Updated: Jan 14
Today is the first day that I feel normal again. The nausea has passed, and I finally have an appetite – and what an appetite it is. Anything edible that gets in my way better watch out! The past two nights have been spent in a tent with hubby and the dog; all of us fighting for space. The days have been spent floating in a dam, eating, drinking with friends and an occasional walk. I still haven’t put shoes on, living in a pair of thongs and loving being dirty. My feet have had a soak in the icy river, and I have relaxed. It has taken me this long to reflect on the run and find the words.
When I first got home post-run, I felt sick. I stepped straight into the shower, trying not to wake my sleeping hubby. I could feel the chafing but was impressed it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I felt the sunburn on my legs but was happy the rest of the body was not burnt. I stepped out of the shower and started to shake uncontrollably. Not good. I wrapped myself up warm and went straight to the fridge for food. I knew I needed sugar and hydration and yet I just wanted to vomit. I managed a banana flavoured up and go, usually a favourite, and just got it down before taking a bucket with me to bed. Sleep eluded me all night and my only sleep ended up being some dozing in the car as hubby drove 3 hours to our friends farm the following day, where I was to relax and recover for a few days. The holiday had started and yet I had a plastic bag next to me for the drive because all I wanted to do was vomit. This was one of my worst recoveries yet. I knew that the sun exposure was likely to blame. Nutrition and hydration had been good, and the body felt great. I have recovered from many long runs before and I recognised the symptoms.
It was 100kms.
It was beautiful. It was painful. It was hard. It took courage. It was hot. It was dry. It was magic.
It wasn’t an event. It wasn’t a race.
It was an adventure.
Since moving to Vic 4 years ago I have wanted to explore a 100km course that runs from Dromana, along the Two Bays Trail to Cape Schanck, out to Point Nepean and then along the Mornington Peninsula back to Dromana. Compared to my Alpine adventures it appears relatively flat – but don’t let that fool you. The start is up and up and up on trails and then you smash your quads down the other side. Then you hit the soft sand for about 30kms before running on road. Trying to get your body to adjust to the different terrains and wear the right shoes for all the terrains is difficult. I had planned to hike the course back in 2019 but a knee operation saw that cancelled. Living through the longest lockdown days in the world then saw a few multiple attempts at running the course also cancelled.
With the state now opened up and the freedom to travel more than 5kms from home, I put it in the diary for the 28th Dec 2021. I knew I was risking a hot day, as well as a busy time of the year but I just wanted to end a really tough year on a high with a 100km run. My friends who originally were going to join me could no longer come and so I was intent on running this solo. I would park my car in Dromana and run the loop, have a nap in the car and come home. Thankfully some last-minute plan changes meant I had 3 friends who could offer their assistance and I didn’t realise how much I was going to need them, rely on them and be forever grateful to them.
The day started perfectly. The alarm was set for 4 am but I had barely slept and turned it off before it woke up hubby. I was sneaking out the door with a gentle kiss on his cheek within 15 minutes with everything already sitting at the door ready. The drive was peaceful, and I thought about the day ahead, thinking about why I loved these little adventures so much. Why I craved putting my body and mind through these challenges and how alive it made me feel. As I turned off the highway a shooting star appeared before me, and I knew that I had Dad’s angel watching over me for the day.
The light was beginning to break as I set off at 5:20 am. I was in trail shoes but running on the footpath for 5kms and it took my legs some time to warm up. For 5kms I headed north where the course officially ‘starts’. I had parked at McDonald's because I thought my car would be safer there all day, but also because it meant there was a cheeseburger at the finish line. The start was a trot past a closed kebab shop, butcher, fish and chip shop and a café where the lady was just opening the door to kick up the coffee machine. No one disturbed me, the traffic was barely existent. The sky was starting to lighten and there was a beautiful pink hue about the place. I felt anticipation for the day ahead but also felt very present, and very alive.
Only months earlier I had started to train with a new coach. I had a great running coach in the past and in 2019 I took a break from formal coaching because I was putting so much pressure on myself. Every time I missed a session, I would beat myself up about it. I would not do a full session because my body was hurting and then I would be down for days about it. I needed a break from ‘formal coaching’ and so I took it. I still achieved a lot in this break, but I missed the discipline and the structure that a coach brings, and I missed the accountability to make sure that I didn’t overtrain.
