John Jacoby, race director for the inaugural Surf Coast Century Ultra Marathon, described the spectacular beach sections of the course and suggested that staying close to the water and not stopping was good for our health and safety…
Hearing these words, and the nervous chuckles that followed, made me pause for a moment and contemplate… How did I get here?…
2 Years ago, almost to the day, I fully ruptured my achilles tendon and was unable to walk unassisted for 4 months, unable to run for 8 and now here I was, at the YMCA camp in Anglesea, listening in nervously to the pre race brief for my first 100km Ultra Marathon. Having won free entry to the full calendar of events in the Rapid Ascent diary, I was a little nervous 4 months ago when they announced Australia’s newest (and arguably most spectacular) Ultra Marathon. The Surf Coast Century.
I mentioned it to Meaghan who almost immediately convinced me that with the right preparation and focus I could do it. She should know, Meaghan and her sister Annie had done Trailwalker Melbourne AND Trailwalker Hong Kong last year. By the following day, Annie had entered as well. That was it, Up There Bazzaley were going solo and so was I. So for 4 months, we trained hard and regularly and went into the race well prepared.
The last few days before the race, we had all been emailing and talking on the phone. Nerves had been running hot and we had been buzzing all week. Now the day was here.
Few things focus the mind like sitting at one of the packed tables at a pre race pasta dinner, listening to the finer points of a 100 km running race event. Sharing it with family and good friends made it even more special.
Something else that focuses the mind is hearing a 5 minutes to go warning before the start. Lining up along side people from all walks of life, some in teams of 4 or 2, others, like Annie, Meaghan and I, going solo. Many, like us for the first time. Toeing the start line in Anglesea we caught up with Trudy again (we had met her on one of our training runs), she was sounding confident that she would do what it took to finish. Would I?.. I was asking myself. Did I have the mettle to pace myself, fuel myself and motivate myself across 100 km? It’s funny, I had the clearest thought right then.. in the months leading up to this event, I had left myself only about 20 seconds to seriously ask myself that question.. Did I really have what it takes to finish a 100km Ultra Marathon?
Then it was too late.. the answer to that question would play itself out over the next several hours. I stuck with Meaghan and Annie until the turnaround point near Point Roadknight then, as we had planned, I picked up the pace only slightly and found my own rhythm.
The first stage of the race had us running along those cliffs that John was talking about. Runners had spread out quickly ahead and behind me. The scene was incredible. At every occasion (rounding a headland or climbing over a lookout) I glanced back hoping to see the familiar sight of Annie and Meaghan, perfectly in step closing the gap between. Arriving at Check point 1, I briefly chatted with Scott Knabel, who had waited for Stu and I to roll through, before heading off to the end of the leg. He was running much later in the day and seemed to almost form part of an informal support crew. He and Patricia, both running legs of the Ultra, frequently popped up along to course encouraging, motivating and inspiring me to keep one foot in front of the other.
I rolled into the first transition point at Torquay right on my race schedule and was feeling great. Somewhere along the beach I looked down and caught sight of my race number. It was a bit of a shock to realise I was actually doing it. I kept reminding myself to look up and enjoy the experience.
Following a quick feed and water, and a change of shoes and socks, I was off back down to Anglesea. I thought I caught sight of the girls on the beach but was a bit concerned that I hadn’t seen them at all. Were they on track? Still ok? Heading slightly inland, there was very little chance of me seeing them now unless I bonk and they run through me.
We had done most of the course in training but was looking forward to some new map lines near the Eumarilla Scout camp. “single track Heaven” was awaiting. The familiar parts of the trail rolled by seemingly effortlessly and I was tracking well ahead of my race schedule. Then a strange thing happened. The field thinned so much that I was suddenly alone. Very very much alone. My only company for an hour and a half was a mob of Kangaroos and the occasional bird. I got really lonely and it started to really hurt. It seemed to take hours to get back within site of Angelsea. As I rounded a corner about 2 km out of the checkpoint I caught a very quick glimpse of a lady in Pink and almost teared up.
Almost immediately I was back. My legs hurt less, I was upright and aware of the run and back in a zone. For the next couple of km I concentrated on very slowly bridging that gap until just before the transition area I met Annie. She is a serious contender, having completed 3 North Face Ultras, her encouraging words meant the world to me. They also made me wonder if I had gone out far to hard, far to early.
Suddenly I was half way. Our generous support crew had sent out a runner to greet me a few hundred meters before the transition area and we ran in together. What a welcome site you were Heather. Just before the halfway point and Patricia came sprinting over encouraging me and her big smile and excitement gave me even more energy. After such a long time alone, the company of friends and strangers alike made a huge difference.
While I was in the transition area I fed and watered, changed socks again and paused ever so briefly to take stock. In the transition area with me was a fella called Graham, big Abe (who was starting to really hurt I think) and Annie.
I nervously asked about the girls and discovered they were 40 mins behind and still going strong, they had done a few extra kms after missing a turn but had recovered and were pushing to get back on the race pace. I was so relieved to hear they were going strong. I was amazed and a little concerned to find that even after a really tough section on running alone, I was well under my plan. The body was holding up well, most of it anyway… I did treat my support crew to a rather ungraceful display of how to treat chaffing. In both the testicle / groin region and the butt crack.
