered, the aches were beginning to set in. Doing the same motion for that distance – the very act of putting one foot in front of the other, had become hard work. Our muscles and bones were overworked and wanted desperately to do something different – like stop and lie down.
But, we remained grateful. Not only to race in such a beautiful setting but to race together, side by side.
We took gels, hitting the four-hour mark.
35km and the aches hit harder. T
There were stretches of silence where we just focused on moving our bodies, the occasional check in with each other.
“Jess you’re limping”
“We both are”
“How’s your foot?”
“Everything hurts… so it’s fine” I smiled.
2km from the next checkpoint. We just needed to get there. We arrived at the checkpoint. Greeted by…coke and red bull?
I asked where the vodka was.
The woman laughed.
I was serious.
Bex, again probably grateful to see we were alive asked what we needed.
“To lie down” replied Imogen. And she did just that, which drew some attention from the locals passing by.
I needed lollies, we both did.
More duck squatting, more lollies.
We were behind the 6 hours we had planned, but only just. We could make up the time now that the trails were flatter. Except… we were breaking.
Our Garmins said we were on 38km and I asked a guy with a radio how far was left.
Worst fears confirmed. It appeared we were somehow running 53km.
Imogen was up, eating, refreshed. Drinking the warm coke. “Best bloody thing ever I’ve ever tasted”
Another gel then we were back out and onto Surf Coast trails again.
We ascended up towards Aireys Inlet lighthouse, one of my favourite lighthouses (I do have a thing for lighthouses you see, and what they symbolise for me: a source of strength and guidance in a storm, which some might say is akin to having a twin sister).
We were talking again, laughing, shuffling.
Beautiful Surf Coast Trail.
We hit 40km – officially the longest distance Imogen had ever run in one go.
Pride beyond words to be next to her.
We high fived.
“This is now just a 10km run, just like we’ve been doing all week”
We could bloody well do this, maybe even still in the six hours.
I took more painkillers and more salt tablets.
We hit the beach, soft sand for what looked like a couple of kilometres.
We must have been running for at least a kilometre, and I noticed Imo slowing.
“Jess…” Imo said, a quiet fear in her voice “My knee has gone”
We stopped, reassessing. We knew Imo had had problems with her ITBs – something she’s suffered from in longer distances, so we had been careful to stretch and roll them properly.
Granted, it had taken 42km for her left one to flare up – this was going to be tricky.
Both physically broken – now the mental battle began.
She tried to jog, we made it about 50m before the pain was too much.
I knew that pain, race stopping. Crippling.
“Go on without me Jess”
“Side by side Imo, as long as it takes”
We swapped between a shuffle and a walk.
“We can do this”
And I honestly believed that.
“We can walk to the finish if that’s what it takes”
We agreed – we would finish no matter what. Together.
We taped her knee up and it helped for a while, more tape, more steps forward.
There were tears, from both of us. But hugs to compensate. And some laughter.
There was prosecco waiting for us, after all.
We finally came off the beach, which was a significant relief. Running on sand is hard on a good day and terrible on an injured day.
Back on single track.
Imo was able to run with less pain, with a slightly straighter leg.
We both made strange noises and talked to ourselves, whatever was needed.
“Can I have some painkillers? That’ll help”
I reached for mine.
They must’ve fallen out when we had our salt tablets. Horrifying.
“Imo… they must’ve fallen out.”
Failed. I felt like I’d failed her.
“Oh, I think have some in my front pocket”
Relief. No words.
She took some, and we continued. A literal pain train.
She battled well against a pain I knew was only getting worse. For me too: my foot had cramped into a claw shape in my shoe, which was effective in reducing the pain, but I wondered what was going on down there. What was I going to find when I took my shoe off?
We ran along a few roads and there were people on the streets cheering, and drinking wine. Both were motivation. I think Imogen asked them for a sip.
We were 4km out. The sun was beginning to set across the beach behind us, beautifulness.
Imogen stopped. “Jess, we have to go back onto the beach”
I shook my head. “No, not possible”
Without my glasses I couldn’t see the stream of runners up ahead on the beach.
We both swore, to say the least. And then we let ourselves wallow for a few seconds.
“Let’s finish this and have some wine”
We headed down onto the beach. Her pain kicked in again, harder, more intense.
We walked, taking photos of the sunset, remembering all the gratefuls.
We knew we were about 1km away from the finish line (although our Garmins said 51.9km). We talked about how we would cross the line – holding hands or just running.
Imo was worried we would get disqualified for ‘towing’ if we held hands – it was in the rules and it had happened in other races. (although they were elite races).
Darkness took over, the sun had almost set.
We came off the beach, we knew we were close.
Somehow we picked up the pace, we could hear the cheers of the event finish.
Back onto grass. All pain disappeared and we ran, sprinted even.
Relief, pride, hope.
We crossed the line – just under seven hours.
I hugged her.
My proudest running moment so far.
We laughed, maybe cried.
The mic man was there, interviewing us. Imogen was cry-laughing with relief as she retold our racing adventures. She was still caked head to toe in mud, much to the mic man’s delight.
We had made it.
Bex found us, with prosecco.
We had done it.
We had bloody well done it.
We walked home and I took my shoes off, finally.
My foot looked angry, swollen.
We spent the night eating beautiful food and drinking, trying to roll out and stretch. Watching the All Blacks triumph in the world cup.
But it wasn’t over.
A trip to the hospital the next day confirmed my worst fear.
A broken metatarsal.
I’d most likely fractured it during the trail run on the Monday – then broken it completely during the race.
A moon boot.
For six weeks.
No OCR World Championships.
No Moontrekker 40km in Hong Kong.
No 4 Peaks.
Am I devastated?
Would I change anything to have crossed that finish line with Imogen?