In 2020, during one of our lockdowns, I had dabbled in meditation to get through the days. Then we opened up for what I thought was forever, and meditation went out the window.
2021 has been tough. I was thinking about trying to stop my ‘endless scrolling’ on social media when I stumbled across a post by Rob Donkersloot talking about his new coaching program which is all about the mind. I emailed him there and then. This is a man I know can push out km after km in the most gruelling conditions and I knew he could help me achieve my running goals.
What I didn’t know was how much Rob would change my life.
I am actually training less.
But my mindset has completely changed.
I don’t load my runs on Strava anymore because I don’t care about my stats. I run and feel joy and gratitude and I cannot wait for a 4 am alarm to go off so I can experience a run at sunrise. I feel every bit of joy, but every bit of pain. I feel every moment.
When I consider my life away from running this past year – I have survived the longest lockdown in the world, sharing compassion rather than frustration with hubby, despite some very challenging days. I have meditated through some really upsetting news. I have remained calm when drivers on the road would normally have me sitting on my horn with a middle finger in the air. I have not stressed about Covid testing, numbers, or the ‘future’. I have never been so in the moment and focused when I play cricket. I have never ‘felt’ so much; whether good or bad. I have never been so incredibly content with life.
So why was I putting my shoes on and running 100kms? It’s beautiful and it’s challenging so why not? I had no fanfare, no finish line celebration (apart from my beautiful friend Sam with a few party poppers!) It was just me on the trails with a couple of inspiring friends along the way.
I had these thoughts as I hit the trailhead and started the climb up towards Arthurs Seat. I started to notice myself checking my pace and already calculating my finish time. “Stop” I told myself out loud. This is not what this is about. This is about the adventure; this is about the journey. This has nothing to do with pace or time. No one cares. I changed my watch face to show me something else and I stopped thinking about it; instead taking in the beauty around me. The sun was now well and truly up, and I could see the bay stretch out in front of me, blue water sparkling and the world just starting to wake up and go in search of coffee.
I hit the top of the hill and with a skip and a hop, I was grinning from ear to ear as I danced down the steep downhill. One of my favourite parts of the Two Bays trail. A quick selfie at the dam to put in the group chat and show the team I was alive and well and I was off again. I was feeling so grateful to be alive and so grateful to be out on the trails in the early morning. I thought of all those days I would have given anything to be allowed to do this and I relished having the trails to myself. A few kangaroos popped their heads up to look at me as I ran past, and I prayed they kept to themselves. As I ran along Hyslops Road I knew I was close to seeing my friend, Erin. Sure enough, at the end of the road, she was there grinning and offering bananas and water. I was fine for water but relished the idea of another banana and ate it as we trotted along catching up on all our Christmas news. Erin inspires me greatly after giving up alcohol in lockdown and training her butt off for races that just keep getting cancelled. Yet she pushes on; determined to one day get back to her home country of NZ and see her family and run 100kms. She is a tough cookie, but more importantly, she makes me laugh and we chatted about farting and pooing in the bush and eventually moved to the spiritual. I was sad after 8kms when she turned back; asking her for one last favour – can you get another banana out of my pack for me. She obliged, gave me a hug and we went our separate ways. It was not far to Cape Schanck and I knew I had the amazing Holly there waiting with a carload of goodies for me, so on I went. It was starting to heat up now and I could really feel the sun beating hard on my body. The shade of the bush had now disappeared, and I was running through more open paddocks and overgrown track; my eyesight moving from watching for snakes on the trail to looking up and admiring the view. Once I crossed Boneo Rd I was in the busy section for tourists, and I had to dodge a few walkers. As I went to call out and overtake one walker she stopped suddenly, and I almost ran into the back of her. “Are you ok?” I asked. “No” she replied and pointed at the large tiger snake snoozing on the side of the track. I threw a stick towards his back, and he moved on quickly into the bush and I reassured her that my running in front of her would scare off the rest. I hoped I was right because I saw two more snoozing on the side of the trail before I arrived at Cape Schanck. Both came out of the undergrowth to catch the morning rays on the trail before the day got too hot.
