GSER: The Reckless Ragdoll

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.

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.

Jess.

No.

Holy moly.

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.

A race.

I tried not to get excited, to hold back on the flat, pick a pace.

But golly.

A race.

I looked at my watch – 4.10min/km.

Oops.

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.

Better.

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.

Hello.

4km of steep up to the MUMC hut. Through the trees, through the clouds.

I began.

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.

Jess.

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.

Golly.

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.

Jess.

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…).

Be reckless.

Oh dear.

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.

Well.

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.

Oops.

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.

“Follow me!”

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.

So happy.

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.

Oh dear.

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.

Sorry legs.

Last push back, last 1km.

Golly it was hard.

The concrete was so hard on my already tired body.

Come on Jess.

Push.

Somewhere I found the energy and picked up the pace.

The finish.

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.

And next?

I run my first 100km in 5 days…

#sorrylegs

The Alpine Challenge 60km: Beauty and the… Brumbies

I knew I wasn’t ready – physically, and maybe not even mentally.

But I knew I wanted to do something…something challenging.

So, it was between the Buffalo Stampede 42km or the Alpine Challenge 60km.

My coach – knowing I was questioning my form – told me to choose the course I preferred rather than the race itself. The Alpine Challenge 60km it was then – up and over the Alpine High Plains.

Beautiful.  

But could I actually run 60km?

Only one way to find out…

Race Day

I woke just before 5am, before my alarm. Nerves or excitement – or maybe a combination of both.

The race started at 8.30am in Falls Creek and I wanted to make sure I had time to do… everything, to check and re-check, to re-read the map and instructions of the race, and to make sure I ate enough.

I’d pre-cooked my race potatoes and breakfast eggs and sat down to have the usual coffee, beetroot, sweet potato and pre boiled eggs while looking at the map of the race. The first 10km was a descent – steep in places, followed by a 10km ascent to get to the high plains. The remaining 40km was undulating.

Golly, it seemed like a long way.

I mobilised my body until I thought I was overstretching all my limb, and then journaled about how I was feeling until I couldn’t write anymore without causing muscle fatigue in my arm J

Nerves indeed.

I also knew that once I got home everything would be hurting – whether it was my heart or my body. So, I prepared my firepit, ready to be lit, and prepped some dinner and snacks for after the race.

And put some Prosecco in the fridge, of course.

During the drive over to Falls Creek I stopped at Sullivan’s Lookout – a favourite lookout of mine over Mount Beauty. I took a moment, a few breaths.

Just run Jess, do what you love.

I arrived to blue skies and other runners, all looking as excited and nervous as me.

Gear checks, more potatoes, both ankles strapped, and I was at the start line.

We counted down together and we were off, running down the road towards Packhorse, a 5km mountain bike trail. Single trail.

I’d been advised to get ahead before we hit the trail as it would bottleneck, so I let my legs carry me forward and down.

As we entered Packhorse I joined a pack of guys, aiming to keep up with them, or at least keep them in my sight.

This was fast.

We jumped and weaved over and around rocks and obstacles, until I eventually lost them, and I was alone.

Focus.

The trail was beautiful and quite technical, and I wondered how mountain bikers actually biked up it.

I did a body check – legs felt good, lungs felt good. My brain felt slightly overwhelmed by what was to come, especially as my watch vibrated: 1km down. 59km more to go….

Golly.

Eventually, I exited out of Packhorse and crossed the road, passing a volunteer who directed me towards a fire trail ahead.

“Crikey you did that fast.”

Initially distracted by the fact that I’d found another human being that used the word crikey, I looked at my watch: 5km in 29 minutes. Fast for trail, and perhaps for the start of a 60km race.  

I nodded at him.

But it was bloody fun though.

The next 5km of trail was a rough descent – rocky and scree-ey(?) and incredibly steep in parts.

Much slower than the first 5km.

I heard someone behind me panting, before he passed me.

“Who needs toenails anyway.” He commented.

Exactly.

But I do like mine.

We continued almost together, slowing on the steeper sections until we got to the bottom, to crossroads.

My first map reading, and also a check on the written instructions.

“Right.”

He nodded in agreement and we turned, then hit a small ascent and I left him with his toenails…or lack of.

A few hundred metres later I hit a river…. I mean, maybe it was a creek, but it was pretty wide and pretty deep.

I stopped and looked, and looked again.

No clear crossing.

Righto.

Straight through then.

Thigh deep. I wondered whether there was a bridge I hadn’t seen, but the water was refreshing anyhow.

10km in.

I took a gel and a salt tablet – it wasn’t the best idea to take the beautifully sweet gel first, then the bitter salt tablet after. The taste remained in my mouth until I took the next gel. Hmmm.  

Now the ascent.

On the elevation map I’d looked at it had shown this as a steep ascent – my favourite.

But no no.

It zig zagged upwards. Not steep, just that awkward amount of gradient that you’re not quite sure whether to run or lunge.

10km of it.

Crikey.

And so I began. Running at first, then lunging.

I’d actually read (at least a million) articles on the pros and cons of ascending on gradient of less than 26%. It all came down to personal preference of whether you would rather sacrifice energy expenditure and run, or sacrifice muscle expenditure and lunge. The recommendations generally leant towards doing a combo.

So, the dancing began, and I swapped every few minutes between lunging and running.

I came to a guy who I’d lost on Packhorse, then another, and passed them as they walked and shuffled – they weren’t overly happy with life at that moment.

I could feel myself getting higher and higher – surely near the top. And frost appeared on the ground, definitely near the top.

I passed a runner with poles and we chatted.

“This is my second ever trail run. I didn’t realise it would be so hard.”

Erm.

I stayed with him for a while, until we hit what looked like the lead up to a flatter ridge line across the Alpine Plains. I wished him luck – the hard part was done.

Golly.

The views took my breath away and I must’ve taken a million photos right there of the contrasting green grass, the frost, the blue skies and the mountains.

Oh, the mountains.

I felt like I was home.

But also in a race, Jess.

I continued on – single track along a ridge line, surrounding by beauty and mountains.

So happy.

And also, potato time.

Literally all my favourite things in one place (minus the prosecco…).

22km in and my legs felt good.

I knew there was a check point in a few kms up the small ascent ahead of me, where I could stock up on electrolytes and some more carbs. I’d only managed to fit three bags of potatoes in my pack with all the mandatory gear.

I saw someone running towards me and my adrenaline kicked in – something had happened? I couldn’t have been going the wrong way, surely? And I couldn’t be hallucinating yet…

Then I realised. “Simon!”

I knew him – volunteering for the race this weekend because he was unable to run due to injury, but out on his own run.

He reached me and turned and ran next to me, slowing to my pace. It was so good to talk to someone after almost three hours of running mostly solo.

“You’re first female, and fifth overall.”

Eek. I knew there were no females ahead of me, but not that I was fifth overall.

Come on legs.

We reached the check point full of beautifully cheery people – one of my favourite things about ultra runs: the people.

I had actually planned on getting to the check point at around 3 hours 30mins, but had reached it at 3 hours almost on the dot.

Happy.

I filled up on electrolytes and bananas, allowing myself a few minutes to recharge before I set off, continuing along the ridge line.

It was too beautiful.

So, I video called my twin sister in Hong Kong because she would love this, because one day when were allowed to fly, I would bring her here to do this again. Together.  

We chatted and laughed before she told me to focus on the race.

I ran, alone along the single track, along a few dusty 4WD tracks. Thinking, singing (it happened), planning. There were tough sections – shrubbery where you couldn’t quite see the trail you were running on, and single track that was so narrow you had to literally put one foot in front of the other. Both instances forced me to slow down.

I checked my map and the instructions when I wasn’t sure, as we were told the course wasn’t marked overly well in places.

Another body check – my hips were feeling tender but that had always happened at anything over 25km. My ankles were fine, which I was grateful for.

 My pace drifted between 5.35min/km and 6.00min/km which I was happy about.

An ascent through some beautiful but rocky single track took me to 30km – halfway. Three and a half hours in.

I did a combination of the jig and the robot dance (sometimes it’s actually a bonus of ultra runs that there are rarely people around you….)

I looked at my time – could I do seven hours? I wondered.

The next check point came along, and I filled my water and ate a packet of chips – which I hadn’t planned on but just happened. And felt good.

“That way?” I pointed right.

“Erm no, that’s a car park. You go that way.” She pointed left.

Good one, Jess.

I set off onto more single track before hitting a crossroad.

I checked the map, and the instructions. Not overly clear until I saw a single track across from me and continued.

37km.

Then the pain started.

And not in any of my usual places (i.e. all over).

In my heel – it suddenly felt like I was running with a nail in my heel.

Not overly pleasant.

I continued on, hoping it would go away. But the single track had been covered in a plastic cover to make it more walkable, I guess? Compounding the pain in my heel on every strike.

Could I do this for another 23km?

I reasoned with myself that I’d run 50km on a broken foot before (not recommended)… surely, I could do this, and maybe it would ease.

So, I tried to ignore it and adjusted my foot placement to the point where it must’ve looked like I was running with a swagger.

Rocking it, I’m sure.

It was a lot though.

My mind battled with itself, should I take painkillers? We’ve always been told to err on the side of caution using painkillers in ultra-running – placing too much stress on your already overworked kidneys.

1km later I stopped.

I would take the risk.

Painkillers and a gel and some salt. A beautiful concoction of…everything I needed right then.

I continued on with my swagger, waiting for them all to kick in.

I kept my mind busy, focussing on the views and the mountains, aware that my pace had dropped but still shuffling through. I couldn’t afford to go to a dark place right now.

Mountains mountains mountains.

42km.

“Only 18km to go.” I told myself in an overly cheery voice. Almost to my own annoyance.

I hit a crossroads next to a red roofed hut with five different options to go down. I could see one pink flag across a bridge on the aqueduct. Surely it had to be that way – but then was it left, or right?

I looked at the instructions which warned that this was where runners usually got lost.

Joy.

I studied the map, which looked to go right, towards Cape Hut. Follow the poles – there were poles.

So I crossed the bridge over the aqueduct and went right with the poles, along the aqueduct – a 4WD track.

Flatter, less pain in the heel.

After a few minutes I stopped.

There was something in my gut.

Something not right.

I must’ve gone 800m, maybe 1km.

This wasn’t right.

I looked for Cape Hut, checked the map again.

I was heading the wrong way, away from Cape Hut.

Panic and disbelief.

I turned, looked back at where I had come from.

Sh*t.

I picked up the pace and ran back.

Sh*t sh*t sh*t.

A couple of minutes later I was back at the red roof hut, so confused. I couldn’t see any other runners, couldn’t see any routes. I read the map again and re-read the instructions:

Cross the aqueduct and follow the numbered pole line to Pole 333 (check your map—many runners go the wrong way here). Watch out for brumbies in this area

Something else occurred to me: I didn’t know what a brumbie was. Was I about to be attacked by one? I looked around, not overly sure what I was looking for.

I felt beaten.

I called Paul, the Race Director, and explained where I was.

“Follow the poles, not the ones along the aqueduct. Not along a road.”

I could only see roads. He could sense my frustration.

“Stand in front of the hut door and directly in front of you is a trail, follow those poles into the grass, you’re aiming for Pole 333.”

At that moment the sun seemed to suddenly shine on an impossible-to-see single track across the road in front of me, the start of it obscured by overgrown grass. And there were poles.

I thanked Paul and ended the call.

I felt so stupid, so disappointed in myself.

There was at least one sob before I started running again into the single track, and if I could’ve lifted my foot high enough, I would definitely have stamped it in annoyance.

How much time had I lost? Not just from going wrong but the time spent looking for the right way and on the phone to Paul. 20 minutes? 30 maybe?

How many people had passed me in that time?

Had I given away the lead?

Ugh.

I was in the middle of a pity party for one.

I needed to find strength again, so I called Imogen who was out on her own run.

“I got lost.”

I explained what had happened and I could hear my voice going more and more high pitched. She could sense my frustration, could probably hear that I was almost in tears.

“It’s fine Jess, it doesn’t matter. You’re on the right track now, just keep on running. This is your race.”

There was so much positivity in her words.

“Remember where you are.”

And then I did.

The mountains.

I was lucky enough to be in the middle of the most beautiful mountains, able to run over and around them.

Nothing else mattered.

Bring present in the mountains mattered.

I thanked her and left her to her run.

Then I realised something else – my heel had stopped hurting.

Whether the painkillers had kicked in or whether the forced ‘rest’ had helped.

I laughed, finally. Happy again. Almost annoyed that I’d let myself become so caught up in getting lost. 

I focussed on the course – marshy and rocky so a little tricky, but a nice change to the plastic or road.

I looked at the poles and realised they were all numbered and counting down towards pole 333 – where the next aid station was at 47.5km.

No brumbies in sight either – although I wouldn’t have known if there were.

The pole numbers were getting lower and I could suddenly see the check point. I checked my watch which was on 49km. So, I’d maybe gone 2km off course?

Then I remembered it didn’t matter.

There were two guys at the check point with the biggest smiles I’d ever seen. Legends.

I refuelled with electrolytes and chips and we chatted for a few minutes about the race, the mountains, the day, getting lost.

But I refused to ask them what a brumbie was.

They did confirm that I was maybe the seventh or eighth 60km runner to come through the station – and the first girl so far. So, a couple of the guys had passed me when I went off course.

Was that a relief? Did that change things?

I didn’t think so.

I was pain free, on the right track and a few km away from completing the longest race I’d ever run.

I was happy, and I was so grateful.

“So, this way?” I pointed to a single track.

“Erm, no it’s this way.” One of the guys pointed to the pink flags that lined the course.

We laughed and I set off.

More marsh and rock but a descent this time, and without the pain in my heel the ninja tap dancing came back as I picked up the pace.

I also realised I had ignored my nutrition during the panic of getting lost and took a gel and a salt tablet. Still the wrong way round.

