Anglesea – beach running and beautiful trails…

I wouldn’t say that I chose to rest in the week after Lara Pinta. More that my body made me….all the cool downs in the world would not have made me ready to get back into recovery training straight away. So I drank wine instead.

I actually managed a couple of short runs, but gave in to mainly doing strength work and letting my legs and feet be mad at me for just a little longer.

First run back a week later – a 16km up to Coburg Reserve then down to Fitzroy along the Merri Creek. Beautiful, and fast…mostly because I was heading to brunch. Food is always good motivation for me.

Second run – not so good. The return of the meniscus / ITB / sharp unidentified pain in my right knee 8km into 13km. I should’ve listened to my body and jumped on a train home. But I had no wallet or phone so I stumbled on home and tried to stretch it off. Then spent the remainder of the day avoiding stairs….or walking.

My next run was a week Sunday and it was supposed to be a cracker. I could not be injured.

As torture, I spent an entire evening googling and planning a worldwide Trail running bucket list – planning holidays around them. I could not be injured.

Tuesday before the race….an 11km run without pain. I did the robot dance and many self high fives more than once that day.

Anyway, the race.

Oh, let me tell you about Friday night first. I learned a lot about dehydration…

Step 1. Sit next to a roaring indoor fire, literally almost in it.

Step 2. Ignore your body’s need for water

Step 3. Drink wine

Step 4. Drink more wine

A beautiful evening. Not so much a beautiful morning.

The answer? Day drinking of course. And making profiteroles. A very good pre race combination whilst watching the Surf Coast Century runners smash out some amazing distances.

On the plus side I drank so much water to combat the day drinking that when I woke up on Sunday for the race, my body was probably the most hydrated it’s ever been. Plus all that resveratrol. Winning.

I knew from the rec. run that the race started with 5km on the beach then up into the cliffs for some single tracks and rolling hills. I figured the faster (ahem, younger) runners would probably go ahead during the beach race but I could hopefully make up ground in the elevation. Hopefully.

I had a plan. 4.40 min/km on the beach then whatever pace I felt comfortable with on the trails.

We started, and I thought I could jump the 8-10 metre river running to the sea at the start to avoid wet feet. I was surprisingly confused when I made it about 1 metre in. Wet feet it was.

The beach opened out. 4.20 min/km. What plan? The sand was hard enough to run comfortably without completely messing up my calves, so I continued.

About 1km in I went out in front of the other females. I felt good. I did a few stupid jumps over rocks. I still felt good, just stupid.

We came off the beach and the pack I was with went the wrong way, the long course way. I watched in horror as the other females passed me. That hard work. That hard beach work with wet feet and silly jumps over rocks.

I shook myself. Just run you fool. Bloody run and catch up.

So I did. Uphill, I kept going until I was back to where I was before.

Sorry legs.

The trails were….have I mentioned I love single track? Without even noticing I was at 8.5km and going ok, feeling good. I’d had two full rest days which helped. I allowed my legs to explore the ground beneath me and went with it. Almost romantic.

Gel time.

Having lost my last gel bottle in Lara Pinta I had new bottles to contend with. Because why not try out new bottles in the middle of a race? At first nothing came out, I was on an uphill and nothing came out. I stopped, I looked into the bottle and squeezed in disbelief. It worked, and suddenly I had gel in my eye. I laughed at myself but mostly because I was grateful they worked. I wiped my eye, drank the bloody gel and carried on. Wet feet and a sticky face.

Knee pain struck around 10km on an uphill and I made a deal with it to go easy on the uphills, so I did my aggressive lunging and the pain lessened, then sped up on the flats and downhills.

I saw glimpses of views of the sea – stunning, then got distracted by the downhills. One part so aggressive and steep-stepped that my brain shook a little and my shades almost fell off. I definitely squealed, then put the breaks on. That’s how face plants happen.

The trail opened out onto dirt track then suddenly I was back on the beach heading towards the finish line….soft sand. Suddenly my calves were calling me an idiot and stiffening up. I willed them on, running a little like a penguin. Needs must.

Back through the river we started at. My almost dry feet were wet again but I welcomed the cold water on my calves, and almost thought about washing my face in case I had any remnants of gel on me. Nah.

Sprint finish. Yep, against myself.

First female. Grateful.

Thank you knee.