As I came into Cape Schanck I couldn’t see Holly or her car and I felt a stab of panic that something had happened to her on the way. I walked through the car park and saw her smiling face and waving arms and my face broke into a smile of joy! I had paced Holly and her daughter only a few weeks earlier to run their first half marathon and I still beam with pride whenever I see her face. They were both incredibly disciplined in their training, even running 10kms of loops of the backyard whilst in isolation and they smashed their expectations at the Melbourne Half Marathon.
Holly has never manned an aid station in an ultra before, but I can tell you that I am recruiting her. She gave me an icy pole as I was taking my shoes off; I had a smart plan to swap from trail shoes to road shoes for the beach section and the road thereafter. Turned out to be a VERY smart plan. The icy pole gave me brain freeze which was hilarious to Holly. Then she pulled out the pre-made rolls, the vegemite scrolls, the watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, bananas. I was half expecting the champagne, oysters, and cheese to be next! I was very impressed – almost too much because I didn’t want to leave! With 32kms under the belt, I was in a food coma as I headed to the lighthouse and said goodbye to Holly dancing off along the trail with a roll in one hand and watermelon in the other whilst Holly told all the tourists to get out of my way. Looked great for the camera, but I soon realised I had gone down the wrong trail; after I had climbed the lookout and had to go back down to the road and along the road towards the trail to Gunnamatta Beach. I like to say that I will never be distracted by Holly and her food again, but I cannot make that promise with my hand on my heart.
I knew the next section was tough. I had seen a very small section of it recently and with the rising sun, I was preparing myself for a hard slog. The first section was very overgrown and with my recent spate of snakes sleeping on the track I was very cautious. There is nothing like knowing snakes are there and yet it’s so overgrown you cannot see the track! When I came to the beach, I squealed with joy at getting out of the overgrown trail and onto what I was hoping was hard sand because the tide was out. I was pretty happy on the beach for a few kms. The beach stretched in front of me for endless kms and I could not see the end. As I started to watch families setting up their tents, with their eskies and their towels and putting their toes in the water I started to hate the beach. I would think I was getting to the end and then realise that I had to climb over sharp rocks to get around the point and then start all over again on the soft sand. The sand was relentless. I had it in my shoes, I couldn’t run on a flat surface as my feet were on a permanent angle and the sun reflected off everything. Occasionally I would get excited when I came off the beach onto the trail across the top; only this was like running in sand dunes and so much worse without the coolness of the ocean beside me! After 10kms, as I trudged along the sand; running – but only just, I thought of Rob reminding me to be in the moment. I would never be in this moment again. “Thank God” was my first thought. Then I looked up from the sand below my feet. I was here, on the beach, with the sun above me and the waves crashing beside me. The ocean that held Dad’s ashes. The ocean that I loved. I smiled out towards the ocean. I was here. Not in lockdown. Not in my 5km bubble. Not in my study. I was here; on the beach, one of my favourite places on earth. I smiled and my whole mindset changed. This was hard. I had already done 50kms and I was pushing on through the heat and the soft sand, but this is what I love. I love being uncomfortable. I love experiencing the feeling that not everything in life is easy. I love the feeling that hard work brings. This was taking its toll – this was hard. But hard is where the growth comes from. For 30kms I pushed through soft sand, a searing sun, and a nagging thought that maybe I wasn’t strong enough. I continued to bring my mind back to the now. One step. One foot at a time. I had done much harder than this before.
Before I knew it, I was rounding the corner to the quarantine station at Point Nepean. I passed a few signs warning me of unexploded bombs and laughed as I thought of Rob reminding me that I would never again be in this moment. “Yeah, I hope not” I laughed as I came round a bend and saw my amazing friend Sam sitting with watermelon, a banana and eye drops. What more could a girl want! I shook the sand out of my shoes and socks and Sam went as far as to squirt cool water on my feet. This doesn’t sound like much, but this was the BEST feeling I had all day. Watermelon inhaled and my 5th banana of the day eaten, and we were on our way for an out and back of the point. I had done this section; I knew it was road and I knew it was hard. Somehow though it felt almost effortless. I chatted with Sam about her Christmas, and we joked about various things. It felt fun and light, and I would never have guessed I was on the home stretch. My pace likely suggested it, but Sam kindly stayed at my pace and never mentioned it!