Then I was off. Back on familiar trails heading up over a section we had called the clay rollercoaster to the biggest climb of the course and the 70 km mark. I knew that if I could get to there I could finish. Mid way through the clay rollercoaster and my aversion to fruit nearly unravelled my whole day. I struggle with eating fruit on a good day. I had done ok with the first banana but the second was a bit of a different story. The first bite got half way down then immediately encouraged the rest of my stomach contents to get the hell out of town. After religiously following my nutrition regime all day, now I was in real trouble because of one stupid banana. I was about to throw up everything I’d eaten and drunk and I was only half way through.
I wont describe it in detail suffice to say that I pushed it all back down and kept it there. It wasn’t pleasant and I must have looked terrible. I took shelter for 5 or 10 minutes in the shade of a tree and thought about something else. Soon enough it passed and I was back on my way. That overchewed, warm, soggy piece of banana tried its best but it was not going to beat me.
I rolled through the next checkpoint probably looking a little worse for wear but still going. The support crew told me the girls were keeping good time and if anything were closing the gap.
Passing through the Distillery Creek check point and I was on my way to Moggs Creek. Half way up a climb and I caught sight of Annie again. We passed another guy near the dam and joined us for the run through sunset and into the final transition area. Steve turned out to be another source of immense inspiration. Running into dark I listened as Steve described the journey that delivered him to the start line earlier in the day. I won’t do his story justice so encourage you to read about it here. The company of Steve and Annie was so powerful for me that I was determined to keep them insight no matter what. I did and as it happened we rolled into the final transition area only minutes apart. To a rousing reception. It gives me shivers when I type the joy of running out of the dark to bright lights, warm food and generous people yelling encouragement. Heather was there again to make sure I took my reflective vest, cater for my needs and send me on my way. Annie gave me a 2 minute warning and we were away.
Annie was kind enough to let me tail her for the next 15 km and before I knew it we were at Aireys inlet, passing the lighthouse. As we left Aireys, we were caught by Graham “Raisie” who was looking strong. Pepped up by his support crew he was good to go. I was fading though. By the time we got down to the beach near Urquarts Bluff, I was very much alone again. Only the faintest glimmer of light in the distance to pull me along. Meaghan had told me before the race that I need to keep my discipline. Especially when I get out by myself. So I started a simple 90 seconds running, 90 seconds walking routine.
Miraculously, after what seemed like ages I closed in on the light and it was Graham. He looked spent. We chatted for a while and I learned about his journey to the start. Again I was impressed by how far some people have come just to line up at the start. The kms passed and soon we were at Point Roadnight. Only a couple of kms to go.
I returned to my walk / run routine and was soon near the finishing chute. As I got closer a young man stepped out of the shadows and gave me one final pick me up. Matt Cooper, one of the sports true champions had stuck around with his Salomon Super Team mates (after dueling with the Peak Adventure team) to welcome runners in. So too had Jarad Kohler and his team mates. It was such a generous thing to do, considering they had finished 5 hours before me.
I rounded the corner and it was all over. I had finished. Just like that.
I practically fell into the waiting arms of our support crew and got my finishing certificate and stein.
Sitting waiting for the girls, I watched with more than a little emotion as one by one they finished, Graham the paramedic, Kerry the Mum, Steve the Dad and finally my beautiful and inspiring wife Meaghan and her sister Annie – two of the toughest people you will ever meet.
We had done it! We are Surf Coast Centurians.
The next day we went down and watched the tail end of the the Surf Coast field finish (Including the Clonard Girls) and then watched as our intrepid support crew raced around the “Long Course” in the Salomon Trail Running Series Race 4.
Mark, Heather and Pete: I’m pretty sure you won’t fully appreciate how much your support meant to Annie, Meaghan and I. Suffice to say there is always cold beer in our fridge and gas in our BBQ. Thank you.
What I learned:
1. The value of the company of strangers
2. 100 km is a really long bloody way
3. Support crews significantly underestimate the value of their support
It would be completely remiss of me to not make mention of the fact that I entered this event and was able to participate free as part of an amazing prize pack I won earlier in the year. This prize also extended to Meaghan and we are both very much thankful to Rapid Ascent for giving us this amazing opportunity to participate. If you are considering a foray into the outdoors then you could do a lot worse than the Rapid Ascent events. I should know, apart from the Salomon Trail Running Series Race 4 (The day after the Ultra) I am doing all of them.
For more info about the Surf Coast Century Check out the Rapid Ascent Page
For a post match wrap up and all your trail needs check out Trail Run Mag
- Surf Coast Century – 5 likes (RossBurrage.com)
- Surf Coast Century Report – Johnathon Worswick (He came second)
- Experience of a lifetime: my first ultramarathon completed! (patriciaabowmer.wordpress.com)
- Aussie Trail Ultra Weekend Roundup (Ultra168.com)
- Mind matters, emotions and a taste of Ultra (Scott Knabel)
- Pre Race Motivation from Up There Bazzaley (banzaiadventurer.wordpress.com)
- The quiet whisper of an Ultra – calling my name (banzaiadventurer.wordpress.com)