At the finish line of Tarawera Ultra in February of 2016 someone said to me
‘Ali you should run a 100’
‘No way! I’m not that stupid. I like myself too much’ was my response.
Fast forward to September 2017 and suddenly I’d become.. that stupid
Surf Coast Century appealed to me because of the scenic coastal trails, the inclusive nature of the event and the positive reviews that many a person had passed on. It was also chosen as one of Australasia’s top 10 ultramarathons here: http://ultra168.com/2016/01/11/top10anzultras/
So I set my sights on it months back, planned a ‘B’ race as my last long hit out and then trained my butt off.
- Run 100km. I want to be the best coach I can be, and in my mind part of that is actually living it.
- To be the happiest person out there
- To go 15:XX
5:30AM Saturday 9th September
We are a great big mob of headlamps, brightly coloured running clothes, nervous energy, and pre-run selfies. I’m quiet. My tummy has been lurching with nerves. I just want to start.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go!
GPS watches beep into life and we are off jogging along the beach.
The enormity of the day ahead is omnipresent. 2km down 98km to go. We jog up to a headland and then turn back towards the start, over a rocky outcrop, easy does it, and jog back down the beach. The nerves are starting to fade and I make the positive mindset take over. At around 3km I feel a wet sensation and realise that (no I didn’t wee my pants) a soft flask on my front has leaked. Wonderful. It’s sticky and wet. Nothing can be done about this apart from to drink what is there to ensure it doesn’t keep leaking. On we carry, back past the people cheering at the start line, I bite back tears here. I’m overwhelmed. I think to myself the next time I am here I will be halfway, I will be quick through that checkpoint and I will be ready to get the rest done when I am here. I think that visualisation helps a lot when it comes to preparing for races, or when part way through them. I’m preparing myself for the future behaviour and feelings.
The beach is hard packed sand and it is lovely to run on. We run alongside towering cliffs, the sunrise begins to leak across the sky, and the Surf Coast is living up to it’s name with a boundless roar and a churn and flurry of waves. I tell myself that the first 21km is just the warm up. I can do a warm up. Especially here. It’s stunning. I love the beach. I allow myself to take a couple of pics and carry on.
Occasionally people make the odd comment here and there but mostly they are quiet. Whether it is the scenery or because it is the start of the adventure and we are all still a bit nervous I’m not quite sure. A peaceful rhythm continues.
We head up a headland to the 10km waterpoint and I see Cass’ friendly face. We coached Cass for UTA and she cheers ‘Go Ali’ It makes my heart sing to see someone I know. I am settling in now and beginning to feel ok. I’m going to get this done and I’m going to enjoy it. I had a few goals for today and aside from completion the biggest one is to be the happiest person out there. I’d better start putting that into practice. Down to a nudist beach and I can’t help but shout out ‘Oohh a nudie beach’ and when I see Luis I shout at him to keep his clothes on. There are surfers heading out and I think I spy a stand up paddleboarder. The sun is low and shiny, the sand is oily and golden. We are striking it lucky with the weather! We run along more stunning beaches, around headlands, rock hopping, and we climb a little ledge above a deep pool hoping to avoid a full body dousing.
The feet get wet, the feet get sandy, they keep on.
I skip over rocks covered in Neptune’s Necklace and am taken back to childhood holidays spent at ‘my’ beach. I tell myself it’s just a play in the rockpools, how fun is this?!
Eventually after many an amazing beach we arrive at Torquay the 21km mark and the first drop bag point. Here I enter the corral and find my drop bag. I quickly retrieve the towel, shoes and socks that I’d organised, peel my wet and sandy shoes and socks off, dry my feet with the towel and put on the new ones. I change my water bottles (farewell leaking soft flask) and pick up a sandwich from the aid station table. I see Chris and give him a big wave, he cheers ‘go Ali, looking strong’. It’s really good to see him. Quick wee stop and off I go. That was a good turn around.
