Surf Coast Century 100km: Just Dancing

My first 100km race – ten times 10km. Ten of them.

Golly.

A 4.00am start – the usual mobility and taping, all the coffee, a pre-cooked breakfast, and a lot of toilet stops.

5.30am and I was suddenly at the start line, nerves in my stomach. But the atmosphere was great, the beach looked amazing – the sun rising over the waves.

I was happy.

Then I remembered 100km was minutes away.

Holy moly.

I messaged my family in England and friends in Aus. My mum replied almost instantly, asking me why on Earth I would do 100km – I didn’t have a logical answer.

But I felt good. My body felt good.

And we were off.

We knew we had an out and back 5km West along the beach, before we would return and pass the start line again. Simon and I ran together at a comfortable pace (ie his warm up pace). We laughed, more excited than nervous.

Along the hard sand then up onto the Surf Coast Walk, simply stunning as the sun continued to rise. We turned back onto the beach towards the start line again, passed the supporters and crowds.

My name came across the speaker “Is that Jessica Short doing 100km?”

I laughed and waved in confirmation. Yes, I am that mad.

Then the legendary Bartholomew family cheered me on as I passed them, having run this leg with them as a team a few years ago. I could’ve stopped right there and been happy with my day.

We continued along the beach and up onto the Surf Coast Walk the other way towards Torquay.

Simon upped his pace, waved his goodbye, and headed off on his own chase and race while I held a comfortable 5:15min/km pace. Trying not to go out too hard. It’s a marathon(s), not a sprint.

And we all continued for a few kms, chatting and swapping in and out of places, enjoy fresh legs and good vibes.

At about 10km I had my first gel. Still managing to nearly choke on it as I ran, inhaled and struggled to breath.

Jess.

We were taken down onto the beach, onto relatively hard sand and I could see the rocks ahead, remembering how slippery and sharp they had been a few years ago.

But gosh I was happy, the sun and sea on my right and a cool breeze and some gentle flat running.

Then we hit them.

Golly.

They were hard to navigate, slippery and sharp and my pace dropped significantly as I tried to find a rhythm. I was tentative, making sure each rock was secured before I transferred weight between my feet – worried about my ankles.

It was probably the first time I felt a little… disheartened as I watched others skip over the rocks like they were still running on sand.

I tried fast feet and was rewarded with a slip onto a sharp rock that made my knee bleed.

Patience Jess.

There was no point in injuring myself 10km into 100. Deep breath, I remembered the view; drew strength from the sun, and continued, manging to pick up some speed on the larger boulders.

Me and another runner came to a section where it looked like there was a high route and a low route and a choice between getting wet feet and climbing a little.

Naturally I chose to keep my feet dry and climbed, while the other runner chose the low route.

It felt fine until suddenly I was a little higher than I felt comfortable…and crawling on my hands and knee on a ledge.

Surely this was too dangerous to put in the race?

Yes Jess, it was.

I persevered, crossing over a gap in the ledge where one wrong foot and a slip would sent me five metres onto some jagged rocks below.

Jess.

“Are you ok?” Said the other runner, clearly relieved he’d made the right choice.

I nodded as I cleared the gap and continued on my hands and feet along the ledge, surely there would be a down somewhere.

There wasn’t. Only a steep drop.

Jess.

“Do you need a hand?”

Some common sense would be nice.

“No, I’ll just go back, but thank you”

And there I was, shuffling backwards on my hands and knees before balancing precariously over the gap of doom and back down into the safety of the lower rocks.

I no longer cared if my feet got wet.

I shook my head and chose to laugh at myself – that was silly.

Focus.

I continued on the rocks – nothing could be quite as bad as the ledge and so I was happy with dipping in and out of the rocks, on the sand and in the sea.

I had wet shoes – but I knew the first aid station at 21km was nearby and I had spare shoes and socks there.

After what seemed like hours of running on rocks (but most likely only around 20-30 minutes), I was directed up the steps off the beach and back onto the Surf Coast Walk, grateful.

I could see the aid station up ahead.

Runners started to run towards me – on their out and back from the aid station, the leaders.

Crikey they were fast.

I smiled and cheered them on.