The course turned right onto a 4WD track that looked familiar – similar to when I’d camped at Pretty Valley Pondage and run around the trails there.

Beautiful.  

A gradual ascent and I caught up with one of the guys that must’ve passed me when I went off track.

He did a double take.

“I got lost.”

“Maaaaaaate.”

Yeah, but I didn’t get eaten by brumbies so I’m winning.

More 4WD track, more views.

More gratitude.

I continued on and watched as my watch ticked over to 54km – officially the longest I’d ever run for.

I checked my body and sure it hurt all over, but there was nothing outstandingly painful anymore.

I hit the Pretty Valley check point just behind another guy and filled up on water in my plastic cup. I knew the bladder in my pack was empty but didn’t think I had the mental or physical skills, or patience, to stop a refill it. Which was a bit silly really.  

The guy manning the check point pointed to a mountain in the distance.

“That’s where you’re headed. Out and back up and down.”

I looked.

Mt McKay.

Golly.

I actually didn’t believe him, thought he must’ve had it wrong. Who would put a mountain in a race in the last 5km of a 60km? I checked the instructions.

Oh.

Another gel, with caffeine, as I started back running ahead of the other guy who I think continued to stare at Mt McKay in disbelief for a little while longer.

I thought about what finishing the race would feel like, how it would feel to stop running. I was almost seven hours in now – I couldn’t even remember what not running felt like anymore.

I continued, and suddenly I was at the bottom of Mt McKay with a 4WD road going pretty steeply up it. I was actually grateful for the change in stride and pace as I started to lunge up it.

And then for the first time I thought about how near the second-place female might be, whether I had done enough to maintain a decent lead, or whether she would appear on this out and back. I looked back at the trail we had come from and could see no one but the guy I’d passed at the check point.

Would this be my first ultra-trail win? I decided not to get ahead of myself – a lot could still happen between now and the finish line.

Almost anything in fact.

The climb felt so good, I almost wanted to just stay in the lunge positions a little longer each time, and maybe just enjoy the view a little too.

I was also aware that I needed water and didn’t have any.

Jessica.

Maybe there was some at the top.

A small single track off the road took us to the hut at the top where I met a guy taking a photo of it.

“Do we need photo evidence?” I asked.

“Nah, just letting my wife know where I am.”

Of course.

I wondered how many more stupid questions I had left in me.

I took a photo anyway and touched the door. No water in sight.

The descent was…fast. I caught up and passed the guy, staying low and taking my little tap-dancing steps.

At the bottom I pulled out my instructions, confused.

Follow the flags through the scrub…

Scrub?

Erm.

I wondered whether scrubs had anything to do with brumbies.

I turned to the guy behind me and pointed down the road.

“This way?”

He shook his head and laughed and pointed straight across the road, where the tiny pick flags led through what I could imagine is a scrub.

One more stupid question then Jess.

We entered the scrub together, ascending through shrubbery and rocks, but nice enough single trail.

“Paul likes to throw in a hill for the last few kms.” The guy said.

He also just threw in a mountain.

We held a steady pace together until we hit the 4WD track again, the start of the mountain bike trails, and I pulled away slightly.

There was a small sign by the side of the road.

2km to go.

2km until no more running.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, or how my body would feel.

I was just over seven and a half hours with maybe only 20 minutes maximum of human interaction. The rest had been spent in my head. Planning, thinking, life administrating, good memories, bad memories, more good memories.

So many questions. What would I have done differently? Could I have gone faster?

Focus Jess.

Just finish.

At 1km we were directed off the 4WD track and down into grass that cut straight down through the mountain bike trails.

Surely not.

There wasn’t a trail as such, only squashed grass from the runners that had already finished, and it was lumpy and hard to see where to put my feet.

Focus Jess.

A guy appeared.

“Simon!”

I knew I must be near the finish.

We chatted as I ran past, and I could hear the cow bells and people at the finish line.

Real people.

And then it came into view, the finish line I’d left over seven and a half hours ago.

I sped up towards it, so happy.

So happy.

I’d made it.

60km (Ahem, 63km).

First female.

Fifth overall.

So grateful.

I took off my pack, took off my shoes.

Unsure what to do with myself.

Restless legs.

People started talking to me about the race – other runners, volunteers, and we exchanged stories.

I tried to stretch my legs, but every muscle was on the border of cramping – even my shoulders.

Beer instead then – which tasted so good after seven hours of potatoes, bananas gels and salt tablets.

Golly.

I found out that the presentations were going to be held on the Sunday when I wasn’t around.

My last two ultra-races I had come third and second, with no presentations allowed due to COVID-19. And now I was going to miss this one.

I put any pride aside and jumped (erm, literally had to be lifted) onto the empty podium alone, with my horseshoe trophy. Happy.

Race learnings? So many, but here goes:

  1. People are amazing and can pull you out of dark dark places. Seek out those people and drag them along for the journey.
  2. Learn as much about the race as possible: the terrain, the course, everything. (I now know what brumbies and scrubs are…).
  3. Always take a moment, or multiple moments, to appreciate what you are doing and where you are doing it. Because it is awesome.

And next?

The big one will be the Surf Coast Century 100km in September.

Crikey.

But next up is the Wandi Cross – 3,000m elevation in 21km…

#sorrylegs

Buffalo Stampede: Fast and furious, but still glorious

Evening races have never been my jam – the last time I participated I almost swore I’d never do it again. The anticipation throughout the day is a killer, and I can never quite get the nutrition right. 

The 10km Buffalo Stampede, however, was upon us (ahem, more like 12.6km). Short, but tough: up Emily Spur and down some of the double black mountain bike trails of Bright.

Yikes.

But why not? I hadn’t raced a shorter distance for a while and there were plenty of people I knew doing it… it was also a good test for my ankle for the impending 60km Alpine Challenge. It could be fun, right?

The race.

The event atmosphere was electric – music, runners and good vibes. Good times.

I took a caffeine gel, my ankle strapped. I was ready.

And suddenly 5pm came and we were off – facing 3.5km of flat trail before the climb up Emily Spur.

We were running and it was fast – for trail. I was with a pack – mostly girls. 4.25min/km.

Holy moly.

But my stubbornness to stay with the pack overrode any race plan I’d had (cruise the flats, smash the up and go careful on the downs).

Even when I couldn’t contain or control my breathing, I just kept going.

Suddenly there were conflicting thoughts going through my head – my race prep had been poor, maybe I’d eaten too much that day, or maybe I just wasn’t cut out for faster races anymore.

I rationalised with myself: I was only 3.5km in, you can hold this.

And so I did, somehow. I managed to find a comfortably uncomfortable rhythm in my stride and my breathing.

I was not racing to win – I’d seen who I was up against and seen most of them sprint off at the start. This was more about proving to myself that I could still go faster and shorter. And maybe find some pleasure in evening races. Maybe.

We continued along at pace – through campsites, over bridges, along the river. All beautiful.

I knew the trails, and I knew that we were coming to the Emily.

For various reasons I’d already done Emily Spur twice that week (again, questioning my race prep…). It’s one of my favourite runs (‘runs’) – different grades of climbs, beautiful views and multiple choices to get back down to the bottom.

Hello Emily.

We started the climb.

Some around me slowed (as most would given the gradient), and I took the opportunity to try and push forward and gain some ground before the downhill that I knew would slow me down.

Cue aggressive lunging.

Emily Spur is a jaggered and steep 1.5km long firetail leading up to Mystic Hill Launch Pad. Many break the length of the climb down into sections of either quarters or thirds to make it easier on the mind and body to tackle.

As we ascended I noticed my breathing was still an issue and I was taking huge breaths just to try and get enough oxygen into my lungs to account for the steepness of the climb.

Head down. Get up.

I passed a few people and we exchanged words of encouragement – everyone in their own little pain cave trying to push through.

Having done the climb a fair few times, I know you have a fair amount of time to try and distract yourself from the lactic acid build in your legs, and the burn in your lungs – especially without music. So, I thought about the race, and at this point I figured I might even be third female – (which explained the inability to breath properly). I knew there were many close behind me though; I could hear them and knew they were strong runners.

Could I hold third? Was I even third? Could I even breathe?

I decided to think about something else.

Post-race Prosecco.

Happy, I continued on up.

I stopped once to look at the view as the sunset on us – a reminder of how lucky we were to be doing this.

We hit Gaps Jump (I think it’s called that, but I may also have made that up. There’s a jump there, and it has a gap in it so…) and I knew this was the final part. The final up.

Part of that excited me, part of that terrified me.

We were reaching the downhill.

Everyone has their weakness, I know that.

(one of) Mine is on the downhill. Which surprises me because I used to not be too bad at it. But maybe too many falls, sprains, near misses (hello trees)…or maybe I had just become too cautious and risk adverse?  Either way, they were no longer my friend.

I could see the top – see people I knew. Legends, who had made the climb to support runners when they most needed it.

They cheered and shouted support.

That, coupled with the sun setting over Mystic Hill, I almost wanted to cry. A reminder of the beauty of trail running, nature and people in general.

“Small steps and get low on the downhill” one of the girls supporting commented – she could clearly read the panic in my face at what was to come.

I nodded.

I could do this.

I ran across the top of Mystic Hill with the sun setting before me – and more beautiful people, cheering.

I could do this.

World Cup Downhill is a double black mountain bike trail that defies me how anyone could possibly ride down without a) hitting a tree b) coming off at any of the multiple humongous drops c) being absolutely terrified and running away. Huge kudos.

I began the descent as the darkness of the forest encapsulated me.

“Small steps” I repeated, and managed to find a rhythm in between the drops and roots. Small fast steps.

Like a ninja.

Be a ninja Jess.

I found a pace in the zig zagging of the trail that I was comfortable with – fast enough to not feel like it was slow motion, slow enough to feel in control. Tap dancing almost.

A happy tap-dancing ninja indeed.

The expected happened – people caught me.

First one of the guys I’d overtaken on Emily and I watched in awe as he almost jigged merrily down the steep trail.

Then a girl; the girl I knew had been the closest behind me on Emily spur.

I stepped to the side and let her pass.

She was flying.

Had I lost third? Was I even third? Did it even matter?

I decided it didn’t.

Finishing without injury mattered, improving my downhill just a little bit mattered.

The tap-dancing ninja.

I continued.

And something strange happened – I began to enjoy it, picking up speed where I could and sliding down on my backside when I needed too. It was actually fun.

I got to the bottom of World Cup DH, pleased with the effort (but also pleased it was over) and ran towards Down DJ – another mountain bike trail that was more forgiving that World Cup with large open trails, less roots and drops and less steep.

It was also beginning to get darker not only as I descended deeper into the forest, but as the sun properly set – not quite enough to get my head torch out, but enough to appreciate the beauty and peace of the forest at night.

Erm Jess, you’re in a race.

Right.

So, I started and was able to go faster and let loose a little more on the easier trails. Still taking smaller steps and staying low – still present and watching the trail.

Golly this was fun.

The huge berms on Down DJ are mildly terrifying on a bike, but to run become like a big adventure playground, fun and fast.

So happy.

I realised there was no one around me – those who had overtaken me on World Cup had long gone, and those who I had managed to pass on Emily appeared to be some way off.

Alone with the forest and the trails.

An overwhelming gratefulness settled in me.

I was nearing the bottom of Down DJ when I could feel my legs become just that little bit heavier. And it occurred to me I’d been running for almost an hour – my body needed fuel.

A gel. Berry. Done.

Sugar coursed through me and I could feel my legs come back to life (I don’t actually think it happens that quickly, most likely the placebo effect…)

Down DJ was suddenly over and straight into Grevid’s Way (via a link track maybe? I just followed the pink ribbons) – it was flatter but more rooty. Darker still.

But. I had done the descent, survived, enjoyed – and not as slow as I thought I would’ve.

Single track now, beautiful single track, undulating.

My favourite.

I laughed a lot I think, and made a few noises that I can’t even describe. The trails were awesome.

And then I was back out in the open, at the bottom of Emily Spur where we had started the climb – more people cheering.

It was almost a shock to be back in civilisation.

3.5km to go. Flat.

I had energy – I could go.

So I did.

Not as hard as the beginning 3.5km. A slightly more comfortable 4.35min/km, not dictated by others.

Across a bridge, back through the campsite.

Dark.

I turned my head torch on, holding it to light my path. 

A sign – 1km to go.

I pushed. Could taste the Prosecco.

I heard the event finish – the atmosphere, music, people.

Home.

I mustered up what sprint I had left and crossed the line to familiar faces.

1 hour 20 minutes.

13th overall and 4th female.

I was happy.

I was exhausted.

I was grateful.

Ooo, free beer.

I caught up with others – those that had finished already, those that had come to watch. And we watched as more runners came in.

Legends.

I took away three things from the race:

  1. Run your own race – otherwise it could ruin you
  2. Trust yourself and your body’s capabilities (and become a tap-dancing ninja if needed)
  3. Be present – always. Be where your feet are

Hello Prosecco.

And next?

My longest run so far – the 60km Alpine Challenge.

It’ll be tough for sure. But watching other runners smashing out the 10km, 75km and the 42km over the Buffalo Stampede weekend, I have learned so much about what tough truly means – and what strength truly looks like.

I am inspired.

#sorrylegs

Warburton Trail Fest: The highs, the lows and the blows…

I hadn’t raced a multi-day since Lara Pinta in 2017 – which is strange because to this day it’s been one of my favourite racing experiences.

I’d raced at the Warburton festival in 2020 and managed to take 2nd place in the Donna Double (22km) despite spraining my ankle at 17km. I wanted to do better this year, and hurt myself less. So, I signed up for the multi-day madness: 50km-22km-9km.

Of course.

With the exception of a mountain bike crash that ruined my bike and my hamstring, the training had gone really well – so I felt good going into the weekend.

Even when our Airbnb turned out to be a dorm with bunk beds and I opted to sleep on a trundle in the porch. It’s all part of the experience, right?