Eyes on the watch and checking out the average pace. The aid stations obviously cut into that time and I’m setting my sights on a sub16 finish. That’s my other goal. I said to Kerry ‘I’d like to go sub16’ and then asked him what he thought I would run. His male senses kicked in here. *Dangerous territory*. He paused. ‘16-18 hours’ was his response.
‘WELL THEN I WILL SHOW YOU.’ I think.
I know what I am capable of…
I’m out on a (positive) mission to prove him wrong, I have my watch set and want to stick under 9:35 per km. It sounds super slow but when you factor in hills and technical terrain, soft sand or mud, aid stations and toilet stops, not to mention fatigue, it can really slow things down. I’ve decided though not to watch watch too much. I ignore the kms and occasionally check the pace. I’m well under at the moment but this is the runnable section of the course so I need to build up a good buffer. I’m making sure I’m working but not overdoing it. I’ve got to pace myself, 100km is a long way.
The second section runs along the headland for a bit. Hard packed trails, nice and runnable. We look out over the ocean and I giggle at a ‘Bells Beach’ sign remembering the conversation Kerry and I had about Point Break just the other day.
After a bit we head into the Ironbark basin and weave our way through some lovely Aussie bush.
There’s a gorgeous pond, red dirt, lush green vegetation and a sign saying ‘listen for the frogs’ I don’t hear any but I do see a photographer who is fumbling for his camera. I do my best to give him a cheesy jump shot. He seems pretty happy to be entertained and shares his snap with me.
The trails wind and I catch up with Jacqui ‘I’m jumping on the Tol train’ I say (Tol is Jacqui’s surname) and we chat for a bit. Eventually I overtake and then run the downhills that wind their way around this section. I catch up with Luis and we run together for a bit, then I see Mel and we chat happily. It’s not long and I can hear Kerry’s voice MC’ing. I’m a bit dry and I’m really looking forward to the ginger beer I packed in my next drop bag. There’s the estuary to cross, the water is cool. Kerry says lots of nice things into the microphone, people cheer and I wave. I’m stoked. I’m at the 50km mark in under 7 hours. The pacing is bang on. I give Kerry a kiss and hug, grab my drop bag, toss out the food that isn’t working out for me, pick up a bag with some potato cubes in it, drink my ginger beer and see Meg. She’s heading off so we stroll to the bridge together and give the food and drink ingested at the CP some time to settle. We reach the infamous bridge. I’m actually secretly looking forward to this! It’s a real novelty having to crawl under a bridge in an ultramarathon. Kerry couldn’t believe it when we checked it out pre-dinner on Thursday.
Meg is getting wet crawling along. Somehow I manage to stay dry. It’s not pleasant, there’s a fair bit of moaning and groaning happening but also some giggles too. We pop out of the bridge and I start running again. I hit ‘Heartbreak Hill’ and hike up. It provides a cool view out back over Anglesea, I’ll be seeing you soon Anglesea.
The next section kind of just goes. The sky is blue, the trees are eucalypts and occasional friendly faces wave from parked cars. At around 55km my foot radiates a burning pain (I’d rolled it a week and a half prior and it’s in the same place) bugger.
I’d thought it had come right. Meg catches up and we run for a bit. She asks how I am and I say ‘my foot’s a bit sore but I’m ok, how are you?’ she replies ‘my arch is a bit tight, but I’m ok too’. I decide to walk for a bit and see if I can let that foot settle. Meg heads off and I’m happy to see her running so strongly. This section of the course is the ‘lumpy’ bit and it’s got a couple of long stretches between aid stations. There’s a friendly water point at one stage, a kind man offers to help me fill my soft flasks, I head back into the single track and wind my way through the lush bush, golden wattles are in bloom and I can see why Australian colours are green and gold. Up, to Currawong Falls, that is one seriously pretty waterfall!
