I hadn’t originally signed up for the Great Southern Endurance Run – which took the 28km runners up it. I’d told everyone how beautiful it was because I’d hiked it a few weeks before.
But then FOMO crept in, why wasn’t I running it if it was so good?
Because I had the Surf Coast Century 100km in three weeks, because my breathing still wasn’t right and I was relying on a daily preventer inhaler, because I was still carrying some winter (ahem, Prosecco) weight.
Because of a million reasons…
But none that could stop the pull of wanting to race again. After so many months.
I pondered (stared into space a lot – which is actually no change from my normal self), entries had closed the Sunday before.
So I emailed the Directors on the Tuesday – if they let me enter late, I’d do it.
They replied within five minutes.
I was in.
I didn’t tell my coach.
What was my plan? Was I racing or just running?
A combination of both, maybe. Push myself but not kill myself. No injuries.
No injuries, Jess.
I did things a little differently leading up to the race: I’d already told myself I’d give up wine until after the 100km (don’t worry there will be a
glass bottle of prosecco waiting on the finish line…), and so why not just give up drink completely in the lead up to this race? And why not rest a few days before too? So that’s what happened.
Golly, that was hard.
Race day was upon me, and I woke to a clear head. I ate sweet potato, beets and eggs. And coffe-ed, all the coffee. Mobilised, journaled and meditated.
All before 5.30am.
We got to the start line around 6.15am – nervous excitement hung in the air, everyone was clearly excited to be back racing, regardless of the fact that it had rained all day Friday and was supposed to rain all day Saturday. There were still smiles all round.
I did something else I don’t usually do – a warm up jog. Slowly, trying to get my legs working and breathing under control. I did some skips, some jigs. Realised how silly I looked and headed to get ready. Feeling ready.
The course would take us out 5km along the rail trail to the trout farm, then the climb – the wall: 4km of pure steep up. I think I was the only one excited about that. We would then traverse across to Mount Feathertop – not summiting due to the inclement weather, before dropping down a gradual (but rocky) descent along Bungalow Spur back to the start where we would run a short out-and-back.
The perfect course. Steep up, gradual down. Trails, mountains, adventure.
I took a Gu gel – the only ones I could get hold of before the race. Crickey, it was like drinking a warm milkshake. Kinda nice though.
And suddenly we were off, my heartbeat pounding in my ears, adrenaline running through my body.
I tried not to get excited, to hold back on the flat, pick a pace.
I looked at my watch – 4.10min/km.
But I felt good, my breathing felt good. Finally.
I dropped back, remembering I had the 100km in a few weeks. I would need my legs for that. 4.30min/km.
The 5km seemed quite endless, until finally we hit grass and 2km of undulating trails that would take us to the wall and the climb.
We were guided across a log that I had previously bum-shuffled across over a wide river – grateful for a rope that was able to provide balance to shuffle across…on my feet.
And then the climb.
4km of steep up to the MUMC hut. Through the trees, through the clouds.
I was soon behind two girls.
“Let me know if you want to pass.” said the leader.
We both wanted to, so she stepped aside and the girl ahead of me passed her.
I was just about to do the same, literally right behind the girl who had stepped aside. Right there.
She hopped back onto the trail in front of me.
“You have to be right on my back if you want to pass, otherwise we’ll be in synergy.”
I was so confused.
I don’t think I could’ve been any closer to her.
And what if I wanted to be in synergy? That sounded fun.
I stayed silent, let five minutes pass, then tried again – making sure I was almost hugging her before I asked again.
Then I was off, on my mission: the mountain.
I lunged, pushed myself off my knees, climbed, sang, swore. There was a lot of talking to myself.
I loved every second.
I passed the 100-mile sweepers. 100 miles, six loops of what I was doing. That took my breath away.
More climbing and passing a few more people, remembering at certain points to stop and enjoy the view – even though the cloud obscured most of it. Still so beautiful.
It was about an hour in that I had some potatoes. As per previous efforts during races, I nearly choked on the potatoes as I tried to inhale air into my lungs and eat at the same time.
I took a gel too, which wasn’t any more successful.
I laughed at myself.
We had been advised that when we arrived at the MUMC hut, we would need to stop and put our layers on, that there was wind and rain and coldness.
And I could feel it.
The temperature was dropping, faster, with every step. And the wind picking up.
I arrived at the hut to the wind which literally took my breath away.
2.5km of this.