Compact but efficient, I laid out all my race gear.

Ready.

Saturday: Lumberjack 50km

I set my alarm for 5.45am but I was awake at 5am. Excited? Maybe, but also the porch didn’t have any curtains so I woke in a state of terror, which is also a great alarm clock.

I was up, eating my pre-cooked eggs and sweet potato with beetroot. And of course a coffee.

With my bag packed, I put on my new Salmon S/Lab Sense 8 trail shoes – they felt like gloves on my feet. I wondered whether I could moonwalk in them (I tried; I can’t).

We left at 6.20am; nervous energy in the car as we drove the 25 minutes to the start line.

The sun was rising as racers got ready, mingled and did their last-minute checks.

And so did I: toilet trip(s), gel checks and of course my #potatopower check.

Satisfied.

I thought about the race.

The aim – without knowing the course – was to get under six hours, ideally five and a half hours, and try to run without stopping, unless I needed more energy at an aid station…or fell over.

As with all multi day races I also knew it was important to not go out too hard on the first one – so pacing myself was essential.

We were treated to the legendary Beau Miles starting the race by chopping through a piece of wood with an axe.

No, really…

Then suddenly we were off.

As always, I tried not to look ahead of me, or count the women, the men. This was my race. My first race of 2021.

The Warburton trails are very different to Bright, or the You Yangs – thicker mud on the floor, ferns either side of the trail and a rain forest that towers above you allowing only glimpses of sunlight.

Quite magical.

Fast.

We started off fast and I had to stop myself so I wasn’t running under 5 minute kilometres, knowing the first 12km was relatively flat just undulating.

My legs felt good. A little tight – maybe from the bike crash maybe from the (failed attempt in decreasing) strength training – most likely from a combo of both.

But I was happy.

I ran onto my first wooden section and suddenly felt like Bambi on ice, slipping and almost ending up going over the side – we had been warned in the race briefing that the wood was slippery.

There was definitely flailing. Maybe a squeal.

I laughed at myself and continued, cautiously, almost stamping across it to avoid slipping again.

45 minutes in and I took a gel.

Clearly out of practice, I completely missed my mouth and emptied the contents onto my right leg.

A little baffled at my incompetence I pulled another one out of my race pack and successfully navigated the simplicity of eating a gel.

“Focus Jess”

And so I did for the remainder of the undulating trail, passing people and being passed. Enjoying the event atmopshere and the people as always.

There were a fair few fallen trees strewn across the track and I found myself constantly having to decide whether jumping over or squatting under would be less taxing on my body – and always feeling like I’d made the wrong choice regardless.

I thought about what position I might be in; I assumed there had been quite a few females ahead of me in the start line – I’d already seen Lucy Bartholomew speed towards the front of the pack when the wood had been chopped. Legend.

Maybe I was top five? Or top ten?

And maybe it didn’t matter.

I hit the first aid station (not literally) and decided not to stop. Mostly because I didn’t think I needed to, but also I didn’t know exactly where my mask and portable cup were that were required at aid stations.

Then the hill.

So steep it almost blocked out the sky.

I think I was the only one who was happy.

I started the lunging, catching up with some of those that had overtaken me. The track was slightly wider but still muddy and leafy.

I hit the 1:30 mark during the climb, which meant potato time.

Without thinking (common theme here) I put the potatoes straight into my mouth, forgetting that I would in fact also need to breathe.

And my feet refused to stop the climb.

So suddenly I was half suffocating on potato but refusing to stop to deal with it.

Luckily no one was around to see the terrified and confused look on my face as I continued to eat and choke on the potatoes.

The ordeal ended and I took a few deeper breaths and picked up the pace.

Eventually, after what seemed like forever (maybe also due to my near death potatoe choking experience), I reached the top of the climb. Relieved for my legs.

I continued on, allowing them to get used to the flat once again.

Single trail in the magical forest.

My legs must have been a little tired as I began to trip on fallen branches on the track. Or maybe it was just the amount of fallen branches there were on the track.

Suddenly I saw a runner come towards me.

Panic.

Had I gone the wrong way?

I asked him if he was ok, and he looked at me a little strangely and nodded. I wondered whether he was going back for a fallen friend, rationalised that that was the only explanation. How nice of him.

Then another runner came towards me.

More panic.

Then it hit me (not a tree this time).

I was on an out and back.

I had forgotten, or thought it would have been clearer. But maybe I had missed it.

I arrived at another aid station – the main section of the out and back, where we would continue on to the famous Ada tree before returning to this station and heading off in a different way.

“Great work – you’re the second female!”

Oh shit.

Unexpected. Really unexpected.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag of feelings when you hear you’re doing better than you thought. Happy, obviously, but nervous. A little terrified in fact.

The pressure? The fact that a podium spot was now mine to lose?

Yikes.

I smiled regardless and continued onto fire trail, wondering how far away the Ada tree was – nd how far away third place was. And forth. And fifth…

More people – volunteers. Legends. Cheering us on.

More gels and potatoes – eaten with a bit more dignity this time.

And more slippery wood covered in chicken wire, to trick you into continuing to run on it.

Then.

The Ada tree. Beautiful, huge.

The turning point of the out and back, and soon the start of the downhill.

30km in.

I was relieved that, by studying the elevation for all of two seconds, it looked like a gradual downhill. Less likely to fall over, less likely to sprain an ankle.

What the elevation (obviously) didn’t show was the terrain – freshly cut ferns that now lay on the track, offering little support and almost as much slipperiness as the wood, parts were on a sideways slope which is always going to be awkward to run on.

But the hardest part was more fallen branches and trees – thousands I think (maybe ten).

The trees had fallen across the path in regular enough intervals to just get up some speed then have to stop and climb over or clamber under.

And the branches, oh my.

Little pointy traps. If you didn’t lift your feet up high enough you would surely kick them.

And I did, often.

The worst of the branches caught my left foot and not only scraped all the way down from my toe to my ankle, but also sent my forward moving foot suddenly backwards. Which, when your body is also moving forwards, never ends well. 

I managed to flail enough that I caught myself before crashing to the floor.

But the pain was so much that I wanted to kick something.

Then I realised I had.

So I stamped in protest instead.

Did it help? Who knows.

I continued, wary. Weary.

This was hard.

There was negative self-talk, probably some swearing as I balanced the ferns, the branches and the unforgiving sideways slope of the track.

But I was getting lower, closer to the roads and ground level.

Then I heard it, a women’s voice behind me. Close. Third place female.

I knew who it was too. Assuming Lucy had taken the lead, it was Vic – the woman who had taken first place ahead of me at Surf Coast Century by a massive 30 minutes in my last 50km.

She had caught me on my rather poor effort of a descent, that I’d mostly spent kicking fallen trees.

But suddenly I was at the bottom and I didn’t care. I was happy to be on road.

41km in. My race.

I didn’t care.

But crikey it was hot. No shade on the road.

I looked at my watch and realised I could actually get under five hours if I kept going at this pace. A new goal.

Another aid station and the volunteer there asked me if I wanted anything.

“Glass of wine?”

We laughed.

I continued on and caught up with another runner who had stopped at the aid station and we chatted about the race, about our bodies – good conversation after over 4 hours that felt like I was on my own.

We got to the river crossing and I knew Vic was right behind me, I stepped aside knowing I wanted to take my time in the river, revive my muscles.

Oh, the water.

It was delightful. I wanted to dive in.

I exited just behind her and we chatted for a while then she moved into a comfortable pace just ahead of me. And maybe I just let her. Resigned to it.

We ran through a caravan park where most people must’ve thought we were mad. Some cheered.

We hit the 46km mark. My legs felt fine, heavy for good reason, but for some reason my glutes just hurt.

Vic was less than 100m ahead. I thought about whether I would have the energy for any sort of sprint finish to catch her, then I realised two things:

1.  I wasn’t focussing on the right thing, and that was not what this race was about

2. I didn’t have the energy anyway.

We came out of the caravan park and onto the river trail, and suddenly I could here the event village – the finish line.

Under 5 hours.

Something stupid in me chased the noise, the finish, the impending feeling of no longer running on tired legs.

48km

I ran straight towards it, through a gate that seemed to be in a silly position given there was a race going on.

And then I realised.

I’d come in the wrong way.

I watched as some of the men were finishing, coming through the finish line opposite me. The opposite way.

I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.

I asked someone who looked official and he looked at me, mortified.

“You’ve missed the bridge turning, go back to the bridge and turn left and left again.”

Go back?

Back.

I wanted to cry, or stop. Or both.

I think I stamped my foot again.

No.

I started to move my legs again, back towards the bridge. I wasn’t sure which bridge or how far.

A guy had followed me and I shouted for him to turn around.

We ran back to the bridge together and crossed it, and realised how long the out and back was to get to the finish.

I wondered too, whether another female would have passed me and I’d stupidly given up a podium position.

Maybe it was the anger or the adrenaline, but my legs had a new lease of life and I picked up the pace.

Was under five hours still possible? I looked at my watch.

Probably not.

I ran past a bridge, hoping there would be arrows that took me up over it and back towards the finish line.

No arrows. I almost threw a tantru. Almost.

The next bridge surely.

Yes.

So so happy.

I crossed it.

Home stretch.

49km and five hours ticked over.

I was too tired to be angry at myself.

Maybe too happy too – I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t fallen (completely).

I passed some runners of the 25km race as we hit some steps, none of us managing them particularly well.

We laughed.

I could hear the finish line again.

I went faster (I probably didn’t)

The finish line.

I sprinted (no extra speed was gained).

5 hours and 2 minutes.

Holy cow.

I was happy.

I didn’t care about the wrong turn, or the placing.

I was just happy.

But it was confirmed anyway – third place behind Lucy and Vic. Both legends. I was stoked.

So happy.

I sat in the river, soaking up the soothing feeling, then tried to keep moving on post-run restless legs.

And then?

Food time.

And maybe a drink or two.

Then all the stretching.

Donna Double – 22km

The second race of the weekend wasn’t until 8.30am the following day. In my eyes that’s a sleep: I woke at 7am.

I tried to get out of the trundle bed – my body resisted.

Everything hurt a little bit. I stretched, mobilised, stretched some more. I cooked breakfast and thought about the race, the mountain.

My nemesis.

This time last year I had raced up Donna, and down again before I’d caught my foot on something at 17km and badly sprained my ankle, my face almost clipping a tree on my way to the ground. It was spectacular.

Because I was 5km from the finish – on flat – I had decided to continue and somehow claimed second place. But the feeling of my ankle making that right angle shape – the pain – was still with me, still on my mind (does it ever go away?).

For that reason, my game plan for the multi day madness was to go harder (‘harder’) on the 50km and 9km night run and cruise the 22km – take the downhill easy and just finish. That was the plan anyway.

This time I chose to wear Salomon Speedcross 5’s – a slightly wider base that I figured would help both push me up the climb, and stabilise me on the descent.

I took a second to stare at the tape I knew I should use to strap my ankle. But for some reason chose not too – maybe I thought I didn’t need it if I was just going to cruise.

We made our way down to the start, for fresh coffee and to watch the first wave go off at 8.00am.

Then 8.30am was upon me.

Ready.

Maybe.

And we were off and suddenly my legs were moving, slowly, one foot in front of the other.

Slow. Achey.

I felt myself drop to the back as we turned onto the flatness of the river, needing time to warm up and loosen up properly.

Two problems surfaced very quickly – my right ITB flickered in pain, and my left knee…well it just hurt.

Oh dear.

I continued, cruising along the flat, hoping that the pain would subside on the ascents.

And we hit it – the steepest road in….maybe the world? It felt like the world.

But by golly it made me happy.

My legs stopped aching – the pain in my knees disappeared.

Hello up.

And soon I was over taking and passing people who had so easily moved ahead of me on the flat.

We came off the road and onto single track, undulating but still ascending. I passed the point I’d fallen over last year and could only smile, reminding myself to be careful.

And then we hit the vertical kilometre.

Potato time – and a caffeine gel. More successfully eaten than yesterday.

Ready.

All the lunging.

I joined a pack of runners and lunged with them, then passed them, and passed Vic – pretty certain I would see her again at some point.

My legs felt quite wonderful.  

Eventually I was out of the climb and onto fire trail – undulating and a little tricky on the knees. My pace slowed and I wished I was back on the vert as the ITB pain flickered again.

I wondered how it would go on the down. How my ankles would.

No point over thinking. Just run.

I continued – motivated by the fact that I knew I was near the loop at the top, and hit single track again. Narrow and the path covered by ferns leaning over it.

This is where I knew I needed to be careful. Take small steps, small careful steps.

The top.

An aid station.

“You’re the first girl!”

Holy moly.

Definitely unexpected.

Less pressure today – in a way I knew the ground I would make up on the ascent would easily be undone by the caution I needed to take on the way down.

Either way I was happy, and grateful. 

I passed friends as I started my descent, again into single track with rocks as obstacles and the ferns still innocently flailing across the path – just enough so it was tricky to see foot placement.

I kept telling myself – lean forwards and take small steps. On repeat. I was looking at the path as much as possible, leaping (that’s definitely an exaggeration) over the rocks.

I was surprised that my ITB pain seemed to have subsided.

This was ok, I could do this.

Then, a fern. Or something.

Something that I wouldn’t have suspected would have been my undoing.

Bang.

Pain.

Firstly, in my ankle – that awful right angle feeling, then just pain.

And my hand?

So confusing.

So devastating.

The impact of the twist of my ankle had sent me face first into the ferns on my right where I stayed for a few micro seconds, absorbing what had just happened.

Was my race over? Was my weekend over?

I rolled onto my back, noticing the blood on my arm and shoulder.

I looked at my watch (and yes, I stopped it).

13km.

I turned my hand over, expecting there to be a large cut, or something.

Nothing – it just hurt. Maybe I’d high fived the ground on the way down, or slapped it in anger. 