Straight back into the sea for the cold water therapy that worked so well in Lara Pinta.

Sorry legs.

Larapinta – the end of an amazing journey 

I won two wine glasses for my two stage race wins. This is why I love trail running.

Day 3 Race 3:

22km. 13km flat then 9km into around and out of a gorge. Another mountain. Also, hello 30 degree heat.

We woke at 5.30am. More pre workout. Awake.

22km. That’s the furthest I’ve ever run. My quads were on fire already. Uh oh.

We started at 9am. The sun was already high in the sky and preying on us.

13km of undulating trails – single track. I should’ve been in heaven. But I was struggling. The wine? No. Just a combination of the first two races and the heat.

The scenery was stunning, I used it to keep me going. Right foot, left foot.
I had my gel at forty minutes in the hopes it would perk me up. I put it back into my bag. Two minutes later I felt something running down my back, down my leg. Had my bladder burst?? (No, not my actual bladder)

I felt the back of my leg – sticky….my other gels. Uh oh. No more gels. No more sugar or caffeine. And 12km to go. Not good.

I got to the water station, tired. Through panting lungs I tried to explain to the water lady that I thought my bladder had burst. She looked horrified. She probably still is. I didn’t rectify her confusion.

Into the gorge.

Right foot, left foot. I kept going. The gorge was amazing. Red rock on blue sky on blue water. It was amazing. The gorge was amazing, that was my concentration.

I was alone at that point; I knew there were four guys ahead of me, and I knew there was a girl behind me at some point. I shouldn’t have cared, but I bloody well did.

I agreed with myself that I was struggling, so the plan was to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills.

Limp Bizkit came on – Rollin’. Suddenly Fred Durst was telling me to breath in and breath out, and keep rolling. So I did. And the plan went out the window. Hello legs. Thank you Fred.

I ran through the gorge, boulders, sand, trail. One more mountain to go then down hill to the finish. I climbed, I sang. I ran down the hill to Sweet Home Alabama.

Home. Finished.

First girl, somehow.

Happy. Exhausted. So many things.

I warmed down – I rolled out, I went in the cold pool and soaked. I never wanted to feel like that in a race again.

I don’t like talking about toes or feet, in fact I hate it. But sitting in the pool I noticed two toes looked very angry at me.

A flame and a needle later and they looked a lot less angry. 😱

Dinner was an all you can eat buffet. My Garmin watch told me I’d burned 2,000 calories during the race. Challenge accepted.

In bed by 9pm. Full.

Day 4, Race 4:

30km 14km undulating trails, one mountain to climb, 10km more trails. Once again the furthest I’d ever run. But what’s new?

We started an hour early to avoid the predicted 31 degree heat. So my alarm went off at 4.45am to get breakfast in early enough to digest. Yikes.

My legs? Felt great, refreshed, alive. Eager to get started. Pipe down legs.

We started, I dropped my phone. Someone picked it up. I restarted.

I ran with the lead pack in beautiful convoy through undulating (yes, I like that word) single track. I was in heaven (yes, I like that word too). 10km passed very quickly.

I jumped down into a river and my right leg buckled – pain shot down the outside of my knee. My meniscus. Shit. I continued through the pain for a few minutes and it went (dulled) so I carried on, luckily.

More amazing single track. Did I mention I like that? The guys were awesome. One was running on a twisted ankle. I won’t say what he was drinking to numb the pain but it definitely wasn’t water. I was in awe / jealous. I love trail running.

We hit the mountain and all walked up it. Kind of together but separating gradually.

Red rock, beautiful red rock. I love this place.

I got to the top of the mountain. Time to start running. I looked at the view, did a double take. Mountains and more mountains for miles. Breathtaking. Stunning. Lost for words.

I told myself to concentrate but I looked again….I fell. Less blood and less pain than the first / last mountain fall, but enough to bring me back to reality. Race jess, you bloody idiot.

I ran. And then came the downhill. A zig zag of red rock scree. Perilous. I loved it. Squeals and screams and maybe even some skipping.

This was bloody awesome.

Two lads joined me – so much better than me on the downhill, scarily so.

We got to the bottom. 10km to go. I felt good. I told my legs (yep, out loud) to imagine this was a normal 10km race. To go hard but steady. And they listened.

No girls in sight so far. I could do this. Sorry meniscus, I’m just not listening.

