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…

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.