I tried to stand up and my ankle gave way again, sending me further into the ferns.

A runner stopped.

From the depths of the ferns I told him I was fine, to continue his race.

Then another stopped.

Without question they clambered into the ferns and pulled me up.

I wanted to hug them.

But I also wanted to cry.

I thanked them and told them to go, and so they left me.

More passed me, could tell from the dirt and the blood I’d taken a fall – always stopping to check I was ok. It blunted my devastation a little.

A breath.

I knew.

I could feel the angry pulsing of my ankle.

The shooting pains weren’t easing, and I was too far from the finish – too high up the mountain to continue on the steep down that I knew was coming. That would savage my sprained ankle.

My race was over – my weekend was over.

Another breath.

That was ok, because it had to be.

The universe had a reason.

“Are you okay?”

A voice, not a runner.

No.

I looked up to see a medic.

“They sent me to help you get down to the aid station.”

Karen.

Did I mention I love trail runners?

I nodded, unsure of my voice. And returned her smile.

“Thank you.”

We debated whether the aid station at the top of Donna was closer, but decided the down was easier with most of it being fire trail.

“Do you want to use my poles?”

Stubbornness.

“No thank you, I should be ok”

We started walking, slowly, and chatting.

But the pain.

I stopped – had a word with myself, and my pride.

“Can I use your poles?”

And so there I was, 2km down from the top of Mt Donna Buang, using a pole as a walking stick and beginning the slow descent down to the aid station.

The anger was subsiding, and I was more so grateful than anything. For the people. For the outdoors.

Karen, a Sport Scientist, told me not to take painkillers because of the toll on my kidneys, especially after the 50km yesterday.

“What about wine?”

“It’s an analgesic so….”

I took that as a yes. 

I was lucky enough that a friend was nearby to meet me at the aid station.

We drove back to the event village to watch the runners come in and I crawled straight in the river to try and cool the inflammation a little.

I reflected on whether I could’ve done anything different. Strapped the ankle? Yes. But I’d always found that the strapping became loose after a couple of kilometres anyway.

Been more careful? Probably not, I already felt like I was tip toeing down the mountain, focussed.

Maybe it was just not my time. Maybe it was third time lucky next year.

It would take some journaling and meditation to calm my soul.

But right then I was just grateful to have run any amount.

And I also knew there a bottle of prosecco waiting for me in the fridge.

And next?

Recovery – not just from the sprain, but also the 50km.

And practice – more downhill training, more ankle strengthening.

Then Buffalo Stampede? and maybe the Alpine Challenge 60km? And then sometime in May…maybe my first 100km?

Because why not?

#sorrylegs 

Surf Coast Century 50km: Redemption

My first race since March, and I really didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did…

After weeks of not knowing whether it would go ahead, Surf Coast Century 50km was upon us. Different rules to last year, to any year: limited support crew and crowds, different start location, adjusted aid station rules. Different everything, just like everything else this year.

Either way, I was grateful that racing was back on.

I had worked hard to recover from the shin splints and various other foot issues after a few back-to-back virtual races and little rest… a learning in itself that even in stage 4 lockdown there was such a thing as too much. 

But I felt good, just residual foot niggles.

The biggest change for me was that I’d be running it alone, without Imogen. Last year’s race experience would be hard to top. Oh and also, I’d be running it without a broken metatarsal, which would be nice 😊

I was excited. Beyond excited.

I tried to rest for the race, but the lure of mountain biking and some strength training (sorry coach) got the best of me. I promised myself that Thursday and Friday would be complete rest days – for my feet that is… not necessarily for my liver…

I picked up my race bib on the Friday night. There was a buzz and an excitement, other runners, all grateful, all excited.

I loved it.

Race Day: Butterflies for breakfast

I was up early (5am) to make coffee and eat the breakfast I’d made the night before. Sweet potatoes, beetroot and eggs. Hello race day breakfast, I’ve missed you.

I mobilised everywhere – but had forgotten my roller so couldn’t roll out my calves or ITBs. Eek. I also strapped both ankles (I knew these were my weakest points, especially on the downhills), which I’m sure woke the rest of the house up.

I packed my race vest full of mandatory gear, potatoes and gels. And then I repacked It maybe three more times and made sure my food and salt were fully accessible.

The race plan? Run the flats comfortably uncomfortable, cruise on the downhills and then aggressive lunging on the up hills.

The nutrition plan? Eat every 45 minutes – swapping between a caffeine gel and a normal gel with salted potatoes and a salt packet (yep, like the ones you find in pubs… because that’s where I found them).

I was ready… and it was only 6.15am, and the race didn’t start until 7.30am. Righto.

I drove the ten minutes to Anglesea and found a park near the start line – Coogoorah Reserve.

It was pretty cold (because it was 6.30am), so I chose to wear my running jumper, knowing I would probably be too hot in the first ten minutes – always a tough one for me (I’m English, always cold…)

The start line was just being set up and there were a few people around stretching and prepping. I sat down, put on a guided meditation to calm the butterflies in my stomach.

Race day butterflies. Hello stranger.

Runners were starting in two-minute waves, organised by what you thought your predicted finish time would be. I was hoping for six hours so I was in Wave 2.

7.30am and Wave 1 left. I made myself not look at how many women were in the wave – I reminded myself I was not chasing them (…but also, it was my fourth nervous toilet trip)

Two minutes.

I lined up, no music, just me and Wave 2, and the trails.

We were off. I think my first few steps with either skipping or jigging – which was silly considering I was trying to protect my ankles.

Five minutes in and my legs felt good and I increased my pace, almost to the front of the wave, trying not to get excited. And yes, I was already overheating with my jumper on, but too stubborn to take it off.

Two girls up ahead of me, I passed them and suddenly I was at the front of Wave 2.

We hit beautiful single track and I picked up my pace, trying to remind myself that I was out here for at least six hours. At least.

Uh oh.

Suddenly there were runners in front of me: Wave 1.

Me and another female (let’s call her Rachel) had caught them, and we weaved past them.

We hit downhill and Rachel passed me. I held back and chatted to some of the Wave 1 runners – some new, some returning. We laughed and swapped stories.

Then came the hill, the big one. One that looked like it went into the clouds.

I caught up with Rachel, and we passed another as we climbed. The change in pace was welcome.

The views from the top – sweeping coastal sealine with my favourite lighthouse ahead – were worth the climb.

It was photo time for everyone there.

For the next 10km Rachel and I swapped places like we were dancing, her passing me on the downhill (where I was basically trying watching every step I took which actually takes a lot of focus and time…) and me passing her on the ups.

At 45 minutes, I was on a downhill (of all places) and decided to have my first round of potatoes – trying to eat them while concentrating on my line, the path, the rocks.

So naturally, I started choking.

Huge fail.

I laughed and tried again – this time with more breaths in-between bites. A bit more successful.

We hit fire trail then we turned into more single track… and a climb.

I passed Rachel again, and told her I would see on the next down, we laughed. But that was the last time we danced together. So to speak. .

My dream trail: Beautiful single track through beautiful forest, so grateful.

At that point everything felt ok, I could feel a blister on my right foot emerging to remind me that I probably butchered my ankle strapping in the darkness this morning.

Generally, when I don’t listen to music when I’m running, I talk to myself. A lot. Mostly telling myself to pay attention or be present, sometimes to tell myself off (for not taking enough breaths between potatoes for example). This was no different.

The climb continued and I passed another runner from Wave 1, another female.

Her breathing was… well she sounded like she was in labour? Although more controlled maybe, either way very loud.

We’ll call her Donna.  

Distracted, I tried to pull away, which I think only made her increase her speed so we would run together. Which in turn made her breath louder.

So, I figured, if you can’t beat them join them, right? I focussed on my breathing; breathing from the stomach (as so many podcasts have told me too), and suddenly my breathing drowned out hers – and we were in labour together.

Or something.

19km: we hit the first manned check point.

The volunteers (who are amazing people) placed a heaped teaspoon of Tailwind in my cup of water. And Donna ran straight past me, not stopping and not looking back.

Righto.

Game on then Donna (purely in my head of course)

I downed my Tailwind and thanked the volunteers then hurried on.

We entered more single-track forest, and I found Donna and overtook her. Thanking the Tailwind and brief rest for the extra wings, and also grateful to escape the sound of the breathing and head into the tranquillity of the forest.

Good Memories

I was finding it strange that I didn’t recognise any of the course from last year – maybe it was because Imogen and I was talking or laughing, or maybe my mind had compartmentalised the memory of running on a broken foot for seven hours. Maybe both.

But then I hit it: the spot where Imogen had clipped a tree root last year and face planted so hard and so fast into the ground that we had spent five minutes in hysterics.

I laughed, motivated. And then called her and we laughed together, even from where she was in Hong Kong – about to head off on her own 50km race.

I hit more fire trail and more elevation, and we remembered the section I was running through.

I wished so badly she was beside me. Next time.

She asked me how I was and I realised I hadn’t checked in with myself for a while. I remembered the blister I’d felt, had now gone. I was over 20km in, everything was starting to hurt a little bit – my hips and feet mostly. But nothing too bad. Yet.

We said our goodbyes and good lucks and I continued to climb up the hill I was on, heading back into rocky single track, up and up gradually.

Breath-taking.

I looked at my watch: 25km and 2.5 hours in, I was making good time. Really good time. I was a little worried I’d gone out too fast – but that quickly disappeared and I continued.

I hit the next check point: 27km and more volunteers and some supporters and crew.

I decided I was ok to go on, to grab more Tailwind and do a Donna and head straight through.

I think that’s when (and probably why) the pain started to get worse. Everywhere.

I’d expected my feet and ankles to hurt, but it was my hips that started to hurt the most, maybe from the elevation, or maybe from the way I was crouching on the downhills to stabilise myself – maybe both? Probably both.

There was pain in my ITBs too – only on the downhills, and I regretted again forgetting my foam roller.

I expected that though – pain everywhere from the waist below, to kick in from at least halfway.

This was now both a physical and mental battle.

To take my mind off it I had another round of potatoes (did I mention I love potatoes?) …and some salt straight from the packet.

Gross.

But my mind was distracted.

I came out of the single track, passed a runner and headed up another long fire track. I promised myself I would stretch at the top.

And I did.

Crouching, stretching, swinging, whatever I thought my body would need to keep moving.

Bad Memories (kind of)

I was soon on the Great Ocean Walk track next to the sea. Photo worthy. And a welcome breeze in the humidity, still too stubborn to take my jumper off.

We were heading towards Aireys Inlet, to the lighthouse.

Down.

Crikey. The down was really starting to hurt my knees – my ITBs threatened to flare up like they had two years ago during Lara Pinta. Excruciating.

I was grateful to hit the flat and the bridge to cross the Great Ocean Road – we were directed to go under.

A welcome change in using my arms instead of my legs as I rocked climbed along the underside of the bridge. I was more than tempted to jump into the water.

The next check point: 35km.

The women asked what I needed. New legs. But I settled for Tailwind and ducked into a hip opening stretch as they asked me about the race.

“Beautiful”

But I knew the beach was coming, and that was where we fell apart a little last year – my broken foot and Imogen’s ITB pain on soft sand were almost race-ending. It was only the thought of prosecco, and lots of hugs, that kept us going.

“At least the beach is flat” one of the women pointed out.

Excellent point.

Back onto the Great Ocean Walk trail, up a little, past the lighthouse then down towards the beach. There were tourists, clapping and cheering, probably not expecting to see weary, beaten-up runners on their travels.

They were epic.

40km.

My ITBs felt like they were being dragged back and forth across bone with every downhill step… which I actually think they were.

I got to the bottom of a hill (walking backwards which was amazing but may have looked a little strange) and tried to stretch my ITBs out, then squatted into a hip opening stretch – which was immediately followed by the threat of cramp in the front of my shins. Which is strange, because there’s not a lot of muscle there to cramp.

I continued on, knowing I was only 10km away. I found a pack of other runners, who were also struggling a little. We played tag with each other, stopping to stretch out and then catching up as others stopped. It was quite beautiful. The pain train indeed.

Magical Music

I was on four hours and coming up to 42km – the beach. We were heading down to the beach.

I needed music.

Slash came on and I continued, happier.

I reflected on the fact that I hadn’t fallen yet, had I been too cautious? Was my caution causing the pain?

It was, of course, at that moment I slipped down a step, my heel not quite planting firmly on it.

I’m not sure how I’d describe the noise I made, but it was unique. Maybe like a cockatoo.

I managed to catch myself in something like a ninja fighting stance, which must have looked like I was getting ready to beat up the steps that had tripped me.

I laughed, and the relief was welcome. Technically not a fall.

The beach.

The sand …was hard. And the breeze off the sea was …nice?

The beach was comfortable. I had music, and the beach goers were bloody brilliant at cheering us on. This was so different to last year.

I could also see the storm that was predicted coming in in the form of dark clouds, and I was grateful we had started early, and that I was nearing the finish.

The pack ran within maybe 30 metres of each other. On the occasions that I stopped to stretch or performed a slightly exaggerated (slow motion) walking lunge, they were there.

“Come on Jess, don’t let us beat you.”

So much love for them.

The 4km on the beach went quickly.

We came off the beach, up more stairs, which gave my legs some more stretching. Roads now, and we continued, passing each other still as we continued to stretch and rest and run.

I reached a downhill so steep that I had to stop and walk backwards again because of the pain in my knees and hips. Which was a welcome reprieve from the pounding of running. I laughed at myself, and I’m sure the others did too.

One of the guys caught up (I mean it was hard not too – I was walking backwards).

“Don’t stop, we’re almost there”

He was right. We were.

I took a caffeine gel, hoping it would get me through the last few kms.

The End…or the beginning…

We turned back onto the beach, and that was when I realised we were actually almost there: 50km, not the 52.9km we had run last year.  

My heart filled with joy and the pain floated out of my body.