I keep on heading past a few people and finally hit the top. I wouldn’t mind a wee but relay runners keep zipping past. I look back and I’m almost ready to jungle wee when a teenage boy comes running past.. Phew near miss. Finally I go and then continue jogging down the hill. It’s a bit strained. My foot is uncomfortable but I don’t want to drop the pace too much. I want to be at Mogg’s (77km) in under 12 hours. After a sneaky extra hill by the reservoir which is funnily called Painkalac Reservoir. I had a sideways glance at that and a chuckle as I climbed that hill. I met a guy called Matt and shared that I’m keen to go Sub 16. He said he was too slow on the downhills and that it wasn’t going to happen for him. I wished him well and headed off. Finally Mogg’s creek! Volunteers asked if I had crew to which I shook my head. They got my drop bag for me and I plonked down in a chair, dropped the hat put on a buff and headlamp, Arm sleeves, smashed a red bull and headed on out of there. Joy, another woman we had coached, was heading out at the same time as me. We walked and chatted and shared that we were both aiming for sub16. We started running and met a man named Michael who joined the running and chatting. They were great company and kept me going. The sky was turning pastel colours whilst we chattered and ran. The second bridge! We climbed under the next bridge, ran the next section and came to the skate park. More red bull! I wanted to keep riding the wave of energy I figured that this (86km) was a good time to have another one to ensure I made it to the finish still pumping. I felt like I bossed it up to the lighthouse, ran the coastal trails and then hit a beach. Back up to the trails again passing people on stairs and track then down to the 3.5km beach section. 6km to go Cass was shouting. It was so neat to see her again. The beach felt long. I was power walking here. Pumping the arms, head focused on the distance, and doing 9 minute kms. I figured it’d be more efficient than running. I kept looking at my watch making sure the pace was good. I thought of the distance left and what I could relate it to. Eventually it really was the final section. I hit the soft sand not far from the finish line, the watch ticked over 100km and I felt absolutely elated. I ran fast across the sand to cheers from spectators, I shouted my thanks, waved great big arm swirly waves and ran across the finish line arms in the air, face down and beaming.
Sam shook my hand and congratulated me and I thanked him profusely for the course, the organisation, the amazingly friendly volunteers, just everything. I told him ‘I’ve had the best day, thank you so much for this’ kiss and hug from Kerry and I fist-bumped him and said ‘sub 16 baby!’ he called me a ‘stubborn c#ckhead’ and we laughed. 15:29:16 was the official time, I was handed my Stein for finishing under 16 hours and a medal was placed around my neck. I said a big thank you to my friends, new (made on the trail) and old, who were there to see me finish. I was deliriously elated (as well as sore). We took some pictures and then I hobbled my way home.
What a day.
There’s many people who featured in this success (me achieving something I really didn’t even think was possible a year and a half ago).
I thought of all of the people I’ve seen cross finish lines.
I thought of the people who we have coached and their achievements. The 71 year old first time ultramarathoner, the man who had DNF’ed previous races and then finally got there… the woman who had lost 30kgs…the mum who overcame obesity and heart problems… the professional dad of 4…the pregnant mum… the list goes on.. I did it for you and because of you.
There are so many inspiring people who have shown me how to get it done. If they are brave enough to give things a go then I certainly can.
I thought of all of the well wishes I’d been sent and their belief in me. If they thought I could do it then I’d better live up to expectations and go get it done.
So thank you.
Thank you for believing in me.
Thank you to the enablers who provide us with the scaffolds to work our way to another level and develop ourselves into stronger people. Thank you for letting us test our limits in a ‘safe’ setting.
It’s a crazy thing life. You never know what you might be doing in a year and a half’s time…
So if there’s something that’s rattling away in your brain questioning and prodding at you and you’re saying ‘can I?!’ I reckon go for it. You never know what you’ll end up doing.
Dream it, work towards it and do it.
You’re capable of far more than you give yourself credit for.
Go get it.
Live and love.