I came across a toilet block, and it seemed surreal to me that I could actually stop and use a proper toilet during a race.

So I did.

Luxury indeed.

I almost took a wrong turn out of the toilets, but luckily saw a runner run past me in the right direction – the opposite direction to the lookout I was heading towards.

Jess.

The aid station atmosphere was amazing – and it felt so damn good to have people there, food there, music.

Yes.

I was directed towards the bag drop area, excited by the potatoes I had waiting there (it’s the little things).

I changed my shoes and socks, checked the taping on my ankles.

21km.

A fifth of the way through the race – on track for my 12 hours, if not faster.

So far I was happy with my time and my body – although I was getting some tenderness around my hips that I wouldn’t expect to feel until at least 40km.

So, I stretched as I ate my potatoes and repacked my bag with new gels.

And then I was off again, back along the Surf Coast Walk that I’d just run along – cheering on the runners that were heading towards the aid station.

Golly this was fun.

I was now entering Leg 2 of the race – the only leg I hadn’t done in previous races. From the research I knew that it was relatively flat and would take us into the mountain bike trails of Angelsea, and back towards the start where we would then head out towards Aireys Inlet for the final 50km.

The vibes were so good, runners had spread into their packs and chatted as they swapped positions on the undulating trails.

Happy.

It was at around 35km that things started to go downhill. Something felt wrong. A pain beginning to develop down the outside of my right knee.

I chose to ignore it, run through it – focussing more on the scenery and the trails.

But mild panic was setting in.

I knew what it was, I just kept telling myself that it wasn’t.

Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome.

It had flared up before in the Lara Pinta multi day race four years ago – on the last day, the longest run I had ever done at that point (30km). Crippling.

I knew the pain.

We headed into the mountain bike trails and I could feel myself slow as the pain increased and the sharp stabs down the outside of my knee occurred more frequently.

It literally stopped me in my tracks a few times.

I knew I was in trouble.

But I continued, putting my music on to help me focus.

It worked to an extent – until I got to 40km and the pain was unbearable. Not too bad on the ups, manageable (only mild agony) on the flats, but impossible on any sort of downs without keeping my right leg straight. Every single footstep was painful.

No.

I slowed more.

Runners passed me, asking if I was ok, I smiled and nodded, wished them good luck.

Then I did the only thing a twin could do… I called my sister in Hong Kong.

“Jess! Are you ok?” Excitement.

I didn’t realise until I heard her voice how much I wasn’t.

I couldn’t answer.

It dawned on her pretty quickly that something was wrong.

“What’s happened?”

“My ITB.” I managed, through a strained voice, pained voice.

Don’t cry Jess.

“Oh Jess.”

She knew.

The last time we had run 50km together in this very race she had suffered with crippling ITB pain for the last 15km. There had been plenty of tears, but we had gotten through it together.  

“I’m okay.”

Was I? I could feel tears forming.

I continued running, and talking, and crying.

Golly that was hard.

“Jess stop. Just stop”

And I did. And suddenly talking became easier – because I wasn’t trying to breath and cry and talk all at the same time.

We laughed and that was all I needed.

 I explained the race so far, my rock climbing attempt and then the pain.

“Jess you know you can stop if you need too, you shouldn’t run through 60km of pain.”

I shook my head, blinked away the tears.

No.

I couldn’t stop.

Could I?

My heart hurt.

No Jess.

You’ve got this.

She waited for my answer.

A deep breath.

“I am never giving up wine again – look at what happens when I do.”

We laughed, and chatted more, about silly things that took my mind off the pain and the dilemma.

We said our goodbyes as I was coming up to the 49km aid station – almost halfway. I told her I’d call her after I’d stretched and sorted myself out.

Thank bloody hell for Imogen.

It also made me realise I had people – even though they weren’t physically there. And maybe being on my phone took away from the experience of the race, but by golly I needed them.

A friend messaged me, without even knowing what was happening: 

“Run when you can

Walk if you have to

Crawl if you must

But never give up”

She was so right.

I checked my watch – 5 hours 26 at 49km. I was still on for under 12 hours.

Damn.

