On Sunday 21 December 2014 I had the most awesome run of my life.
After all the build up and the emotional roller coaster it was finally “the day before”. I was wound tight, I hovered over my race gear and my drop bag hoping I’d not forgotten anything. I managed to put myself to bed about 8:30pm and my husband kept the kids quiet so I could wind down and hopefully get some sleep. I’d already spent hours and hours on the therapy couch with my coach Scott. Poor guy – talking me down off the ledge over and over again. And in his place (he’s 7 hours behind me in the UK) poor Bill and sometimes Ben. Virtual handholding at its finest. Plus I’d been cajoled and encouraged by my running besties Natalie, Renee and Michelle and countless parkrunners (Alicia, Cordelia, Dan, Richard, Andrew, Adrian, Kate, Salena, Abdul… so many). Seriously, it’s not that hard. JFDI.
And so my alarm went off at 2am. My husband grabbed my phone and plonked it unceremoniously on my pillow before rolling over to go back to sleep. Cheers babe. I had actually managed to get some sleep! I think all the mental anguish of the days leading in had really taken it out of me and I had slept solidly. I took my obligatory early morning selfie. I put my hydration pack together, packed up my stuff and headed round to Ben and Alicia’s place. It’s a bit weird driving around at 2:30am all decked out in running gear. You see people stumbling home from a big night out! This was surely the biggest night out I was ever going to have!
Ben and Alicia were packed and ready to go. I shoved all my stuff in their car and we headed off to pick up Damon and Ash. I was squished in between the two as we took off down the highway to North Dandalup. We were chirpy and excited. Nobody farted in the car and nobody complained when I ate my breakfast on the go – oats and yoghurt looks a lot like vomit. I taped up my toes as best as I could without shoving my feet in the boys’ faces and all of a sudden we had arrived! We were a little bit early and got a good park. As we stepped out of the car the cool morning air was buzzing. Cars were driving in one after the other and runners were everywhere. We took our gear into the hall and saw a tonne of parkrunners! It was just so nice to see so many smiling faces! People were excited. I was excited! I was wrestling with my drop bag and I heard someone say “Hey shortstuff” – I looked up and it was Bill. He’d come from Albany to crush this race and I was almost overwhelmed to see him again. I gave him a big hug.
Finally we were ushered onto the bus. I got chatting with a guy next to me who was wearing only a hydration belt that carried 600mL of fluid (there’s me hauling around my hydration pack with everything in it like a bloody sherpa). He was super nice and encouraged me to have a great run out there. After he’d gone past I realised he was wearing #4 on his bib. Shit. That meant he was a super speedy! There I was going on about how maybe he might need more water (omfg) but in actual fact that guy would make it to the first aide station before he even had a chance to drink the water he was carrying! Ha! I looked him up afterwards – that was Michael Carroll and he ran the 48km course in 3:36:15 ffs. He ran 5th. Hopefully he found my tips helpful.
We were deposited at the start line. Goldmine Hill. There were approximately 220 runners. We’d heard that some runners had tried to register but had missed the memo about needing to run with a mobile phone. They didn’t take one with them so weren’t allowed to run! Can you imagine training for this kind of race then being denied registration last minute? Omg.
Dawn was breaking and I was fucking cold! My teeth were chattering. Ash was flashing his birthday boy badge – it was his 30th birthday! What a way to celebrate with his first ultra race. Indeed his first run over 24km ever. Way to knock a PB distance out of the park! We mingled around for a few minutes before Ben and Bill and a few other guys started to make their way to the front of the crowd and before I even knew what was happening people started running! Fuck! We were off!!! The whole crowd surged forward up the hill. I was astounded that 200+ people thought they were going to run up it. That hill is walking material only IMO. I lagged at the back (followed the plan) and hauled arse up that goddamn hill with Emma, Alicia, Kelly, Jez and Ash. As predicted, 500m in and my back was getting all whiny…. “whhhyyyyy are you walking this hiiiiiiiiillll??” but I was so thankful that I’d walked the hill before. I knew what to expect. I was ready for it. Didn’t make it any less sucky. I watched my garmin stats blow out. I was supposed to be up the 2km at a 10 minute average pace. I was already at 11 minutes. Fuck. I couldn’t believe I would be adding time on in the first 3 fucking kilometres. My head started to get a bit down.