More single track, more in love with this place.

The last 6km were a mental battle. I felt good but a voice kept reminding me I’d already done 24km and I should feel tired….more ignoring.

Then more gels. I continued.

I could see home.

2km to go.

Skrillex came on. Yes.

The last 200m was soft sand. I sprinted. My legs almost gave out.

The finish of the 30km. The finish of the four day event.

First girl, forth overall. Stoked.

High fives all round then straight into the river. Hopefully no crocodiles….I had no fight in me.

Grateful.

11am – wine o’clock.

Presentations involved two more engraved wine glasses for the two further races I’d won. Then two medals – one for first female in category (20-39) and one for overall female winner of the four days.

Speechless.

More wine.

Total distance run: 81km
Total time running: 9hrs 26min
Total calories burned: 6,768
Total calories in wine consumed: 6,768
Total Bush bash injuries: 16 and counting
Total Toenails sacrificed: 3
Total Gratitude expended: More than can be put into words.

And now?

I told my legs I would take the week off…but I may have accidentally set my alarm for 5.30am tomorrow to get up and run. Because why not?

And next?

Angelsea 15km in September.
Although…there was talk of the Larapinta crew doing the Surf Coast Century 50km. Because why not?

Sorry legs.

Larapinta – The journey so far 

I arrived to blue skies and a heat I haven’t felt for a while. Holiday!! Oh with four races / 80km of trails…

We checked into our hotel and went to explore Alice Springs…everywhere I looked espresso martinis were the ‘cocktail of the week’. Uh oh.

Anyway. We had wine and food and more wine. Then to bed to prepare for a sunrise shoot.

Race day 1:

5.30am alarm went off to get up for some sunrise filming

5.31am Raw Protein pre workout taken

5.32am awake and ready.

Sunrise was epic, being in nature was epic. I’m still a little in awe.

The race wasn’t until 6pm – a sunset race through the trails of Alice Springs.

I’m not great with evening runs to be honest – I eat too much and I feel nervous all day. But I took myself on walks and meditated….and drank a lot of coffee.

The race began. It was still light when we took off and I decided to hang out with the lead pack to see how it felt. Legs felt good. Heart felt good (thanks coffee).

The trails were amazing – undulating single track. My favourite. I was in heaven.

Then sunset came.

My shades came off and the head torch came out (and the fear of kangaroos jumping out on me increased ten fold)

But I kept running, towards the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen. My motivation.

No gels to inhale / spill / choke on. Just trails …and darkness. I squealed. A lot. The downhills were pretty technical when you rely on torch light – and no prescription shades

1km away from the finish I knew I was first girl. I sped up (sorry legs) and made sure I finished with a sprint. First girl. High five.

That sunset.

One (ok two) glasses of wine then bed.

Race Day 2:

My alarm went off at 5.30am….

I’d been up since 4.30am wondering why I’d agreed to be interviewed by ABC News Radio at 6am as first female – and wondering how to not sound like a complete idiot.

The presenter called, totally lovely. Told me the questions she might ask, told me not to swear. Shit.

Then we were live…for ten whole mins. I sounded like an idiot I’m sure, but I was grateful to sing the praises of Run Larapinta, and life in general.

Anyway. The race.

Oh golly.

20km of hard technical terrain – up, along and down a mountain – then through a bouldery dried out river. Then, just to make sure you got your mountain fix, another mountain.

I started off with the pack I ran with the night before. Nice pace 4.45 min/km. I was happy.

10km later the mountain came. It was vertical. Literally. I climbed, I cursed, I almost cried. The hardest climb / hike / ascent I’ve ever done.

Then the top, stunning. Views over Alice springs. Again I was speechless, second almost crying moment of many. I took photos and videos, and fell over for my efforts.

Words escaped me.

The terrain was a combination of slanted jagged rock and scree. Yay, who doesn’t like that? I managed to get distracted looking at a sheer drop next to me and smashed my knee (trying to go through it instead of over it of course). The pain and the blood brought me back to reality. Race. You’re in a bloody race.

Time to focus.

I picked up the pace.

The descent was…tricky. Rocks, boulders, scree.

Thank you knife party for the downhill soundtrack I needed so badly.

Then came the boulders. Actual boulders. We climbed. We got lost, then we climbed some more. The guys I was running with were amazing. Motivational and encouraging.