We were 2km away from finishing.

I took my music out and we ran, almost together.

People on the beach cheered.

“You’re the first female we’ve seen in ages!”

I nodded to them; I hadn’t even thought about that – or wondered about who was ahead of me.

I guess I’d found out soon…

We came off the beach, one of the pack was ahead of me, one was behind. Close enough, but not too close that we would cross the line together.

I could hear the cowbells, the event HQ.

The finish.

I picked up the pace as much as my legs would allow – still in shock that we were so close, and I turned the corner and could suddenly see the crowds.

I looked at my watch; I was 10 seconds from 5 hours.

Could I make under five hours?

I started to sprint and my legs literally laughed at me.

No chance.

The home straight – I was so happy, I think I almost cried.

The people, the line.

I crossed it, stopped my watch.

Words cannot describe how grateful I was.

“And hear is our second-place female.”

What.

WHAT?

They were looking at me.

“Really?” Nods to confirm.

Holy.

I laughed, and the Event Director came over to me and we chatted.

I regrouped with the pack, thanked them, then tried to find a place to stretch. Or just lie down.

Anything.

I started to stretch, unable to find a comfortable position to put my legs, and was overcome with dizziness.

Not good – not experienced before.

I took out the rest of my potatoes and realised I’d only eaten maybe a third of what I was supposed to eat.

Oops.

I found juice and water, and was stopped by a woman.

“I just wanted to tell you, I saw you out there and you looked so strong, it was amazing. Well done”

That was obviously in the first part of the race.

I wanted to hug her, but I thought I might collapse onto her. So, I thanked her.

So grateful for people. These people.

I had missed these people so much.

Then suddenly there were friends, with beer. And burgers.

And prosecco – lots of prosecco.

Happiness.

And next?

As much as the pain was towards the end – my engine was fine and my mind (though sometimes questionable) was intact. It was all manageable and, with practice and patience (and remembering my foam roller), I know I can go faster. Maybe even further. Faster further.

Buffalo Sunriser 60km in February it is then – only 4000m elevation, so what could possibly go wrong….?

#sorrylegs

Bright Run Fest: 10 days of 10kms

I’d given myself an ‘easy week’ leading up to the running Festival, but after two days of rest I was itching to get back, which was a bad idea. Because something in my calf was hurting and I prayed it wasn’t shin splints. So, I rested. And waited.

And then Friday finally came.

Day 1: Happiness.

I mobilised, had my beetroot juice and coffee on my balcony and journaled. Excited.

A slow warm up told me that the problem with my calf hadn’t gone away, but actually got less painful when my speed increased. Right then, faster it was then.  

And I was off, down the Upfield bike path. I hit Princes Park – early enough to not be busy, and glorious sunshine. Happy.

I continued, trying only to look at my heart rate and not my pace, enjoying. Just running.

I jumped out of Princes Park and onto the Capital City Trail, suddenly I was on 6km already – only 4km to go. A huge difference from the 13kms I’d been running last week (for UTMB Virtual), where 6km wasn’t even halfway.

Happy.

At 8km my brain went into overdrive. Only 2km left so of course I should pick up the pace, right? So I did, regardless of the sudden hills I came across at the Merri Creek Trail.

500m was an all-out sprint. I realised I had no control over my legs, they just went.

10km and done 45:11 minutes. Not too bad for the first run. Not too uncomfortable.

Coffee and the walk home in the sunshine. Best way to start the day.

Home to yoga and a cold bath.

Yikes.

But grateful.

Friday night. I had my one day of wine I’ve given myself per week over a zoom call with my twin sister in Hong Kong. As with me and wine, somehow the whole bottle magically disappeared.

Day 2: I’ve never said I had any common sense.

Day 2 was upon me and I chose a different route: just Merri Creek up to Hardings Bridge then down past Arthurton Road. A loop I often used for some speed work, and the tiniest sections of trail I could access within my 5km radius.

I did actually have a game plan for the ten days – to run one day ‘faster’, then the next day slower, to ensure I lasted the ten days.

But this was not to be. The route, though a little hillier and more ‘technical’ (erm… much more technical compared to just concrete, but the only way I get my trail fix). I landed on exactly the same time as Day 1: 45:11. Very happy.

I realised I’d bonked a little bit at 7km, not sure whether it was the wine (unlikely – I always see this is carb loading with added antioxidants), or just that I needed to fuel my runs differently given that  they were faster than normal.

At 8km though my legs kicked in and the sprint home happened… and so did some bodyweight exercises consisting of burpees, air squats and sit ups.  150 of each of them to be precise.

I’ve never said I have any common sense.

Yoga, cold bath. Gin.

Wait…gin?

Saturday, a friend’s birthday (Zoom) gin tasting. Five bottles of 50ml of beautiful gin.

 Glorious.

Day 3: Crikey.

I expected to feel more than a little dusty (we didn’t really stop after the tasting). But my 9pm (ahem, actually 8.30pm…) bed time and the ten hours of sleep I had given my body seemed to have worked. Hello Sunday sleep-in.

Awake, mobility, coffee and more coffee, and the decision to fuel – sweet potato and beetroot juice. And water to negate the dehydration of yesterday.

Merri Creek, Princes Park then home, the opposite direction to day one.

60 seconds of strides and warm up seemed to ease the calf / shin pain in my right leg. Seemed to.

I was going to take it slowly, but I hit the Merri Creek and felt good, picked up the pace, felt the sun on my skin and Slash playing in my ears. Happy.

I hit Merri Creek and realised I was going quicker than day one and day two. Oops. But I continued and again, picked up the pace at 8km, then 9km and then suddenly I was sprinting up the Upfield bike path, grateful for the lack of traffic.

10km in 44:17. Crikey. I laughed. Not fast by some people’s standards I’m sure, but four minutes off my PB. And I’d felt comfortable. Maybe ten hours of sleep was the secret, or maybe gin was.

I stopped for an Acoustico coffee. Put on a podcast and shuffled home within my hour.

Happy Sunday (until I got back in the ice bath).

Day 4: It’s the little things.

I promised myself I’d go easy – just chill. Not look at my watch and just enjoy.

I paid extra attention to my calves, rolling them out, aware that the pain was still there front and back.

More strides, and some dosey does (haha is that what you call them?)… I’ve only done line dancing once in my life*

(*this is a lie)

I hadn’t eaten this time but took a Koda gel when I hit Princes Park, banana. One of my favourites, that seemed to do the trick. No walls were hit.

Zig zags of Princes Park, not too busy, beautiful sunshine.

I took myself out of Princes Park and back to Upfield just in time for a train to turn all the lights to green for me. It’s the little things.

281 Project coffee, podcast, and shuffle home.

Day 4 done.

Day 5: A huge wind tunnel.

The wind that kept me up through the night – that I knew would continue into the morning – was howling. Strong. Everything rattled.

I drank my coffee and ate some pan-fried pumpkin as fuel, while I watched a bright red sunrise appear then quickly disappear, swept away by the wind.

Golly.

I decided to mix up the 10km this session, by adding in 15 x 1-minute effort and 1 min tempo, for both my body and my sanity. And because Tuesday’s were my usual speed sessions and I like to stick to plans 🙂

I shouldn’t have though. I should have reconsidered the wind.

The first 2km was a warm-up along streets – anything North-facing was a wind tunnel, so I zig zagged my way to Allard Park that leads to the Merri Creek.

Holy Moly.

The oval was an open battlefield against the wind, and I think I almost got blown off it.

I persevered, ducked down onto the Creek itself in seek of shelter, and started my first effort.

So far so good, body felt good.

My right calf felt ok, and my speed for the efforts felt comfortably uncomfortable as I’d expected.

Further up and I could see the Creek was closed, trees blown over maybe? Directions to the road, up and more up until I was eventually diverted onto Nicholson Street.

A huge north-facing wind tunnel.

I dug deep and pushed on, not knowing how long I had to endure the wind pushing me backwards.

Forever apparently – or at least that’s how long that section took.

I saw the diversion route pointing back down to the trail, and my jazz hands came out in excitement.

Once back on track the efforts continued. My lungs were trying to catch up with my pace as they recovered from the street running.

Suddenly I was on 5km, and 22 minutes. Not as bad as I thought, given the wind.

I continued, tried to find something flat but failed. Undulating would have to do.

I headed South, the wind behind me, and I enjoyed the brief sensation of flying before I turned back into the fury of the wind.

8km. Usually where I was able to pick up the pace for the sprint finish.

Not today.

After 1km, I literally felt like I wasn’t moving, wasn’t gaining ground.

I ducked off the Creek into a street, ran along it. This was better.

I continued, sheltered. 400m to go.

I was faced with either Allard Park hill or heading back down the street and facing the wind.

I chose the wind and started my slow motion 400m run.

Forever passed, and I hit 10km.

Under 45 minutes.

I was surprised to say the least.

Day 5 done. Halfway.

Sorry legs.

And lungs.

Day 6: I’m getting better at not screaming.

I did a body check, everything felt good except the twinge in my calf. Twinge? More like a mild stabbing. But only during the first 30-60 seconds of warm up again.

My options within my 5km are quite limited; parts of the Upfield track north are closed due to track works and to try and find 10 different runs that don’t involve too much road (and therefore traffic) was going to be a challenge.

So today I decided to choose my favourite route of the five I’d already run, knowing that my body had endured enough in the last five days – especially the wind yesterday. Merri Creek, Capital City, Princes Park.

Beetroot juice, mobility, coffee and a gel – in that order.

I was off, so grateful for the lack of wind.

My body felt good, really good actually so I picked up the pace. Just a little.

I sprinted for any green man at the traffic lights I saw – and the ones I missed I ran up and down the pavement (yes like a madman) until I could get across.

Princes Park was beautiful, sunny, not too busy.

I looked at my watch again, 8km.

Golly.

Time to pick it up (forgetting I already had).

9km.

Under five minutes to go Jess, keep going. Faster.

10km.

43:58 – my fastest time so far.

Not expected.

I spent the 2.5km home jogging to a coffee shop then walking home listening to Chasing Excellence. Happy.

Until I got into the ice bath of course.

But I’m getting better at not screaming.

That day I also managed some gymnastics and strength work because I felt like my body was missing movements that didn’t involve running.

The gymnastics largely involved upper body, and the intention with the strength was the same, or at least to go lighter on the weights. But whenever I program deadlifts… somehow, they just end up really quite heavy.

Sorry legs.

Day 7: Madness.

I hadn’t slept well (well – my sleep app had told me I hadn’t slept well) And I think I figured things would start to hurt more from today, start to get slower.

I spent a little longer on mobility, then rolling my calves to try and ease the building pain. There was tenderness around my right Achilles, which made me think (hope) it hadn’t been or wasn’t the shin splints I originally thought.

Beetroot juice, coffee (I even made a second cup but decided against it) and my Koda banana gel.

Ready.

The plan today (as is always on a Thursday) was a tempo session – warm up during the 1km to Clissold Park, then run 2km laps with increasing speed on each lap.

I wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea – either to do laps again after the mental battle I’d endured doing the same for the UTMB race, or to try and get faster on tired legs.

I reasoned with myself that I wouldn’t clock watch, I would increase speed by feel.

Deal.

I started off by easing my body into running. Feeling out the aches and twinges and trying to stretch my calves out a little.

I got to the track and maintained the warm up pace, reasoning with myself that I probably need to start slower if I was going to increase efforts.

The park was beautiful, lively with people walking their dogs and sunshine.

I looked at my watch after the second lap. 5km and 24 minutes.

I was behind.

Was I? Didn’t I need to go a little slower to start? Yes.

Either way, I picked up the pace for the third lap – my body felt good, my lungs felt good. Everything was ok, or more than ok.

It’s strange how you notice the smallest elevations when you’re trying to do a tempo sessions and running through the same park multiple times – the smallest inclines become mountains to avoid. Or maybe that’s me.

By lap four I had caught up with myself, and as usual at 8km I nodded to myself, most likely spoke to myself. Time to go.

At 9km I realised I could actually get a faster time than yesterday, which was madness to me.

Limp Bizkit came on (don’t ask). Game on.

My version of sprinting probably looked like someone else’s casual jog at that point. But I felt like I was flying.

Faster (again, probably still a casual jog).

10km.

43:38.

Fastest time yet.

Crikey.

I stopped, checked my watch. Thanked my body.

The jog home was a slow jog in the sunshine, again happy to be out and have run and to have felt good running.

Yoga, longer holds, deeper breathing.

The bath – deeper than normal (it’s really when it hits my belly button that I lose my sh*t for some reason).

And then some upper body strength training with Imogen.

Because why not?

As the day went on my legs became stiffer, and I wasn’t sure whether it was the strength training, or the weights – or both.

I did some more stretching, and rubbing and rolling.

The shin pain had shifted round to the back of my calf – which almost confirmed it wasn’t shin splints – and just some muscular knotting. Did it though?

Day 8: Do you know how hard it is to get out of bed with legs like planks?

Blue skies and a little bit of wind. Knowing the weather was going to turn to crap over the weekend, I wanted to end at my favourite place for some yoga and meditation before returning to the daily grind.

Upfield, Princes Park to Merri Creek.

Hello Friday.

When I woke my legs still felt stiff, like planks. Do you know how hard it is to get out of bed with legs as planks?

Well, I do.

Mobility – I jumped on my spin bike to loosen up.

Better.

Coffee and gel (not together, although banana coffee actually sounds quite nice)

The warm up still felt like I was running with straight legs, toy soldier style. But as my mind relaxed into it, so did my body.

And I was off.

I hit a few traffic lights, which led to me running up and down the pavement until it was clear to cross. I put it down as agility training.

Princes Park, oh my so busy. So busy. People running on both sides at me.

More agility training.

One lap and I was out, onto the Capital City Trail, more traffic lights, more agility training.

Beautiful sunshine.

Before I knew it, I was at 8km and 35 ish minutes.