We passed the King of the Mountain check point and I summited the hill (223m of elevation) in 28:05. Once at the top I looked around and then thought “ok, let’s go Didi”. I’d insisted that Scott do me up a plan for a 6 hour finishing time. I knew it was ambitious. More than one person told me so and I teetered on the cusp of “I can smash it” and “I can’t do it” for weeks leading in. Scott had told me to take it easy, be calm, follow the plan and just enjoy the run. I had a time in my head for leaving aide station 1 (and I couldn’t remember the time I needed to leave aide station 2 eep!). Overall average pace needed to be 7:33. 7:33. 7:33. 7:33…. after Goldmine hill I took the race for myself. I deliberately pushed ahead of the people I knew and put my headphones in. I changed my watch to the second screen where I couldn’t see my overall average pace, or my time, or the distance. All I could see was the time for each single km at a time. So, pace, time and distance covered for each km. One at a time. I didn’t want to get bogged down in hours and minutes and average pace going up and down. It was going to do my head in. So I focussed on one km at a time. The music pumped inside my head and it was like someone had started up my very own movie theme music. I was suddenly immersed in the music and surrounded by the bush and nothing else mattered.
I steadily warmed up and ticked over the kms. There was a spectator point at the 5km mark and before I knew it I was through it! I knew I’d see my mum at 18km at the next spectator point where we cross Del Park Road so I focussed on that distance. My legs just turned over and the distance fell behind me. I glanced at my watch occasionally and pulled back a little bit on the flats, I was going too fast. Follow. The. Plan. I was absolutely busting to go to the loo for the first 20kms. Each time I thought “Oh I’ll just duck in there” I just couldn’t help think about that I might be seen, or I’d lose too much time or whatever… So I held it for 20kms!!! Finally I knew I’d have to go otherwise I wouldn’t be able to continue. I just picked the best spot I could and launched through the bush. Ah relief. Pro tip ladies: keep a good hold of your headphones while you’re down there! Jesus… nearly had a disaster there. Also, pick a spot that you can stand behind and not be seen. Yes you need to squat down, however if you’re only behind a low log (like I was) you can’t then stand up and make adjustments because you’ll be seen by other runners. FML. My knickers were a bit crooked because I was hasty with the pulling up and my shirt was all tucked into my shorts. I needed desperately to rearrange myself and alas, too many people! Ha! I ended up getting everything back into place over the next few kms when I was in between runners….
I knocked off 18km and was feeling damn excellent. I sent a text to Natalie and to mum saying I was feeling great. As I crossed Del Park Road I realised mum had not made the spectator spot (she missed me by a few minutes). It was ok though, I didn’t feel I needed her so I wasn’t upset. I’d seen Paul van der Mey with his big camera (and his big smile) along the way and it was nice to see a friendly face. He took some great shots.
This way Paul?
I rolled into aide station 1 at 24km. It was cool. There was a marshall with binoculars looking for runners and calling out bib numbers so the volunteers could grab your bag out for you. I felt hell special! I grabbed my bag and scoffed 3 big bites of my vegemite sandwich and added the gingernut biscuits to my pack. I took out the tailwind powder and wrestled my pack into submission as I tried to add water and powder and not spill anything. A volunteer gave me a hand which was awesome. I saw a couple of people I knew. I actually had to laugh at myself at the amount of shit in my drop bag. Seriously. I didn’t need any of it. Sunblock. Shoes. Socks. Shorts. Hat. Lots of things. I finally looked down at my watch as I left the aide station: 2 hours 57 minutes. Fuck. I couldn’t remember my plan but it was pretty close to that. I was on track!!! I was actually on track for a 6 hour time! Oh my god! But then as my legs got moving again my right hip started to complain and my feet started to feel a bit cut up. My toes really hurt. I thought, oh yeah, well here’s where the wheels come off then. I pushed on. Alicia had told me that the aide stations were inverse numbers so 23km and 32km. That’s where I was headed. Aide station number 2. 32km. Only 9km away? Ok then, let’s do it. I flicked my watch back over to the lap screen and pushed on.
I actually managed to FB a few friends while I was trudging up one huge fuck off hill. It was a long slow hill and I had service so why not?!! It was so nice to hear from them, and to know they were hanging out watching to see how I was going. That gave me a huge lift. I flew through the next 10kms and then started to freak out a bit – ummmmm… no aide station? Arghhhhhh please don’t say I’ve missed it!!! I knocked down 34kms…. 35kms…. panic set in a little bit. I passed a guy who’d hurt himself and asked him if he’d seen aide station 2. He told me it was at 36kms… Ohhhhh I’d got that wrong… wow what a head fuck!
And then there it was. Not the aide station as I’d expected. The turn to the aide station. Two volunteers were at the turning point with water pistols and they were spraying water over everyone. What a relief! People were laughing and having a great time and it was the only point on the course where you got to pass other runners as the aide station was out and back up a huge hill. I thought the hill was right at the start of the out and back. No. You have to run a fair way out first, THEN there’s “hell’s gate”… A huge HUGE hill that just beggared belief. Oh fucking hell! I took a few photos and then made my way up.
Up up UP!