I put my gloves and buff on…which seemed silly given I was still in my shorts.
The beauty of the single track along the side of the mountain took my mind off the weather, the views were still magical.
I was grateful – even when the wind whipped at my bare legs and forced the air out of my lungs.
The mountains were alive that was for sure.
I continued on, picking up the pace after the steep climb, kind of happy to be on the flat undulating trails.
I could see Federation Hut.
And now the downhill.
Oh, the downhill. My nemesis.
I had watched a YouTube video on how to run technical downhill the night before. The tips?
Fast feet – which I knew and had been practising (if on the spot counts…).
Like a rag doll.
Double oh dear.
I watched in awe of these people literally throwing themselves down steep technical rocky trails – and smiling whilst they did it.
If they can do it then so can I, right?
And the reckless ragdoll was born, so to speak.
I took a caffeine gel, a little more successfully than last time.
The first part of Bungalow Spur down I find quite rocky and rutty, hard to navigate at speed.
But I figured I’d try and loosen my body, took smaller steps and just leant forward and went…just like that.
And it worked, I picked up pace and found some sort of weird rhythm, flailing my arms around (yes, like a ragdoll).
And just like that I survived the first part of the descent. Granted not the fastest, but fast for me and that was enough.
I passed more 100km people that I knew “fourth girl Jess!”
Did that matter? Was I chasing?
Golly gosh, no. I was surviving (this bit anyway), and I wasn’t pushing myself.
I’d thought about what I wanted to achieve prior to the race. A good time? Top 5? I had seen the other competitors at the start line and knew that would be tough.
I had decided: happiness with my running. Comfortable going into my first 100km. And maybe under 4 hours would be nice.
No racing, no chasing.
Just run strong.
I continued as the descent flattened out and I was able to go faster and actually began to enjoy it.
But I kept getting caught in the beauty of the mountains and my surroundings.
Focus Jess, be a reckless ragdoll.
It was at that moment that my foot decided to kick a rather large rock.
There was literally no time between me being upright and me hurtling towards the ground. I didn’t even have time to swear.
My right knee took the brunt of the fall, catching on other rocks. And then in really fast slow motion, my body just automatically tucked, and suddenly I was rolling.
The ninja had returned.
Before I knew it, I was standing up again – in the ready stance.
Ready for what?
I did a body check, ankles were fine, shoulders were fine.
I was fine.
I looked around to see whether anyone had witnessed such an incredible….dance?
No, no one.
I laughed out loud.
My knee suddenly started throbbing and I looked down.
Bright red blood.
I looked closer.
Just superficial holes, worse than it looked.
I continued, stretching out my body just to check I was ok.
A girl flew by me at an incredible speed. Just dancing down the trail.
Well, why not?
So I tried, picked up the pace again, flailed my arms and became reckless.
I must’ve kept her in my sight for all of five minutes before I lost her – I had a lot of work to do to get to that speed.
But I continued down, the reckless ragdoll.
Kilometres passed and I wondered how my quads would feel tomorrow, wondered how long I could keep focussed and not fall again.
And a part of me waited for more people to overtake.
But it never happened, and that to me was a small win.
Then I recognised where I was – the end of the trail, and onto the road.
Holy cow. Only one fall and some decent speed. No real injuries.
I continued down the road, knowing we were running past the finish line to complete a 1.5km out- and-back, back towards the trout farm.
I could hear the finish, see the finish. And maybe my body felt that we should be finishing, as it tired, ached.
And it wasn’t just me.
Runners on the out-and-back had started to walk – we had climbed the mountain, and the real wall we faced was the concrete.
I pushed on, almost there.
I looked at my watch: 3 hours and 10 minutes. Yikes.
Third and fourth girl passed me coming the other way – on their way to the finish. And a small part of me, tiny, wondered whether I could push myself and catch them.
That feeling quickly went.
No Jess, no chasing, no racing.
I got to the turn around point, where the photographer seemed more intent on photographing my knee than me running.
So I jumped for the photo.
Last push back, last 1km.
Golly it was hard.
The concrete was so hard on my already tired body.
Come on Jess.
Somewhere I found the energy and picked up the pace.
3 hours 18 minutes.
Happy, so happy.
High fives and hugs and a jumping photo.
I washed my legs in the cold water of the nearby river before we watched and cheered on the other runners coming in.
God, it felt good to be back.
I run my first 100km in 5 days…