It felt strange knowing I was only halfway and yet I’d been running for over 5 hours. 100km was a long way.

I knew deep down any hope of getting a time I wanted was quickly fading as the pain increased – I would need to put my pride aside and walk if I needed too.

But get it done.

I entered the aid station – again super grateful for the people and the atmosphere there.

I found my dropped bag in the sea of other runners’ bags, and took my time to empty my race vest of used gels and potato bags and put new ones in. I stretched and chatted to other runners, wishing I’d bought my theragun, or a roller – anything.

It felt like everything moved in slow motion as I took time to think.

My plans had changed.

I was no longer chasing a time, now the aim was just to finish – which I recognised was an achievement in itself.

I ate my potatoes, as if that would magically soothe the hurt.

Then I remembered I had painkillers in my bag – for emergencies. Was this an emergency? I rationalised that it was, and that I would drink plenty of water to try to negate the toxins I was throwing into my body, which was already working really really hard.

Then I also remembered I was in the middle of a race, on the surf coast, surrounded by beautiful trails and incredible runners.

From the stretching alone (and maybe the magical potatoes), the pain temporarily subsided, and I jogged out of the aid station.

I knew I could do this.

A friend called, offering advice on how to strap my knees to ease the ITB pain.

Legend.

So I did, and it did.

And I was grateful all over again for the people.

The last half of the 100km was the 50km I had done twice before – I knew this course, knew the trails and the elevation. Beautiful.

In fact, the next leg was my favourite of all – single track and mountains and just pure running bliss.

I quickly found myself along a wide fire trail that I could see went a long way…then up, a long way. Well, maybe after this bit…

Happy with my taping and the ease of pain on the ups, I began the climb.

Refreshed.

Revived.

I jogged as much as I could on the climbs, the upwards nature not putting too much pressure on my knee.

It was the downs that stopped me in my tracks, the flickers of pain taking my breath away. Like someone chopping an axe into your knee. Maybe.  

Crikey.

I made it to the top of the hill in good time, passing others on my way up – back onto the Surf Coast Walk.

Oh, the views. Aireys Inlet was in the distance and the bright blue sea was smiling at me on my right. The sun was glorious too, although becoming a little hot.  

I began the descent – gradual enough to not hurt too much but it definitely wasn’t my fastest.

The only thing that seemed to stop that pain was to dance, or shuffle, or move in a different way to running that didn’t put that pressure on my knee in that forward motion. The Dosey Doe was  definitely a winner.

And so the dancing began.

I knew I was coming to a long strength of relatively flat trails and tried to push the pace a little.

My knee decided otherwise as the pain transferred to the inside too.

Oh.

I slowed again to a fast shuffle (I like to think it was a running swagger) that seemed to work relatively effectively on the flat.

At that point there weren’t too many runners around me, and I was grateful to have some music to focus on.

I entered my favourite part of the race – beautiful single track climbing gently up a small mountain.

Oh the climb.

I was now able to go a little faster, and even got back to over taking a few people as the pain seemed to subside.

This was fun again – even when it became steeper and harder on my lungs. I remembered again why I loved the trails, and running, and racing.

I took a gel, and also remembered again why I shouldn’t take gels on the ups as I struggled to breath between inhaling the gel.

I reached for my salt tablets – they weren’t where I left them.

I checked again in more pockets.

What?

Then I realised I must’ve emptied them out at the last aid station.

Jess.

Well, that was silly.

Not much I could do about it, but luckily I became distracted as my watched ticked over to 64km – this was officially the longest I’d ever run.

I might have squealed. And if I could’ve, I’d have done a jig for sure.

I reached the summit of the mountain, so happy. But I knew the downhill might be a different story.

Maybe I had become used to the pain, maybe it was the painkillers, or maybe the adjusted way I was now running meant the downhill didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would. Flickers of pain every few minutes to remind me that there was still an issue, but otherwise I took it easy down the hill but moved faster than I thought I would be able to.

I also knew that there was an aid station at 77km where I could stretch and eat the meal I’d cooked the night before – which was actually becoming less and less appealing.

It did occur to me that at any point during the race I could actually stop and stretch, but I also knew if I did that it would take longer and longer to get back up and start running again. Even without the injury.