No girls, I was first girl. Yikes.

Second mountain. Quads like jelly, calves like…I don’t even know what.

I just kept moving. To the top.

I passed my Red Door Productions comrades filming the runners, who told me that it was downhill from here. Not far….

Just very technical downhill on very very smashed and tired legs.

I kept going. My thoughts were all over the place, I can’t even remember.

The finish. The most grateful and amazing moment in any racing / running / sporting event of my life.

Wtf.

First girl.

Water.

Microscopic trauma galore.

I am grateful.

Two more races. Sorry legs.

 

All the hills. And then some more at Silvan.

I knew there would be hills and I knew it would be hard. The big give away was everyone saying “ooo Jess, this race is a hard one” 

But still, somehow, I was surprised how hard it was.

Anyway, the race….

We set off and almost straight away the hills began. I looked up at the infamous ‘hill from hell’ and some very English swear words came out of my mouth. Oh my legs. Then some more hills. 

About 4km in I knew I was in third place, and I was willing my legs to try and run a little faster, to see where second place was. I will admit, I wouldn’t call what I was doing up the hills running – more like aggressive lunging with some intermittent shouting at myself and my legs to lunge faster. They wouldn’t. I believe I just appeared more crazy to anyone who could see me, and scared off a lot of wildlife. I remained in third. 

Unsurprisingly, attempt number two at gels was undertaken whilst running up a steep hill. Clever Jess. Gasping for breath I had to assume that inhaling gel into my lungs might actually work. Another lesson learnt. 

My thoughts went back to the wine the night before (a necessary pre race ritual that I often label as carb loading) and whether that was why my legs were struggling…but then I remembered I’d done Body Pump the day before. And, although I’d promised myself to go light on the legs sections, the challenge to go heavier than everyone else in the class always wins over any common sense. So it was the Body Pump’s fault, not the wine. Or the hills. Argument won. 

The most amazing moment came as I reached the peak of the hills and realised it was largely downhill from there. Coupled with the rain starting, I was in heaven. 

Kind of. 

Some people (most) wonder why I wear sunshades during races – they’re prescription. They’re very important to be able to see with, especially on trails. (Yes, I have tried contact lenses. One fell out, into my mouth. I swallowed it and almost choked. Similar to my gel experiences but definitely less beneficial).

The problem with sunshades in rain is that they don’t have built in windscreen wipers – so when the rain comes I have the choice between running through blurred raindrop vision….or running without glasses and just blurred vision.

Of course, I chose the latter. And the downhill guess work began. Lots of screaming / sliding / slightly manic laughing. But so much fun. 

Finally I was enjoying myself and picking up the speed I knew I had in me (and berating myself for ever blaming any previous day exercise or wine consumption. Silliness.) 

All too soon the end came and my legs, like jelly almost collapsed as I crossed the line. 

I am always grateful to finish a race, always. And that one I was just a little more grateful. So I celebrated with a little more wine.

And now? 

It’s Thursday and my quads finally feel normal (running downhill is effectively eccentric loading, which is known to cause microscopic trauma to the quads. Who doesn’t enjoy that?) 

And next? 

Larapinta. Four days, four races. 

Hello microscopic trauma, let’s be friends. 

 

 

The You Yangs Half Marathon

So….21km of trail. With hills.

21km of hills.

The more I said it the more silly it sounded. Why would I want to do that? But, as my inner voice always counters, why not? What an incredible challenge / achievement / think of all the wine I could drink afterwards.

And so I found myself at the start line, looking up at Flinders Peak. Yep, hello hills.

The race started and I seemed to fall into a pace tucked behind another woman, watching her wise steps and hoping I didn’t trip up on any of the steps like I do my stairs at home. I was actually managing to keep up with people, and I wasn’t dying.

The peak was a welcome friend, I think I squealed. And then the downhill. Trails are won on the downhill apparently. So with that in mind I basically sprinted (as fast as you can sprint down long steps) down the side of a mountain. More squealing.

I realised at the bottom that I was the lead girl, and I felt good. Quads were a little angry with me….but they’d live.

So I ran and came quickly to the single track – my favourite. In my head before the race (and probably out loud several times too) I set myself a pace of 5 minute km’s. I checked my watch….4.2 minute km’s. Oops. But my legs continued and so did I.