Golly.

I picked up the pace, my legs felt strong.

I had a choice between a steep descent or a gradual descent onto the Merri Creek. I chose gradual, and suddenly realised as I picked up my pace that this was where I needed to reign in my stride, shorten it and tip my body forwards – I’d sprained one to many ankles on long strides down a hill, essentially exposing my outstretched ankles at their weakest point, with little support.

Short strides, leaning forwards.

Less steep descent, 1km to go.

I took off.

The river was beside me, the sun gleaming off it. I was happy.

Happy to run, and happy to almost finish.

10km.

43:29.

My fastest time, which again baffled me. But I went with it.

Yoga in the sun, bliss.

Some meditation.

More bliss.

Happy Friday.

And Friday always has a place for gin.

Happier Friday.

Day 9: Shut up, Jess.

I knew a storm was coming, BOM radar said 95% chance of rain from 10m, which had shifted overnight to 95% chance of rain from 7am.

I’d set my alarm for 6.15am to assess the damage, but for some reason I was awake at 5.30am, waiting for daylight? Waiting for the storm.

I was awake, so I figured I might as well get up and get out when it was light enough.

Mobility, rolling the calves – they felt tight but I had spent some time massaging them the night before. (yes, even after the gin)

Coffee.

A cola gel – not my favourite, and I made a ‘why am I eating sugar at 6am face’ which didn’t disappear for at least five minutes.

I stepped out onto my balcony, reasoned with myself that it was light enough to run safely.

I was off.

My route had changed – not knowing whether Merri Creek had been flooded with the rain overnight,  I headed towards Princes Park.

I had it to myself, the trail, Brunswick. Beautifully eerie.

Still, I managed to mistime a traffic light and run circles up and down the street. There were cars out this early at least.

I hit Princes Park, other runners, maybe five in total.

The lights were on and the sun was rising, it was almost romantic.

No sign of the rain so I picked up the pace – the sooner I finished the less chance of rain and wind beating me up.

The East side of the park was great but turning to face West then North was headwind galore. I knuckled down, tried to maintain my pace. Just slightly uncomfortable. 

And I continued, in the slight humidity, clouds looming. Spits of rain.

Back down the East side, 7km.

I hit 8km turning back up North, the wind grew stronger, the storm closer.

Marilyn Manson came on. Game on.

I pushed through, got to the top of the park.

Realised my time – I could go under 43 minutes… no wait, under 42 minutes.

More power.

Down the East, the lights, the sunrising, the romance.

Shut up, Jess.

I was near sprint. That’s what I felt like.

10km.

41:57

I checked and checked again.

90 seconds away from my PB.

90 seconds – with 8 days of running behind me.

Happy.

Exhausted.

Farmers shuffle home to a Science of Ultra podcast.

No coffee shops open this early. The only fail of the morning.

Longer yoga, longer bath.

All the breakfast.

Day 10: I did a little jig.

The rain through the night confirmed that I wouldn’t be running the Merri Creek for my last run – there would be flooding for sure.

Safest option? Same as yesterday.

Physically, a good route. Mentally, a battle to repeat.

I was awake before my alarm, which may or may not have had something to do with the wine from the night before.

Up.

Mobility. I creaked. My calves – or my right calf – was on fire. Just a little, maybe embers. Enough for me to notice.

I warmed up for 100m. My calves weren’t really playing ball. Less like embers, more like tiny little fires.

I persisted. And started.

Upfield path was fairly empty, so it surprised me to meet traffic each time I hit a road. Grrr.

Finally, I was at Princes Park, free. No traffic lights, but lots of people.

I kept my head and down and pushed through. Less wind today and I was so grateful. More colour in the sky.

Last day, I told myself repeatedly.

I felt heavy though, or heavier than yesterday. But I still felt like I was going ok.

I passed a few runners a few times, we smiled, appreciated each other’s efforts.

I knew this course now… and I also knew I didn’t want to run it for a few weeks after this.

Yes, I was grateful it was flat. But I craved the trails, the mountains, the air. Maybe not on day 10 of a ten-day race though.

I remained grateful.

At 8km I moved to go faster. Moved.

I think I did.

Go faster I mean, I definitely moved.

I knew the last km was going to be painful, from experience. From multi-day races. When you’re so close, yet so far.

I tried to push through.

When I say I tried, I mean I did. With everything I had left in my legs. I pushed.

I even changed my song – which never happens – to Skrillex, for my last km.

Game on.

I looked at the time, realising I was going to be outside the 42 minutes, but inside 43 if I continued (I had wanted between 42 and 44 minutes for my last day).

Son 43 minutes sounded pretty good.

Last 500m. I stupidly thought I’d turn around and head back towards home.

Head wind.

I changed my mind very quickly and suddenly didn’t care how far I was from home. Turned back around and continued.

People must’ve thought I was mad – mostly because I was chastising myself out loud.

I continued.

200m.

All out sprint.

10km.

42:57. Second fastest time.

Done.

I stopped.

I looked around, wanting to high five someone, anyone.

Not going to happen.

I did a jig.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Farmers shuffle home to a Nike Trained podcast.

So grateful.

So mangled.

Yoga.

Long bath.

Wine.

Happy Sunday.

First place female, first place overall.

#sorryl

UTMB Virtual 50km Race

It’s been almost a year since I ran my first 50km race (Surf Coast Century in Australia with Jessica Short), which was a beautiful and brutal experience. I remember very vividly the excitement, atmosphere and the feeling of crossing the finish line.

The UTMB Virtual 50km in Hong Kong would be very different. It would be solo. It would be more elevation. There would be no aid stations. No finish line. No twin sister. It would also be 30 degrees and 85% humidity.

For most parts, it would be hell…

4am: I was up for mobility and coffee with Jess in Australia (and our new rescue pup Zeus, who enjoyed the downward dog on my yoga mat )

5am: I started the run with 15km on Hong Kong’s waterfront which was amazing. Cool, quiet and flat, with the sun and city rising around me. My legs felt good and I felt ready for what was ahead (spoiler alert: I wasn’t)

Feeling ready on the waterfront

15km: I made a quick pit stop at home to change my shoes and refill water, before heading up to the Bowen Road and then Parkview. The next 15km felt pretty dreamy. I had the trails to myself and most importantly, someone had run before me and cleared the way of spiders. Yey. Even Violet hill didn’t feel as violent as it usually does.

Feeling less ready on Violet Hill.

30km: I hit The Twins, twice. And this is really where things started to fall apart. I’d been making pretty good progress on the kms until that point. But the Twins made me think that my Garmin was broken, because the kms stopped moving (I don’t know why this was such a surprise: I’ve done the twins so many times before). I lay on the floor at the top of Twin 1 in a metaphorical pain cave.

32km: I made a pit stop at Repulse Bay and picked up 2litres of water and four bottles of Lucozade.

32.2km: I vomited Lucozade

33km: Back at Tze Kong Bridge I took the single trail towards Tai Tam Reservoir, which is one of my favourite, before hitting the steep concrete incline towards Quarry Pass. Up and up and up and up. And very little shade. The sun was fully out, and the humidity was high

40km / 1,500m+: my Garmin started blinking low battery so I knew I had to crack on and get this done, or the race wouldn’t register. So, I altered the last 10km of the course to do hill repeats on Mount Parker. Hill repeats. After 40km. Talk about pain cave. And existential crisis. And self-yodelling.

45km / 2,000m+: My Garmin was still blinking at me. The hill repeats hurt. I had to lie down in the shade every couple of kms. But I was close.

48km / 2,300m+: Garmin on 5% battery. I was at the top of Mount Parker and just started running in 50m loops. It rained, I think. I’m pretty sure I was swearing the whole way. Lucy and Jess were the steady voices in my head (aka on whatsapp) telling me to just keep going. Because I honestly thought about stopping. At 48km.

50km / 2,500m+: I’m pretty sure I burst into tears and then realised that a guy had been watching my entire 2km mania . It hurt all over. I had to lie down. I couldn’t speak on the phone.

Done.

 50km: I was at the top of a mountain. In a place where taxis couldn’t reach me. I had to walk 5km back down. Farmers shuffle. Pain cave.

5pm: Epsom salt bath. Burgers. Restless legs but a dawning sense of achievement (somewhere in the fog). I had finished.

UTMB Race results: 3rd in category, 7th female overall, 59th (out of 3,501).

Worth all the pain.

ATG Vertical Challenge – max elevation in Stage 4 lockdown

I’d love to say that when I was asked to join a team for the Asia Trail Girls Vertical Challenge, I didn’t know I would be in Stage 4 lockdown.

But no, I knew. I knew I’d only have one hour of power to smash out as much elevation as I could, within a 5km radius of my house.

I do thrive on challenges (especially in lockdown… and in winter). They give me the motivation I need to get out of my warm cosy bed, throw on my sports gear and get out into the cold dark morning (via some mobility, journaling and a really strong coffee, of course).

And if there’s a team involved? Accountability shoots up and I’m usually awake even before the alarm goes off

(…this is gin-dependent).

Ready.

The challenge was: teams of four, based around Asia, trying to complete as much elevation between them in ten days.

Imogen called me to ask if I would join two of the girls she regularly climbed the trails of Hong Kong with – I was definitely keen, my only doubt was that I would hold them back because I couldn’t get to the trails in Victoria.

We discussed. And I joined anyway. Super grateful.

I did some research, googled hills and steps around me (steps generally give you more bang for your buck on the elevation front) and asked a few running groups.

Suggestions came in: Hope street, a 400m stretch of road from Mooney Valley Creek Trail to Melville Road. I plotted it out – up to 27m gain for every 400m effort. Not a mountain, but enough.

I also had Allard Park where I usually did my hills training.

Game on.

On the first day of the challenge I had to contend with the small matter of a (flat) 10km virtual race to do (Lululemon SeaWheeze). One big fat spoonful of overload anyone? Oops.

The run went reasonably well – my optimism in trying to get a PB was a little skewed given the two hours of workouts I’d done the day before (running, Crossfit and Nike Training), and the zero rest days before that.

Optimism is always good though: I realised with only 600m to go that I wasn’t going to get my PB. 600m. That was a good enough effort for me (sub 40 mins, I’ll get you next time).

Feeling a little bad that the 10km only gave me 35m elevation I headed home to complete some steps and step ups in my apartment…for 4km, for 45 minutes.

All the sweat and some really quite tender calve muscles…

Day 1 done.

On Day 2 I thought I’d try this Hope Street to see what it felt like.

I can tell you, there was nothing hopeful about it. Long and steep.

Hope Street, no Hope

I started, leaning forwards, pushing off with small steps on the slight incline.

Angry music on. Not so bad.

I tried to fly down the hill as fast as possible – sometimes closing my eyes and imagining I was back on the trails (not advisable on a road).

50 minutes later I reached 10km of up and down – 12 hill repeats? My legs were done.

So of course, I went home and did some more steps and step ups inside. Juist for fun.   

Mondays are usually my rest days. But when there’s a challenge on…there’s no rest

#sorrylegs

My calves were pretty sore from the 2000% increase in hill training, so I rolled them out and put more focus on them in my morning mobility.

I woke and biked out to Allard Park, and the climbing began – around 220m of path up to the lookout point, and the view of Melbourne CBD is always beautiful incentive.

Views worth climbing for

55 minutes done and then home… for more steps, which I broke into two twenty-minute sessions. For the sake of my legs, and my sanity.

This time it was podcasts that got me through and I was able to zone out and tune in to voices (a mild risk of distraction and face planting, but I took my chances).

For some reason – maybe because it was my rest day and I was going rogue – I also chose to do Crossfit that evening.

Luckily, it was mostly arms. But in the bath afterwards there was a moment when I thought I might not actually be able to pull my body out of it….

The bath must’ve helped though (and staying in it longer because I couldn’t get out), because there was less pain in my calves afterwards.

Or maybe it was just masked by the pain everywhere else.

Day 4 – Tuesday, was hills with a friend. A real person to talk to (at 1.5m distance).

The session was shorter (I don’t think she would train with me again if I made her do a full hour).

More steps and step ups.

Yoga, rolling, cold baths.

Calves getting used to it now – or just giving up the protest.

Six days to go. Eek.

By Day 5 I was craving some flat running… anything. Just flat.

So, I rationalised with myself that I could take a day off, be ‘normal’. Run normal.

I chose the Mona Fartlek – my favourite workout. Short efforts, short recoveries – but lots of them.

I finished it, exhilarated (and exhausted).

And I found myself at the bottom of Allard Hill.

I sighed. Might as well.

And so the climbs began again; long at first, then shorter, then the steepest part I could find over and over again. Was I addicted? Maybe.

I looked at my watch: I had eight minutes to get home before my hour was up. I left the hills and the view, left the pain in my lungs and legs.

I was happy.

When I got home, naturally I did some steps and step ups.

Confirmed. Addicted.

Day 6.

When the alarm went off, I rationalised again with myself that I could take a rest day. Should take a rest day.

I peeked outside, blue skies.

Not today.

Suddenly I was up, mobilising, journaling, drinking my pre-run coffee.

Ready.

Then suddenly I was at the bottom of Hope Street with 400m of uphill in front of me.

I started, with angry music, and angry calves. But the sun, the sun was rising, the rays broke onto my skin, pushing me to go faster, to run towards it. Beautifulness.

Sunrise on Hope Street

10km, and I was done. Beautifully done.

Home.

The steps and step ups waited until lunchtime, then suddenly I’d done 3km of them.

Legs ached, arms ached (erm, jealous?).

Day six was done.

By Day 7 I actually think my legs were used to the hills, or maybe I just hurt all over even more.

I needed to mix it up so I went out to Allard Park. I knew I had 40 minutes (plus time to get there and back). So the first ten I went up and down 80m, steady pace. For the second 10 I swapped to a shorter steeper hill that I considered just rolling down on many occasions. For the third 10-minute set, I went back to the 80m. The last one – and I have no idea why I put this last – I went up to the 160m mark on the hill, the top.