I knew there was a part of me did just want to lie down and stop – the rational and logical part of me.

Luckily that part of me is very small.

At that point my family were just waking up in England.

“Jess are you still running??”

I laughed, they had had a whole night’s sleep since talking to me, and here I was still out running.

“I don’t think you could call it running…but yes I’m still out here” I replied. And we chatted.

At 70km I did a body check – everything was understandably a little achy in some shape or form. My hips were a little sore and I had a blister on my little toe of my right foot, but my feet and ankles felt surprisingly good. Overall, knee aside, I was good.

I felt good.

So what then?

Disappointment maybe.

No Jess.

I wasn’t going to allow myself to throw a pity party (even though had definitely picked up some new dance moves during the race).

I was here, and I was grateful to be here.

Come on Jess.

My sister called again – maybe to check on me, or maybe she could sense my slight unease.

Either way I was grateful as she told me about her day and distracted me as the downhill now seemed to get more painful and I was forced to stop a few times just to catch my breath from the sharpness of it. I knew she could hear people passing me, asking if I was ok.

“Jess. Are you okay?”

“I could do with a beer.”

She laughed.

“I’m a little tired.”

“You’re allowed to be and you’re doing so well. Does anything else hurt except your knee?”

I told her about my one blister, and we both laughed.

I knew I was coming up to another big aid station where I could properly lie down and stretch, redo my knee taping and actually eat a full decent meal.

Of course, none of that actually went to plan.

The aid station atmosphere was even more electric and the people were so so happy and cheery it was just amazing. There was water, electrolytes, a kitchen with hot food – everything you could dream of.

I went over to my bag and a friend who was supporting another runner came over and started to chat as I got my food out. Day-old potato tuna, avocado and egg no longer seemed appealing to me for some reason, but I managed a few bites as we chatted about the race.

I admit I got distracted talking and not having to move, and time slipped away where I should have been stretching and refuelling, knowing I didn’t want to stay at the aid station for too long.

I said my goodbyes, grabbed some lollies and said hello to a few other runners I recognised.

My legs thanked me for the rest as they allowed me to run pain free for a couple of minutes before the ITB pain kicked in again.

I think I growled when it did.

There was a little bit more single track that would take us out towards a reservoir, fire trail and the forgotten hill (which I remembered).

At around 80km I exited the forest back into civilisation – roads and houses.

I was faced with a large steep concrete hill down to the next part of the race.

It was there that I created my half shuffle dance to get down. My right leg stayed completely straight and only the left bent and I fell into a strange rhythm as I cruised down trying to appear as normal as possible.

I failed.

In fact I laughed so hard at myself that I stopped and took a video to send to my family.

I think my mum was horrified.

“Trying walking backwards?” My sister suggested.

And I did, and to some extent it worked – there was no pain, but the chance of falling over and causing other injuries was slightly elevated. Plus, I think it scared the other runners.

I got to the bottom intact (pride aside) and continued in a similar shuffle along the road towards Aireys Inlet.

My watch said 85km – and was on 2% battery. Oops.

I got my phone out and started my Strava for the last 15km, stopping my watch and saving the run. 5,689 calories.

Yes please. How many Proseccos was that?

I was back near the ocean again, running along the river towards a bridge…that I remembered we had to climb under.

I wasn’t sure how that would go.

But it was a nice change to bend the legs in a different way and squat down under the river.

A low hissing sound made me stop in my tracks, and my first thought was that it was a hissing cat.

A hissing cat. Under a bridge.

I quickly realised it was in fact my race vest brushing against the ceiling of the bridge floor.

That made so much more sense.

I was out and shuffling towards the last aid station at 86km. 14km to go.

My gosh I was grateful when I saw the Coke.

I maybe downed three cups apologetically before asking whether there was any vodka to add to the fourth one.

Apparently not.

I had a few potatoes and lollies and made sure I stretched fully on the grass.

“Not long now, and a beautiful section on the beach too.”

I smiled and nodded, not sure anyone would describe running on sand after 86km beautiful – but I very much appreciated her enthusiasm and thanked her.