The scenery was…beautiful, the You Yangs are beautiful. Sometimes in races (sometimes = 90%) I’m concentrating too hard on not crashing into trees / twisting ankles / counting the glasses of wine I had the night before to appreciate the beauty of nature. But it was here, and the You Yangs is one of my favourite places.

Anyway, the race.

This was not only my first half marathon, but also my first time using gels in a race. I planned 40 minutes in to have two (one with caffeine), then another at 1 hour 20 min. So…have you ever tried running and drinking? Me neither. It didn’t work very well but I got there. I also accidentally spat on myself and ended up with very sticky gel hands. But I had sugar and caffeine in my body so I was happy.

The last 2km of the race were uphill. My hill training is much like my attempt to cut down on day drinking…a work in progress. Hills are a little hard. Hills after 19km of trail are a little harder. But I knew the finish was near so I told my legs (yep, out loud) to carry on, to speed up.

One jumping photo later (sorry random lady with camera) and I saw the finish line. I swore. I crossed the line and people smiled and clapped and congratulated me. That to me was worth the 21km of hills. The achievement.

Oh, and the Garmin watch and bottle of wine that I won. Yes, bottle of wine.

Is 21km my new distance? Maybe. Are gels my new best friend? Definitely.

YY half marathon

Surf Coast Century 50km: Success is the journey, not the destination

During a 50km trail race so many things can happen. The inevitable lows and the hilarious highs. And hopefully, somewhere at the end, a feeling of achievement, of overcoming.

Surf Coast Century had more highs and lows than we had ever expected.

Myself and my twin sister – visiting from Hong Kong – were both excited nervous about the prospect of running the Surf Coast Century 50km – Imogen’s first 50km race and my second, sans sprained ankle. We knew it would be a mental and physical test – and to some degree that it would test our twinship.

Yep, twinship.

I had been feeling good, strong and fast – despite confirmation that Bill and Bob were still alive and kicking, even following another dose of antibiotics and six weeks on an anti-parasitic diet with some questionable American herbal medicine. I knew Imogen had upped her training in Hong Kong too, so we were ready.

Imogen landed in Australia a week before the race so we focused on a few days of training in Melbourne (and perhaps a little bit of red wine). We ran trails that we’d run together eight years ago when we first moved to Australia. Even in the sideways-torrential rain (thanks Sydney), it was wonderful, nostalgic. And…

Painful.

Wait.

What?

Yes, pain. I could feel something in my foot – an uncomfortableness. I put it down to wearing different shoes. But it persevered, got worse through the week.

Dr Google suggested metatarsalgia – inflammation of the ball of the foot – which I was happy to go with, so I took some painkillers and walked around on my heel a lot, assuming it would pass.

By Friday, the pain had thankfully lessened and we headed to our Airbnb in Angelsea, exploring and enjoying the atmosphere of the race event (and buying matching neon socks, of course #twinning).

The evening was spent enjoying wine with other runners, and trying to work out pace and food timings, which I knew would go out of the window at some point during the race. But I like to plan – and I wanted to know we would have enough (Jess-friendly) along the way to refuel.

Plus, I really like eating.

Our rough plan was to take the flats at between 5.00min/km – 6.00min/km depending on terrain, ease off on the hills and pick up the speed on the downhills. We would alternate gels and potatoes every 45 minutes and take salt tablets every 10km. Gatorade and water as needed, and stretching at every checkpoint (20km, 27km and 36km). If we needed to stop, to walk, we would communicate with each other.

We were a team.

Race day.

We weren’t starting until almost midday, and it felt weird to wake up naturally and spend a chilled (yet quite frantic) morning eating, packing our race vests, eating some more and repacking our race vests. And a bit more eating.

We were both eager to get going; to know what would happen and how we would go.

Breakfast was the usual – sweet potatoes, beets, avocado and eggs. We boiled our 1kg of potatoes that we would take with us and – much to Imogen’s amusement – put them into small sealed bags and into our race vests.

Nervous excitement. Maybe a little bit of disbelief that we were going to run 50km together.

My foot? Was painful, more painful than it had been for a few days, even with rest. But for some reason I rationalised with myself that it would be fine to run on – the pain might even go away.

At 11am, and hour before the start, I made Imo eat more sweet potato and beets – but she refused to drink the beetroot juice. All the more nitrates for me then (not to mention liver detoxification….)