Allard Park hill

Silliness.

Home, strength. Work. Steps. Work.

Gin.

Day 8 was my biggest day. The government introduced a new ruling that meant we could drive to where we train, so I could get to Fairfield (literally just within my 5km radius). I was so excited by the change of scenery.

From the top of the steps I could see the trails in the distance, the beautiful trails I had biked and run so many times on the other side of the river.

Soon.

Today though, I had 100 beautiful steps from the river to the top.

All the steps

There was one other girl doing them – either as training or punishment (we can never be sure right?). I promised myself I wouldn’t compete with her….

…but when you haven’t had any competition for months you pretty much make competition out of anything (or is that just me?), I chased her, passed her (safely) and began again.

24 repeats. 2400 steps. 40 minutes. Heart pumping, full of blood and full of joy, to be outside near trails.

Home. Breakfast, more step ups. Water. Then a crossfit charge WOD which included over 1,000 step ups.

1,600m elevation.

Sorry legs.

I took every opportunity throughout the rest of the day to duck down to the floor and get into pigeon pose + the world’s greatest stretch + corpse pose (my favourite). Anything I thought would be give my legs more life for the last two days…. not to mention the 75km virtual UTMB challenge I had planned for the following week. 

Sunday, Day 9. The home straight.

Torrential rain.

I waited.

More rain.

Steps it was.

One hour up and down up and down.

In all honesty it was supposed to be 30 minutes, but the podcast I was listening to was so damn good I forgot, and continued. (thank you Chasing Excellence)

Breakfast.

Second breakfast.

My legs were twitching for some flat running (they definitely weren’t, but I was), so I took myself out for a very chilled 7km.

A few tweaks and twinges, but otherwise happy.

Home to do steps… nothing left in my legs.

No steps.

Bath. Epsom salts. Aromatherapy oils, anything.

Day 10: the final day!!

I gave myself a beautiful sleep in…and even managed to turn off the alarm and sleep more.

Double training takes its toll. Hills take their toll.

Suddenly I was up and coffee-d, I had journaled and meditated, and found myself doing steps again, with my podcasts, followed by another one. Until I had done 5km of steps.

Work.

Lunchtime came. More steps. Up to 8km.

Was I satisfied? I rationalised with myself that I would do some more later, after work.

I went to make lunch, realised squatting down to get my saucepan out of the cupboard would take a while for me to get back up from.

No more steps.

Challenge completed.

Happy.

So grateful.

75km over five days starts tomorrow.

Our team managed 44,450m elevation, coming in second female team and 20th overall.

The results

So proud.

So grateful.

And next?

UTMB starts tomorrow…

Double Donna 22km: It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves… (and sometimes the mountain conquers us too, for a few minutes)

It had been five months since I broke my foot. Since I’d realised that I’d fractured it by dropping a 10kg weight onto it, then completely broken it during the Surf Coast Century 50km. The placement of the break made so much more sense – as the Sport Physician and Surgeon had pointed out that this was not the usual place of a stress fracture. This was a silver lining because a stress fracture meant… well, stress.

 Five months of cycling, and rowing and upper body strength later and I felt strong, albeit a bit top heavy from the increase in strength training.

 I’d entered the Warburton Trails Fest on a bit of a whim, wanting something challenging but not too far; something I could ease myself into.

 So, I chose a 22km trail run up and down Mount Donna Buang, with an incline of 1250m – 1000m over 8km.

 Logic clearly defies me.

 The race was on the Sunday of a long weekend, so we spent the Saturday up in Warburton volunteering and cheering on the 50km and 25km runners.

 Our (last minute) accommodation was a gypsy wagon in the back of someone’s garden, which hadn’t quite survived a massive cyclone earlier that week. Oops.

We made do, and cooked what would be our race day breakfast on the fire pit the night before – packing our race vests before darkness hit and where we would be limited to headtorches and the light from the Kmart lamp in the wagon.

 Race day was upon us.

 I was up – before the alarm, in the darkness. Excited nervous.

 I turned on the lamp (pretty much still darkness) and woke Bex – who was racing her first 14km.

 We had our breakfast and got ready, packing and repacking and counting and checking. All the checks.

 We drove to the start line and I ordered a large coffee – which appeared to contain at least five coffee shots. Winning.

 The vibe was electric as the sun rose over the mountains and people started to arrive. The start and finish line were also the festival hub – a mixture of excitement, nerves and the beautiful-people-that-are-trail-runners sharing stories of past runs and what was about to happen.

 There were two waves to the 22km ‘Double Donna’. The 8am wave contained the not so fast runners and the 8.30am wave contained the faster runners – the idea being that the faster runners would overtake the not so fast runners on the up, rather than face colliding and chaos on the steep downhills.

 The earlier wave set off, and suddenly my race was looming.

I did a body check – everything appeared to be working. I was testing out my new Nike Terra Kiger 5’s – they felt good, comfortable, very light. 

 My plan was to run the flats comfortably at pace – because there weren’t actually that many, then try and smash the uphills as fast as I could (cue aggressive lunging) to make up for the fact that my downhill speed and ability was lacking, and this is where I would most likely get overtaken or face plant. Most likely both. At the same time.

I wanted to get under 3 hours, that was my ultimate goal. 

I took a caffeine gel.

 Race briefing – the cyclone earlier that week had caused quite a bit of mud and stickiness on course (not just in our gypsy wagon), the advice was to be really careful and lean forward on the downs. ..but mostly to have fun and enjoy climbing a mountain. And no music, for safety reasons. I died a little inside, but understood and didn’t want to risk another disqualification like Wonderland

 8.30am. Off we went.

 Single track along the river walk trail. I felt good at 4.30min/km. Everyone was excited and in good spirits.

 I saw one girl up ahead of me shoot off towards the front of the pack, I told myself not to chase her. This was my own race, to test out the lungs and the foot.

 I knew it was round 2.5km of undulating single track before we hit the uphill – all the ups. 2.5km marked the beginning of the ascent.

 And we turned off the track, and onto one of the steepest streets in the Southern Hemisphere (unconfirmed but definitely felt like it). We had volunteered at this location the day before, watched the athletes faces as they looked up, as they climbed up – some running some walking.

 I began the aggressive lunging, getting into a rhythm.

 Two females decided to overtake me, jogging up the hill. I nodded to them, good efforts.

 I reasoned with myself not to go any faster, if it was meant to be I would catch them on the trail – on the climb up the mountain.

 The hill seemed never ending, and my lungs were working harder than they had done in the last five months, maybe longer.

 But we got there, me and a few others who had also taken to the lunging idea. A small flat section before we hit the uphill trail.

 And then it began, at first it was jogable and the terrain seemed relatively easy and friendly. We climbed a little further through single trail. I overtook one of the females I’d seen on the hill, and a few minutes later the other one (with some resistance).

 We hit a road that marked where the 14km runners would turn left instead of continuing the ascent.

 Oh, the ascent.

 What had been an easy single-track trail now turned into thicker wet mud. Rainforest and jungle like. There was dampness in the air and in the trees. Fallen branches and leaves lay strewn across the track, making it slippier than normal.

 Yikes.

 I wanted to put some distance between myself and the other females, get as much distance on the up – which is my strength in this kind of race.

 Head down, and I went. Lunging, using my arms to push off my thighs and take the pressure off my lower back (note to self, this is what walking poles do, you fool).

 I wanted to be able to hear the birds and the outdoors, but all I could hear was my heavy and deep breathing.

My (prescription) sunglasses fogged up constantly and I took them off – everything was slightly blurry, but I reasoned with myself that that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 Up and up, mud and more mud, grabbing onto trees and branches, scrambling in parts. I looked at my watch and realised I’d only gone 1km in maybe 15 minutes. I laughed to myself and began to visualise getting to the stop.

 At 45 minutes I knew I needed to get some fuel in me. I pulled out my potatoes and tried to eat them whilst still climbing upwards. Maybe only half ended up in my mouth, in my stomach. I laughed but was too stubborn to stop. I took a gel too and made the mistake of involuntarily breathing out heavily as soon as I’d emptied the packet into my mouth. The gel ended up mostly on my legs, again I laughed. I stopped and tried to swallow what little was left in my mouth.

 Bloody hell I was out of practice.

 I started to pass the first wave of runners, encouraging – all fighting the same battle.

 Some of the sections we hit were still flooded with water in large puddles, we were scrambling over trees, under trees, over rocks. Downhill was going to be tricky.

 My watch read 5.5km and I almost threw a hissy fit (yep, happened), this climb was long. But suddenly I hit another road and the first aid station. I was confused, this wasn’t supposed to be until 7km.

 “Lollies?” the woman smiled.

 “Is this the 7km aid station?” I asked, maybe with a little bit of a wild look in my eyes.

 “It sure is”

 I wanted to hug her – my watch hadn’t been tracking some of the distance because the ascent had been so steep. I was at 7km, with 4km to the top. Ka boom.

 I continued, lighter on my feet.

 At around 8.5km the trail became less steep, turned back into single track and sunlight broken through – I was near the top.

 I nearly shrieked. Maybe I did.

 My legs were jelly on the flats, but I jogged, then picked up pace, and I was running, on flat. This felt bloody good.

 More of a climb, gentler but still not runnable (for me anyway) in parts.

 I heard a cow bell and some laughter and voices.

 The top? I got excited.

 I turned the corner and instead it turned out to be spectators, with a cow bell, cheering people on.

 I couldn’t be mad because they were there to support us – even though I wanted to tell them that people might actually think it’s the top.

 “Almost there!” they cheered. I thought I bloody well was.

 I mentally slapped myself and remembered where I was and what I was doing, and I was grateful once again.

 At this point the lead guy came flying past me the other way, I stopped and clapped – amazing speed to get up the top and be on the way back down already. Literally amazing.

 I hit the loop to get to the top – 2km to go, and then no more climbing, no more quad and calf burn (that was a lie, that’s mostly what downhill is, but a different kind I guess).

 I was able to run some more, stretch out the legs and get up a little bit of pace – and I was also able to appreciate my surroundings. What had once been thick dark muddy forests was now beautifully green undergrowth and trees, and sun rays breaking through intermittently across the forest. Literally breath-taking.

 Worth the lung and leg ache.

 Another gel – caffeine to get to me to the top, and taken better this time.

 I climbed towards the sunlight and turned to see a large table of feasts (ahem, aid station), and car parks and toilets.

 “Is this the top?” I asked the girls at the table.

 “Yes!!” They were almost more excited than me. “You’ve done it!”

 My heart was full, and I thanked them, and continued.

 The down.

 I had not practiced downhill as much as I had wanted, if at all. I knew I needed to let go a little and trust my shoes and my legs to guide me.

 The first section was relatively gentle single track, so I picked up the pace – willing my aching legs to continue. I hit a pace of 3.40min/km which was quite ridiculous.

 This was actually quite fun.

 I slowed to pass people on the up, encouraged, it wasn’t that far.

 I was happy with my pace, still running without my sunshades and still a little blind. But it seemed to be working.

 Then I hit the rainforest again.

 Yikes.

 I began the slippery downhill, trying to land more on the ball of my foot as I descended, and trying to lean forwards as much as my body would allow – it felt alien, but seemed to work.

 On some parts, I flew, and I was amazing at how fast I could actually get, occasionally grabbing a tree or branch to push off into a direction change or maybe slow me a little.

 I hit the thicker forest, thicker mud under feet and had my first fall – stepping onto a branch that my other foot was under and, as a result, flying forwards down the hill and rolling through the mud.

 I covered at least five metres on my face – not the worst way to travel indeed. I laughed.

 I checked myself out and seemed ok, so I continued – a little more cautious.

 I continued, legs free and leaning forwards again – to the point where my stomach muscles were actually getting tired.

 I hit the aid station – 7km to go. “You’re second girl, you’re doing fantastic!” I thanked her and continued.

 The next fall (I was definitely expecting more than one) came maybe ten minutes later when cramp in my right hamstring caused my right leg to inexplicably buckle.

 Before I knew it, I was rolling down the hill again – and I even considered just continuing in that fashion, now that I was caked in mud anyway.

 But I laughed and picked myself up: “Pay attention Jess”.

 Again, slower. I needed to slow down.

 The trail became slightly less muddy, drier.

 I must have relaxed, too much. Lost my concentration. Something.

 Bang.

 That familiar feeling of my right ankle cracking into the right angle it should never need to go into (but always did).

 Instead of falling down the path, the sudden motion of my ankle twisting caused me to fall sideways into the trees and shrubbery and I was suddenly scrambling to stop myself rolling further off the track.

 Pain, blinding pain.

 I shook my head and pulled / rolled myself back to the track.

 I tried to stand up, the pain flickered through my ankle and made me feel a little dizzy.

 I was up at least.

 I looked at my watch – 17km, only 4km to go, of which 2.5km was flat.

I wanted to be angry.

 I thought about it – about stopping, about finally just sitting down where I was and waiting for the next runner, or texting Bex to tell her it was over and my ankle had gone.

 I wanted to be angry, I had pushed myself so hard to get up to the top, and tried so hard to get down in good time.

I just couldn’t be, I was grateful I had gotten this far this fast (in my eyes).

 I’d have to go down anyway, to get to help – if that’s what I wanted.

 I didn’t.

 I couldn’t.

 I had done this before, been here before.

 I took a few steps and it was my left ankle that gave way this time, in protest – in jealousy?

 I was down again, in the shrubbery and I chose that moment to find it incredibly funny – ironic maybe. And maybe it was laughter or tears, so I chose laughter.

 I sighed and got up, suddenly noticing that my knee was covered in blood. I don’t even think it was from these two falls, maybe the one before. Had I just been going so hard on myself I hadn’t even noticed cuts and scrapes? Probably.

 And this was my comeuppance.

 Thanks body – message received.