The ground is so ravined that it was really difficult to find your footing and more than once I saw people take a decent stack coming down it. I was still really happy at this stage. A few people asked me later “Were you really feeling that good?”… honestly yes I was! I snaffled a hug from all the kids, my husband and my mum with her ipad wedged firmly between us. I felt super strong. My music was pumping and I was seriously in the zone. I had to activate “princess mode” to get back down the hill or a bit more accurately “look like I just pooped my pants mode” as I hopped from one promising bit of gravel to the next desperately hoping I’d not go tits up in front of everyone else. Good news: didn’t fall.
I rounded the corner at the bottom and took off again. Only 11kms to go and fuck I felt good. The trail narrowed considerably at one point and I thought “Ha, totally wouldn’t want to be much taller or wider than me and try to get through here”… being teeny has its benefits! Zig zag, up down, another goddamn mother fucking hill and I was flying. I still can’t get over how good Sunday’s run was. I was running until I hit the wall and I was hoping I’d banked enough time to get me through in maybe 6:20… but I never hit that wall.
I caught up with another parkrunner Chris and I was stoked to see him. He saw me safely through the caravan park and up into the next bit of bush trail (I’d nearly missed the marker!) and then I said seeya and just. kept. running. I’d made a rookie mistake only having 3 hours of music on my phone so the tunes were getting a little bit old, but Muse thrills me no matter what I’m doing so on they went. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Awesome. One foot. Next foot. One after the other. Over and over and over again. I did pause for a moment to revel in the fact I’d run a marathon. A whole goddamn marathon and I was still standing and still running. Wow. Just wow.
I still did not know what time it was. I had no idea how I was travelling since aide station 2. What time would I finish? I had no idea and didn’t want to know. I knew that if I looked and it was coming well into the 6:20 range I’d be a bit shitty and I wouldn’t enjoy the last part of the race so I just didn’t look. I wanted a 6 hour time. If I didn’t look then it was still achievable. It hadn’t been taken from me yet.
At 4km to go there was another little aide station. I didn’t need anything but my ears perked up when I heard someone say it was the 5km to home aide station. What? Meh… keep running. I’ll admit that at the 46km mark I started to feel a bit beat up. My feet were really hurting, my hip was complaining and I was honestly happy to finish. Just one more km to go. Where the finish line should have been at the 47km mark there was a smiley lady. A single marshal standing on the trail. Did she have my medal? Where were my friends? What’s that? They’re 1km away? What? Did she say 1km to go? Mother goddamn fucker. Oh my god seriously? Ohhhh fucking hell!!! The course was closer to 48km than 47km. Oh just kill me now… I thought I was done. That last 1,000m was brutal. My body had decided it was done at 47.01km… All I could do was tell myself to just keep moving. Just. Move. Forward. Don’t stop. If you stop you won’t get up again. Fuck.
Finally… as I watched my last km tick down I came across the road to the finish line. I wasn’t expecting a big cheer from the crowd. I wasn’t expecting the applause and the smiling faces. It was epic. I felt amazing. Someone put my medal around my neck and I got a big hug from Bill who was standing at the finish line grinning like a champion. I stopped my watch but couldn’t bear to look at it. No matter what it said I was stoked with my run and nothing was going to change that. I had some cheery hugs and “good on ya’s” from my friends and then I made my way over to my family to give them a big hug too. My friends Fran and Josh had even made it down to see me finish!! I was just so overwhelmed and so chuffed. When I had a moment I snuck a look at my watch.
I couldn’t believe it. That was the icing. Fuck it, that was the whole bloody cake. I could NOT believe I’d just done that. I thought I’d have to wear a 6:20 or maybe slower time even. And I’d been prepared to accept that. 6 hours was “ambitious” as I’d been told by a few people. Fuck. I did it.
Check out that average pace!
We hung around to wait for other runners we knew to finish. Alicia came in sub 7 hours just like she’d wanted to. I was thrilled for her. Sub 7 was awesome! Jeremy and Kelly also came in sub 7 notwithstanding the fact that Kell had taken an epic stack before aide station 1 and taken out half her bum on the gravel. Omg the bruising! I was stoked that she was brave enough to continue and finish with a smile on her face. And Ash made it home within the 7.5 hour time limit. I was thrilled to see him finish in time. He’d been out with an injury for most of the time he should have actually been training and showed up to run anyway. What a legend. He turned 30 on Sunday remember… awesome.
I scoffed hot chips in the car on the way home and then enjoyed luxurious laziness for the rest of the day. I also enjoyed use of the disability hand rail in our ensuite (there when we bought the house) because my legs well and truly had packed it in.
It’s been a few days now and I can say that my body has bounced back surprisingly well. I have had no knee issues whatsoever and only one minor blister (bonds socks ftw). I’m completely hooked. I’ve been chatting to people about what’s next. Haven’t told my husband just yet but this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to run another one of these… the joy I experienced on Sunday was addictive. It was immense. It was overwhelming. Scott was right. You can’t finish an ultramarathon and still be the same person you were at the start. What a shift. If you’re still here reading this epic blog entry thanks very much :)