We put our matching odd socks on, our race bibs and our packs.

A pair of running Shorts.

We headed down to the start line with Bex – my partner and our support crew, who would greet us at each check point, mostly to feed and water us, but probably also to check we were still alive.

The weather? Wind and rain – thanks, Melbourne.

We got to the event and the atmosphere was amazing. We chatted to other runners, and volunteers.

All legends.

The race start was on the beach, so we made our way down there – about 1km away, a good warm up (despite the wind and rain).

Imo and I stood towards the front, under the arch start, excited.

The guy with the mic came over, singling out the twins with the odd neon socks.

Imogen took the opportunity to tell him (and everyone else at the start line) about our race plans, and also that she didn’t want to lose… to me. She talked about why we were running the 50km (I don’t think anybody really knows…), whether we were running together (absolutely, side by side), and what our tactics were (run and eat).

Hilarity.

20 seconds, the crowds came forward.

Our first section was a short out-and-back along the beach around a flag and back under the arch start. It seemed pointless… For photos? Maybe.

We. Were. Off.

We began, a good pace towards the flag, excitement.

Around the flag and back towards the arch, past the crowds who had originally cheered us on as we started.

My foot, it hurt. I shook myself, could I do this?

I looked at Imogen running beside me.

Pride.

Absolutely.

“Ok with the pace?”

She hesitated then nodded (she told me later that she definitely wasn’t okay with the pace and was under the impression that we were only ‘sprinting’ for the cameras). We slowed into a rhythm which also eased the pressure from the sand on my foot.

We headed off the beach (both relieved) and onto fire track with the crowds, taking photos and being generally silly, but still maintaining pace.

We went into the single winding trails – still relatively flat.

We were running Leg 3 of the 100km – known to be the hardest with the most elevation. And suddenly we found out why. We went up, fire trails that had split into mounds and holes – clay that had separated because of the weather. It was tricky to say the least, jumping between the mounds, trying not to fall into the holes.

And the rain hit too.

I had strapped my foot up prior to the race, and I was pretty sure it was making the pain worse. So, we stopped, and I took the strapping off.

We continued up, cheering on other runners as we passed them, and we were passed. The matching neon socks were a hit.

The slippery mounds of mud slowed us to a walk, and I was grateful at that point. I looked down at my foot, demanding answers. Then I realised Imogen was taking a selfie of us. Back on it, back running. No excuses.

We hit 45 minutes and 8km – still on the fire trail, and we took gels.

Sugar rush.

At that moment I decided to take painkillers. Against advice from the race organisers – so I agreed with myself that I would drink more water as a result, if that helped.

Imo and I chatted, laughed, checked in with each other.

“How does everything feel?”

“Good”

10km came and we took the salt tablets, careful to avoid cramps. They were sweetened tablets – much better than the salt in packets (literally, salt in packets) I’d taken during UTA50.

Relief.

And we continued and the sun came out, and we were happy, running together.

Then the single track came into the Otways, and we were even happier. Absolutely stunning, literally breath-taking trees and forest with blue skies in the background.

We had stuck with a few of the same people, some doing the 50km, some doing the 100km – our pack. We checked in on each other.

I realised we’d hit an hour and a half already, and around 12km.

Potato time.

We laughed – couldn’t help but stop at the side of the track and take a photo of our potato feast.

“Having a picnic?” One of the runners joked as he ran past.

Absolutely.

We continued the slow incline up the single track, surrounded by beauty.

15km and something magical happened – the pain in my foot lessened, the painkillers had finally kicked in.

Grateful.

Then we were on the downhill, picking up the pace.

I checked our timings – we were coming up to the first check point at 20km (although we didn’t reach it until our watches said 21km….ugh), and we were on pace to finish the race in 6 hours – our ambitious target.

Winning.

We headed to the check point, relief at hitting 20km, and refuelling, and the people cheering.

Amazing energy.

I saw Bex, and I think she was pretty happy to see us both in one piece.

Imogen headed straight to stretch (on the floor, against trees, whatever worked)… I headed straight to the lollies and fuel.

Choices.

“How’s the foot?”

I laughed and shook my head.

No good.

We stopped for around 4-5 minutes, making sure we had refuelled, stretched (mostly into the duck squat position which felt amazing) and then we were off.