And I was off towards Aireys Inlet lighthouse – one of my favourite lighthouses (I LOVE lighthouses for everything they symbolise), happy despite the pain. Moving forwards.

The climb to the lighthouse was gentle and forgiving and I made sure to stop and appreciate the views at the top before continuing along the road for a while.

With my swagger.

After maybe 3km we turned off the road and on the Surf Coast Walk again – I knew where we were headed, and I wondered whether the beach would be forgiving of my knee or not.

It was at exactly 90km as I headed down the steps to the beach that I felt my blister on my little toe burst. Ugh.

I thought nothing of it until that part of my shoe slowly began to turn red.

Oh.

A blood blister then.

The first few steps were painful and I laughed at myself.

I wasn’t going to be defeated by a blister.

I continued, still fascinated by the colour of my white shoe turning red.

Just to take my mind off the blister, 90km was also at the point that bending my right leg at all actually became a little too painful. And so the shuffle I had created on the steep downhill had now become my… general shuffle.

I arrived at the beach.

I couldn’t remember whether it was 4km or 7km on the beach.

Did it matter?

I wondered whether to wash my feet in the sea.

No time for that Jess, you’re almost home.

I began the run – could see for miles, other runners in the distance still on the beach.

I picked a pace and stuck to it, with no watch I had no idea how fast (or slow) I was going and I was actually pretty grateful for it.

There was a pack of runners spread out around me who were all running the same pace, and we swapped in and out of positions as the last 95km took its toll on our bodies.

But by golly, there was no denying how beautiful it was to be there.

I’m not sure how long we were running but at last there was an arrow to some stairs to take us back onto the trail before one final stint on the beach.

Almost home Jess.

The Surf Coast Walk section was undulating, painful.

There were almost tears and definitely a few stops when my right knee bent without my consent. The pain.

There may have been some swearing.

I took a caffeine gel, hoping that would allow me to go a little harder.

A harder shuffle. A harder swagger.

Come on Jess.

I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to finish – not having to run anymore. What did that even feel like?

I ran past the Surf Club – knew it would take me down onto the beach and not far from the finish line.

So grateful.

I pushed myself into the closest thing I could muster to a run along the beach for the final km, and eventually I found myself at the left turn off the beach, to the finish line.

About 100m ahead of me I could see a photographer, standing on the other side of a small ocean river that had formed.

Water.

Cold cold water.

I ran through it and stopped in the middle.

Bloody hell that felt good.

I don’t know how long I was there for, just enjoying the feeling. I could’ve stayed there forever.

“Erm, you’re 500m from the end.” The photographer reminded me.

Righto.

I reluctantly left the water and made my way onto the boardwalk that would take me to the finish.

400m to go.

300m.

I almost felt nauseous.

I wanted a strong finish and so I moved faster – not elegantly, and still no ability to bend my right knee. The swagger sprint.

I turned and saw the line.

Holy.

A beautiful crowd of cheering people. Friends, other runners, volunteers.

Just beautiful people.

I crossed the line.

Happy.

Sad.

Wired.

Everything.

I had done it.

13 hours 46 minutes.

And I could stop running.

I found my friends who swiftly poured me a half steine of beer – the most welcome and best tasting beer in the world. I chatted to other runners, stole hot chips off them, everyone was so happy to be at the finish line.

I got a few high fives too – those that had passed me and my swagger were unsure I would finish.

It was never not an option.

The evening was spent doing (not enough) stretching and talking about the race. Trying my hardest to eat normal food, but instead settling for multiple glasses of red wine.

Antioxidants, right?

Was I happy? Of course.

Could I do better? I would like to this so.

Would I do it again? Hells yes.

#sorrylegs

And next?

I’m going to give the 4 Peaks a red hot crack in a few weeks (injured shoulder allowing).

I’m blown away and EXCITED as well to confirm that I’ve managed to secure automatic qualification (and therefore no ballot) into the UTMB 100km in Chamonix in August – with enough points from the Alpine Challenge and Surf Coast Century to secure my spot. This is a big 2022 goal for me and my race bucket list – and only 6,100m of elevation…

Yikes.

But I have 32 weeks…

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

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…