From Point Nepean, we followed the road to the Portsea Pub. Sam’s daughter Jordynne was at the pub with friends and dashed out to meet us with ginger beer and coke and chips. I had been starting to feel very nauseous the past few hours and my stomach was not behaving. The ginger beer felt like liquid gold. One of the lesser-known facts of running ultras is that you can get very bloated from the nutrition choices, and sucking in all that air. The best cure for bloating; a good old-fashioned fart. It isn’t glamourous but it feels amazing. A bit of ginger beer cured me, and I literally farted my way along the road from Portsea to Rye with Sam giggling beside me.
When we hit Rye, we could run on the path beside the road. The sun was starting to drop, and it was beautiful, and we still had enough light to run without a headtorch and so we did. Sam had parked her car a few kms from mine, so we knew her car was coming up soon. The stretch from Rye to Rosebud went on for hours. I was pumping my arms and dodging all the campers along the bay; confident I was pushing out at least a 6min pace. I look up and Sam is there walking beside me. Sam can walk fast – but not a 6min pace. I realised I was running slower than she was walking and so I alternated between a fast walk, trying to keep up with her legs ahead of me and a ‘run’ which I was confident was super-fast but still didn’t beat her walking pace! I knew the end was near and I was starting to hurt. At one stage I stepped onto my heel and popped a blister I didn’t even know I had. I stopped to tape it and kept pushing on. Part of me loved the idea that the end was close. Part of me hated that the adventure had to end. Part of me wanted to curl up and end it there on the path. Sam pushed me on, occasionally telling a joke, sometimes asking how I was, but mostly she was just a silent beacon for me to follow in the night. Like the amazing friend she is, she just guided me along; knowing I was hurting but knowing that sometimes we all need to hurt to remember how good we have it.
It turns out that Sam’s car was only 200m from mine. She threw a head torch into my arms and told me not to run too fast (yeah right!) as she jumped in her car and dashed to McDonald's. Confident that I would beat her there I upped my ‘trot’ and thought about how it had taken me 4years to get to do this course. For 4years life got in the way, and I let it. Why do we always let life get in the way of what we want? I’ll accept that 2 of those years we were in lockdown and the other I was recovering from surgery, but I also questioned why we ever wait. We all know that life is short. We all know someone who has experienced trauma and had a loved one taken too early. We all know that there is more to life than the mundane. Yet we make every excuse to avoid living in the moment. As I ran the never-ending stretch to McDonald's on my own, I was tired, hurting and vowing to never run on soft sand again. Yet I was also proud, content and so full of joy that the smile on my face almost couldn’t be captured by Sam’s camera. This is living. This is an adventure. This is the journey. This is what life should be. It should be hard, and it should hurt, but it should be joyous.
With 2 party poppers and a hug, it was over.
Just like that.
We ate chips and drank lemonade from the back of my car in the dark and then got in our respective cars and drove home. Sam followed close behind me in case I felt sick on the drive, and I was very grateful to know I had her behind me, just as I had followed her legs for the past 30kms+. On the drive home I thought about the lengths that friends will go to. Three people went out of their way to help me on my run which I am forever grateful for, but it was also more than them. I had people leaving their pub meal for me, people I have never met dropping my friends off at locations to help me, messages that I read later from friends cheering me on, hubby sending me cricket scores so I knew that the Aussies had won the ashes. I truly believe that if you ever doubt the kindness of humans, volunteer at an ultra-marathon. This is where humanity shines.
Now it’s done. Now I have a holiday with my feet up before my next adventure – 100kms of hiking the Oscars Hut to Hut course carrying all my gear over 4 days. Another one I cannot wait to start.
It’s all over. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t a record, but it was beautiful to me. It was my reminder of what the mind can achieve, especially when it’s been tested so much lately. It wasn’t easy. There was pain and grumpiness, but there were also squeals of delight and laughter.
It’s a reminder that the body can do more than we can ever imagine.
It’s a reminder of how this thing called life really is.
It’s a reminder to feel every moment.