Stiff legs soon became un-stiff as we hit the single trail back into the forest. Back into beautiful nature, through freshly rained on mud trails.

We continued to chat away, swapping the lead to cater for each other’s pacing.

It’s when Imo took the lead that it happened.

One moment she was there, in front of me and chatting away. Her foot caught on a tree stump and she suddenly disappeared into the mud.

And not just disappeared into it – she was still moving along it, skidding face down through the mud for what appeared to be an eternity.

Face first.

She came to a stop and didn’t move, my heart missed a few beats and my brain went into overdrive – a repeat of the adventure race where Imo had come off the bike right in front of me. Head first.

“Imogen”

Nothing.

I couldn’t move, I was frozen, horrified.

A small laugh. “I’m okay, I’m okay”

She lifted her head up from the ground and I dropped down beside her, looking for signs of injury.

“Does everything work?”

She pushed herself off the floor – caked in fresh mud, literally covered from head to toe, face to foot.

“I’m ok”

Runners passed us and stopped to check on her – beautifulness.

Then we were alone.

I helped her up, still checking for injury. Scrapes across her hands, knees and elbows, but nothing serious.

And then we looked each other. And we laughed.

Hard.

For at least five minutes, uncontrollably.

We looked at the skid marks she’d left in the mud – almost two metres long, and we laughed some more.

She looked down at herself – her hydration pack tubing was caked in mud, her race bib was hanging by a pin.

“Jess, I’ve got mud in my eyes”

More laughing.

We were 2km away from the next check point, so we decided to run there to get her cleaned up.

Sporadic laughing as we ran, happy and relieved.

We came into the check point and the guy with the mic was there.

“Here comes the twins in the neon socks….oh my god, what happened to you.” He pointed at Imogen.

We laughed some more.

The first aiders took care of Imo for a few minutes. And then we ate – boiled and mashed potatoes and lollies.

Ready.

Over half way. We headed back out – not so much stretching this time as repairing Imogen.

Leg 3 was over and we were heading into Leg 4 – coastal pathway and beach.

Beautifully hard.

Single track turned into fire trail, towards the sea.

At one point we had to crawl on our hands and knees under a bridge, trying not to fall into the overflowing estuary beneath us, but our muscles were relieved by the different movements, arms not legs.

Then we were running on the Surf Coast Trail, up a hill, up more, past some horses until we reached the top.

We stopped.

Stunning.

Blue skies and blue sea, and sand beaches for miles.

We took some photos.

We hit 30km – more salt tablets and a more painkillers.

We had slowed a little but expected that, swapping between running and a farmers shuffle.

My foot hurt again, but I rationalised that everything hurt, and that made my body move.

With the distance we had covered, the aches were beginning to set in. Doing the same motion for that distance – the very act of putting one foot in front of the other, had become hard work. Our muscles and bones were overworked and wanted desperately to do something different – like stop and lie down.

But, we remained grateful. Not only to race in such a beautiful setting but to race together, side by side.

We took gels, hitting the four-hour mark.

35km and the aches hit harder. T

There were stretches of silence where we just focused on moving our bodies, the occasional check in with each other.

“Jess you’re limping”

“We both are”

“How’s your foot?”

“Everything hurts… so it’s fine” I smiled.

2km from the next checkpoint. We just needed to get there. We arrived at the checkpoint. Greeted by…coke and red bull?

I asked where the vodka was.

The woman laughed.

I was serious.

Bex, again probably grateful to see we were alive asked what we needed.

“To lie down” replied Imogen. And she did just that, which drew some attention from the locals passing by.

I needed lollies, we both did.

More duck squatting, more lollies.

We were behind the 6 hours we had planned, but only just. We could make up the time now that the trails were flatter. Except… we were breaking.

Our Garmins said we were on 38km and I asked a guy with a radio how far was left.

“14km”.

Worst fears confirmed. It appeared we were somehow running 53km.

Imogen was up, eating, refreshed. Drinking the warm coke. “Best bloody thing ever I’ve ever tasted”

Another gel then we were back out and onto Surf Coast trails again.

We ascended up towards Aireys Inlet lighthouse, one of my favourite lighthouses (I do have a thing for lighthouses you see, and what they symbolise for me: a source of strength and guidance in a storm, which some might say is akin to having a twin sister).

We were talking again, laughing, shuffling.

Beautiful Surf Coast Trail.