 I gathered myself, I knew I was shaking, knew I’d been shaken.

 I began the descent, slowly at first. A couple of jolts but it was ok. I felt like I was almost skipping.

 A thick jolt of pain and I stopped and grabbed a nearby tree, as if that would help or lessen the pain.

 I shook myself off and continued down, slower, more focussed movements.

 I hit the road where the aqueduct turn off was.

 “Are you ok? The woman there asked.

 Caked in blood and mud… I nodded “I took a fall”

 “You’re almost there, keep going”

 I was and I would, that kept me going a little longer.

 I was in the less steep single track now, there were families walking up the track, a little surprised to see such a beaten-up runner no doubt.

 Their encouragement filled my heart, even when my hamstring cramped again and my right leg gave away.

 “Whoopsy! Just gotta pick yourself back up and keep moving love” One guy said with a smile. And that’s exactly what I did.

 Suddenly I was back on the road, the steepest street, and I joined another runner.

 “Are you doing the 22km?” She asked.

 “Yes”

 “You’re smashing it, I’m just on my way back from the 14km”

 We chatted whilst we ran a little, I was grateful to keep my mind off…everything that hurt.

 I left her when the hill got steep “You go on, you’re almost there. Good luck!”. And I let my legs carry me a little.

 I was at the bottom, no more hills, no more ups or downs.

 I remember thinking on the Saturday when I was looking up at the hill, how happy I’d be to reach this point – only flat left.

 I stumbled a little, wobbled – which was unusual. 

Then it dawned on me.

 I hadn’t kept to my nutrition plan, the haste to get down, then the fall had distracted me.

 I had gone an hour without fuelling at all, and only during the whole race had I had half a bag of potatoes and 1.5 gels.  

 I started to feel it, the weakness, the wall.

 I began to run and realised I had no energy, in fact I was shaking, my hands and my legs were shaking.

 This wasn’t good.

 I took a gel, inhaled it. I just had to get to the finish, 2km away.

 I jogged, then stopped, with literally no energy. I walked. Almost tears, stupidity.

 I jogged again, leaning as far forwards as I could without falling, to give my body as much momentum as possible.

 I can honestly say I lost my sh*t – whether it was the adrenaline from the injury that had masked it temporarily I don’t know, but I totally bonked.

 I felt like a child throwing their toys out of their pram.

 I reasoned with my manic mind – walk for ten seconds then jog, and repeat.

 This was supposed to be the best part of the race, the flat to the finish.

 So I started the improvised interval running.

 There were other runners around completing the 14km run, they cheered and I cheered them and I couldn’t stop.

 I crossed a bridge – walked over it, not sure if it was the bridge wobbling, or me.

 I was so sure I was going to lose second place female any minute, and I wasn’t sure I had the fight left in me to race it out to the end.

 I passed a runner who seemed like they were struggling too.

 “We’re almost there” I said. She nodded “Hell yes we are. Let’s do this.”

 The gel must have kicked in at last and I found strength. From her and from the sugar, and picked up the pace. Remembering the race, the run, the love of it all.

 Then I could hear the end, I could hear the finish line. Nathan (an old friend) on the mic, who had promised me a drink on the finish line.

 I ran faster (it probably wasn’t any faster, but in my mind it counted).

 400 metres away. I looked behind me, no other runners except the ones I’d passed.

 I could do this.

 “We have another female, come on let’s see you finish it off strongly.” Nathan again.

 So I did, I picked up the pace (again, probably didn’t).

 “And this completes the podium, Jess in third place.” I was confused but didn’t care.

 I crossed the line at 2 hours 30 minutes – a combination of happiness and dizzy exhaustion. And Bex looking at me with pride…and concern. But had most likely seen me in worst condition after Surf Coast Century. 

 I heard over the mic – Nathan again. “Anyone who knows Jess knows she would’ve left everything she had out on that mountain.”

 I had, I really had.

 I sat down, finally, finally able to stop and rest. Everything was still shaking.

 I sat for quite a while, my brain and body slowly resembling normality. I listened to Bex as she told me about her race. So proud. And we watched as other runners came through, equally elated to have finished. 

 They called the presentation. It turned out someone from wave 1 had crossed the line before me and they’d mistaken them for wave 2. I’d finished second – five minutes ahead of the third-place female, who we cheered in.

 I got ice from first aid then, after showering and discovering many more scratches, headed to the river to drop my legs into the water.

 Tomorrow was going to hurt. Today hurt already. 

 Right now, I was grateful and happy. So happy.

 Gin o’clock indeed.

You Yangs Running Festival: Lessons on Hitting the Wall

I took my weirdly swollen ankle to the Doctors the Monday after UTA50km

“X-Ray.”

The results confirmed a loose bone fragment (Betty) with it’s little jazz hands, having a party of it’s own – well away from the rest of my ankle bones.

My Doctor told me that the rounded edges of the bone fragment meant that it was an old fracture that hadn’t healed.

He asked me when I could have done it.

I knew.

I remembered the soccer game – the first and last I ever tried to play in Melbourne. We were 75 minutes in, I had scored, we were winning. I was one on one with the goalie. Then bang, someone else’s foot pushed the position of mine awkwardly enough for that all too familiar right angle an ankle shouldn’t make.

The pain.

Golly. Like nothing else, no other sprain.

I knew it was bad.

There was one problem – my Mum was watching.

The first (and last) time she had watched me played soccer in Australia, she had watched me dislocate my shoulder, then watched my twin sister relocate it. Then sat in the Emergency Department waiting to see whether the tingling in my fingers was nerve damage.

No no, just a Hill Sachs lesion in the humerus.

Back to the game,  I was half carried off the pitch – my mum hadn’t seen me go down. Ice. Elevation.

She made her way over, and I was up, walking. Limping slightly.

“Have you injured yourself?”

I shook my head, “old injury.”

We walked to the car….straight to Ikea…then carried 17 packs of flat pack laminate flooring up four flights of stairs.

Sorry ankle.

Sorry Mum.

The doctor told me it would always be fragile now, and likely to flare up when running.

Not ideal.

I rested – given that it was my first 50km my body wasn’t actually capable of any form of….movement, anyway.

The next few weeks the familiar pre-UTA lethargy also continued and I went back to the docs. Bill and Bob – my parasites – were still there.

The antibiotics hadn’t worked.

I lost a small mental battle at that point – parasites and a weakened ankle. I’m pretty sure I allowed myself one day to wallow.

But I know, other people have gone through far worse – far worse – and picked themselves back up. And come back stronger.

I continued to train, allowing for the 8-9 hours’ sleep my body now seemed to need.

I also recently acquired two new foster cats – supposed to be a shy pair of sisters.

Shy, they told me.

I was woken around 3.00am by Trudy (the tiger) wanting to play, then sit on my neck, then poke me in the face. I didn’t have the heart to kick her out.

6.00am – my alarm went off long after I had woken up to feed them, and play with them. Tired? Of course, but definitely good for the soul, and great for pre-race nerves.

I ate the usual sweet potato and eggs, had coffee, then more coffee. Cooked my potatoes, counted my gels. Packed my race gear, repacked my race gear. Mobilised my body.

As I approached the You Yangs I became excited, love this place.

I walked to the start, the familiar feeling of being in a place I belonged, with people whom I belonged with.

30 km.

I hadn’t raced this distance before. I had thought long and hard about pace – not as quick as a half and not as slow as a 50km. Surely.

I checked myself, feeling at around 80% of myself. But no pain from my ankle.

Grateful.

Caffeine gel. Focus.

We lined up, and  started. I began running, and suddenly I realised I had brought the wrong race vest – the one too big for me. It bounced up and down on my shoulders as I ran.

How??

I laughed. It was all I could do.

I managed to take two safety pins off my race bib and safety pin the vest together to fit better. It seemed to work.

We were on fire trails – flat, fast. An out and back. I looked at my watch. 4.10min/km. All my unfavourite things.

Crikey.

I wasn’t sure my legs could sustain this pace for 30km, I prayed for hills, for Flinders Peak. That was my jam.

We continued and turned back on ourselves, and I saw the females in front of me – I counted three but couldn’t be sure.

w more km, fast and furious (everyone else, not me) and we hit it – the most beautiful part of You Yangs…undulating single track.

Heaven.

I squealed and flew, my lower body moving with the hills, jumping, running, skipping, climbing.

So. Much. Fun.

I had joined a pack, some guys in front of me, pacing me.

I overtook one of the girls, third female.

Another gel, whilst trying to run. Clearly out of practice. Choking ensued, and stickiness.

We left the single track, back onto fire trail, a long stretch of open, fire trail.

The pace picked up again.

We were on 12km and my legs were not doing so well – some sort of weird pain and tingling in my right thigh. I pushed it away.

I knew I wasn’t in peak shape, and the negative self-talk began: why hadn’t I trained harder, faster. Or even trained less, and rested. I threw so many what ifs through my head to try and understand why I was struggling. The parasites? I wasn’t sure.

I kept going.

Another female over took me – a different one, back to third. I tried to maintain her pace, 4.10/km again. If she could do it, so could I.

Stupidity.

One of the pack.

“how you pulling up?”

“I’m over the flat ness”

He laughed. “yeah, this is fast and flat hey”

It wasn’t just me.

We ran together, entering some more single track – heading up towards Flinders Peak.

First, a long steep climb. Time for some aggressive lunging.

Hells yes.

I looked at my watch. Potato time.

I took them out of my race vest, out of their sandwich bag and tried, in between gulps of breath, to eat the potato.

I guess you could liken it to trying to eat food during burpees. It wasn’t my wisest choice to do It during the climb, but I knew I needed them for Flinders Peak.

Ooooo, Flinders Peak.

I got excited.

Flinders Peak is 1.5km of mountain, peak, steps, rocks, climbing. Heaven.

I began the ascent- others walking. I ran. This was freedom, this was my jam.

I climbed the steps – two at a time where I could.

We were greeted by some of the 50km and 100km runners, we cheered. Legends.

Three females passed me on their way down already, I had miscounted. I was forth.

Could I catch up?

I picked up the pace.

The top, the views, the feeling. My favourite place – usually because it’s where I would stop to have food and refuel during long runs.

And down.

I’ve run the descent many times before.

I began. Fast at first, trying to make up some time lost on the flats.

Pain.

Flashes at first, my ankle.

The downhill impact was too much? I shook my head. No, not possible. Not now.

I slowed. Landed more on my left foot.

The female I’d overtaken before, overtook me.

Fifth.

I couldn’t give up hope, I couldn’t slow any more. I could not let my head drop.

I know it’s these times, these moments where I try, really try, to remind myself to run my own race and not other people’s. I shouldn’t care where I was, I shouldn’t care that I was fifth. It was about the running, the moment. Where my feet were.

Deep breaths and a mental slap around the face.

Pipe down Jess, just run.

I continued down. Carefully.

More 50km and 100km runners on their climb up – and more of the 30km runners heading on their way up.

Amazing vibe.

I was grateful again.

Suddenly I was at the bottom, and we turned back on ourselves at the bottom – into single trail again.

My legs….were heavy from the ascent, but the pain in my ankle had lessened.

And oh the trails.

More grateful.

17km.

We descended again, down towards the bike trails for the second half of the run.

I knew them well, having rode (into trees) on them quite a few times. I was excited.  I picked up the pace.

I was with the pack again, a few new members. And glimpses of the woman in forth ahead.

Easy Jess, run your race.

One of the guys up ahead I’d ran with earlier, walking.

I ran past “come on, let’s move”

He ran, we ran.

The trails were….they’re better on a bike – more zig zags and corners than hills.

But god damn it was beautiful.

Another gel.

23km.

Heavy legs, heavy.

My right thigh tingles were back.

I managed for 2km.

At 25km I knew I was hitting a wall. Maybe I’d gone out too fast – too fast on the fire trails. Maybe it was the Mexican I’d had last night, or maybe it was just Bill and Bob kicking around in my stomach.

I slowed to a farmers shuffle. I wanted to stop.

Almost, I almost stopped.

I choked down a mini sob, it wasn’t supposed to feel this hard.

The only time I’d felt like this was on the third day of the four day Lara Pinta race – I hadn’t warmed down or rested enough the day before, and everything was hurt and effort.

That was the now. I was back there, willing there not to be 5km left. Willing for that extra energy.

The fix?

The people.

“Move, we run together” Same guy I’d told to move.

A god send.

We ran.

Another guy, in a blue shirt was behind us, with us.

“Let’s pace each other”

And so we did.

I cranked up my music, Skrillex, Slash, The Prodigy.

Gel. Another badly taken gel. But I didn’t care.

I imagined I was just out for a casual 5km run, in the You Yangs – did I mention it was my favourite place?

I remembered my gratefuls.

I got to run this.

I nodded to myself, and picked up the pace. Caffeine and sugar kicking in.

We came off the trails, back onto fire trail – and I was finally grateful for them. I knew where we were.

2km to go and everyone we were running with knew, it was almost the finish.

We ran and we laughed, we encouraged and we cheered. How could we not?

The last 500m.

I could see the finish. I sprinted – or tried to. Rock solid legs. Sprinting with rock solid legs.

Righto.

Everything hurt, but I picked up the pace.

200m.

Faster.

100m.

Usain Bolt (probably not)

Done.

Finish line.

I laughed, probably manically. And shook the hands of those I’d run with.

They had no idea how grateful I was for them, all my thank yous and high fives could not convey how they had saved me. Had picked me up and thrown me over the wall.

I sat, legs shakey, tingling.

Sugar. Snakes – all of them.

I watched others come in, some of them the 50km finishers, others were 100kms doing another lap, amazingness.

I was grateful.

________________________________________________________

And next?

A team duathlon involving two 4km runs – in the You Yangs.

And then? The 50km running next to my twin sister. The excitement and pride is….hard to explain.

Epicness.

Oh…then the OCR World Champs in England.

Yikes.

#sorrylegs