We hit 40km – officially the longest distance Imogen had ever run in one go.

Pride beyond words to be next to her.

We high fived.

“This is now just a 10km run, just like we’ve been doing all week”

Happiness.

We could bloody well do this, maybe even still in the six hours.

I took more painkillers and more salt tablets.

We hit the beach, soft sand for what looked like a couple of kilometres.

Yikes.

We must have been running for at least a kilometre, and I noticed Imo slowing.

“Jess…” Imo said, a quiet fear in her voice “My knee has gone”

We stopped, reassessing. We knew Imo had had problems with her ITBs – something she’s suffered from in longer distances, so we had been careful to stretch and roll them properly.

Granted, it had taken 42km for her left one to flare up – this was going to be tricky.

We walked.

Both physically broken – now the mental battle began.

She tried to jog, we made it about 50m before the pain was too much.

I knew that pain, race stopping. Crippling.

“Go on without me Jess”

Absolutely not.

“Side by side Imo, as long as it takes”

We swapped between a shuffle and a walk.

“We can do this”

And I honestly believed that.

“We can walk to the finish if that’s what it takes”

We agreed – we would finish no matter what. Together.

We taped her knee up and it helped for a while, more tape, more steps forward.

There were tears, from both of us. But hugs to compensate. And some laughter.

There was prosecco waiting for us, after all.

We finally came off the beach, which was a significant relief. Running on sand is hard on a good day and terrible on an injured day.

Grateful.

Back on single track.

Imo was able to run with less pain, with a slightly straighter leg.

We both made strange noises and talked to ourselves, whatever was needed.

“Can I have some painkillers? That’ll help”

I reached for mine.

Gone.

They must’ve fallen out when we had our salt tablets. Horrifying.

“Imo… they must’ve fallen out.”

Failed. I felt like I’d failed her.

“Oh, I think have some in my front pocket”

Relief. No words.

She took some, and we continued. A literal pain train.

She battled well against a pain I knew was only getting worse. For me too: my foot had cramped into a claw shape in my shoe, which was effective in reducing the pain, but I wondered what was going on down there. What was I going to find when I took my shoe off?

We ran along a few roads and there were people on the streets cheering, and drinking wine. Both were motivation. I think Imogen asked them for a sip.

We were 4km out. The sun was beginning to set across the beach behind us, beautifulness.

Imogen stopped. “Jess, we have to go back onto the beach”

I shook my head. “No, not possible”

Without my glasses I couldn’t see the stream of runners up ahead on the beach.

We both swore, to say the least. And then we let ourselves wallow for a few seconds.

“Let’s finish this and have some wine”

Agreed.

We headed down onto the beach. Her pain kicked in again, harder, more intense.

We walked, taking photos of the sunset, remembering all the gratefuls.

We knew we were about 1km away from the finish line (although our Garmins said 51.9km). We talked about how we would cross the line – holding hands or just running.

Imo was worried we would get disqualified for ‘towing’ if we held hands – it was in the rules and it had happened in other races. (although they were elite races).

Darkness took over, the sun had almost set.

We came off the beach, we knew we were close.

Somehow we picked up the pace, we could hear the cheers of the event finish.

So close.

Back onto grass. All pain disappeared and we ran, sprinted even.

Relief, pride, hope.

Everything.

Cheers.

We crossed the line – just under seven hours.

I hugged her.

My proudest running moment so far.

Her.

We laughed, maybe cried.

The mic man was there, interviewing us. Imogen was cry-laughing with relief as she retold our racing adventures. She was still caked head to toe in mud, much to the mic man’s delight.

We had made it.

Bex found us, with prosecco.

Grateful.

We had done it.

We had bloody well done it.

We walked home and I took my shoes off, finally.

My foot looked angry, swollen.

Ice.

We spent the night eating beautiful food and drinking, trying to roll out and stretch. Watching the All Blacks triumph in the world cup.

But it wasn’t over.

A trip to the hospital the next day confirmed my worst fear.

A broken metatarsal.

I’d most likely fractured it during the trail run on the Monday – then broken it completely during the race.

A moon boot.

For six weeks.

No OCR World Championships.

No Moontrekker 40km in Hong Kong.

No 4 Peaks.

Am I devastated?

Absolutely.

Would I change anything to have crossed that finish line with Imogen?

Absolutely not

.