2020 has been a year like no other. For me, it was the year that I was planning my ‘come back’ to ultra-marathons. After knee surgery in 2019 I had a year off running ultra’s and my first one back was Oscars Hut2Hut in Feb this year with a good friend. I was also blessed to squeeze in a 50km at Brimbank Park Running Festival by Trails+ a few days before we all went into lockdown. I told myself that lockdown wouldn’t be that long, and I would keep up the training and be back racing again soon. Little did I know that Vic would have two lockdowns; the second being one of the harshest in the world. With a one-hour time limit to exercise per day I was stripped of any chance to train for long distance runs and instead attempted some strength work. It was pure delight when restrictions started to ease and I could exercise for more than one hour, taking myself for long runs along the coast, and then even more joy when I could leave the 5km radius from home and hit the trails again. It felt so good to be back out in the bush. Wilson’s Prom 100km was originally scheduled for May and is one of my all-time favourite runs. When I heard it was going ahead, now in Dec I literally whooped for joy!
Wilson’s Prom is one of my all-time favourite places in the world. The beauty, the ruggedness, and the fact that you have to walk or run to see the best bits is what makes it special to me. Since moving to Vic 3yrs I have had 2 solo hiking trips at Wilson’s and had 2 attempts at the 100km run held by Running Wild.
Trail running in Vic is a whole ‘nother level to WA. Whilst WA has the heat and “pea gravel”, Vic has elevation like I have never experienced and so much variety of terrain that you can never stop concentrating on a run. I had one DNF (did not finish) before moving to Vic. I now have 6! Wilson’s Prom 2018 was one of those. I was running comfortably when I came through the 80km checkpoint and headed off for the final 20km. I climbed Mt Bishop easily by the light of my head torch in the dark. I hit the summit, sent hubby a photo of the lights of camp and told him I would be there soon for wine and chocolate. I was the only female in the 100km distance, so I was pumped at the idea of a podium finish - that doesn’t happen often for me! I was running down the mountain, enjoying it with a smile on my face when my right foot got caught between two rocks. I kept going. The foot stayed wedged. I swore out loud at the pain and stopped to take stock on the body. Whenever I tumble on a trail run, I always talk out loud to my body; I find it helps calm me down because the heart rate skyrockets when you fall.
I said, “you’re ok, just a stumble”
I moved my ankle around and it hurt like hell.
“You’ll be fine” I told it and I started to hobble down the mountain.
When I got to the bottom of the mountain, I had about 3km along the road before I would drop back onto the beach. I had approximately 8km in total to finish the run. By this stage I was dragging my foot and my poles were the only thing keeping me upright. I looked at the darkness where the beach was, and I knew I was asking for trouble if I went down into the sand. I knew the foot would not like the soft sand, I was also very low on water and the last 8kms could take a very long time. I had no idea if I would have reception on the beach - but I had it now. I called hubby who was back at camp and told him I was out. He asked me a few times if I was sure - I only had 8kms left and I was going to podium. But I knew. I knew that I didn’t want to take the risk of further damage to the foot in the sand. I knew that it was dangerous to be on the beach without reception and without water when I could barely weight bear. I didn’t want to risk further injury and I was definitely not having fun anymore. I called the race director and he picked me up. I felt flat for ages about that run - but the truth is that up to the moment my foot wedged between two rocks I was having an absolute blast. I was loving every minute of the adventure. It doesn’t matter where I finish, when I finish or if I finish. I run because I love it - that’s the feeling I must learn to remember to hold on to when a race doesn’t go to plan.
I was reminding myself of this as I set up my little tent at Tidal River for Wilson Prom 2020. I love the runs that Running Wild host; they are a true sense of adventure with the race director Paul throwing you out in the bush with mandatory gear and no aid stations and telling you to be safe. It sounds scary but I have been a part of his race briefings to the volunteer crew in the Alpine region and they take safety VERY seriously.
The morning of this run I was up at 4am, not because of excitement but because I had not slept all night due to the gusting wind blowing my tent around! I was ready to go nice and early at the start line and Paul gave us a pre-race brief. We all had a copy of the Covid-safe plan and we knew the rules but my favourite line from Paul was, “safety over social distancing”. He was referring to the fact that the wind was strong and lighter runners might blow away in exposed sections, and also to the fact that the river was at high tide and we would be getting very wet whilst crossing it. If you felt unsafe you were to hold on to another runner and cross together. This had the adrenalin pumping as another thing that WA doesn’t have is river crossings – well it does, but the riverbed is usually dried up! River crossings in VIC brings me so much excitement; there is so much fun to be had splashing through the river during a race, particularly on a hot day!
We started the run with a climb to Telegraph Saddle Carpark. Boring and bitumen; but there is nothing like a climb first up to get the legs warmed up. Once we hit the carpark, we hit the trails and headed for Sealers Cove. This is one of my favourite parts of the course; single track with overgrown sections that make you feel like you are in the rainforest. As I was running down to Sealers Cove I had a big cheesy grin on my face and I was so happy to be back out on the trails for an event. I am pretty sure I even had a wee tear in the eye; but that could have just been the wind 😊
As I ran along the beach to Sealer’s Creek I could feel the excitement about the river crossing building. I hit the water and it was cold! I was expecting the water to be about chin level from what I had read earlier but it was only chest level and I made it across easily with a big grin on my face. So much fun! I don’t bother taking my shoes and socks off because my trusty Asics trail runners dry very quickly as the water just drains out of them. I trotted off towards Refuge Cove grinning from ear to ear. Running along this part of the coastline gives you some amazing scenery and there were times I would just stop and say “wow”, despite having seen it before. I felt so privileged to be able to run this part of the world. At 20kms I arrived at Refuge Cove, a favourite campsite of mine and I stopped to top up my water bottles. I
was only carrying a litre on the front of my pack as I knew that I had plenty of water sources along the trail. I had a quick top up and continued on to Little Waterloo Bay, 7km away. Just before coming into the campsite I had another river crossing and got the feet wet again which cooled me down as the direct sun was hot and I was starting to feel a headache come along. I popped an electrolyte and put water in my hat to try and keep my body temp down as I was now heading away from the beach and through the guts of the Prom to Telegraph Track Junction.
After another 6kms I met the lovely volunteers at the aid station. I was surprised that they had water and food there as I thought we didn’t have any aid stations. I jumped at the prospect of a banana and topped up the water and told them how much fun I was having. One of volunteers made a joke about how clean and fresh I looked, “not even a tumble” she said to me and I laughed as I started up the hill to Roaring Meg. I hate this hill – it is not steep but feels never ending and its on the road rather than my favourite single track. I was counting down the steps until I hit the walking track that would take me to Roaring Meg and I could now be on the single track! Some of the 60km runners were running towards me on their final stretch home and it felt great to yell out words of encouragement to them as they passed me, particularly my speedy friend Martine who was kicking butt.
From Roaring Meg, I headed south to South Point. This was a 7km out and back section and it’s a tough trail. Some areas are very overgrown, so you have to just trust your feet, and some areas you’re climbing in between boulders. I was running along, head down to avoid the wind, and suddenly I was tumbling down and on the ground with a large rock sticking in my right butt cheek and grazing on my legs and hands. I was in shock. I have not had a tumble for so long! I asked myself if I was ok and checked in with the body – it seemed nothing was broken but I was sure going to have a nice bruise on my arse! I got up and walked for a bit to ensure I was ok then started to trot down the hill again. I made it to South Point and celebrated with some baby food to give me some energy and popped another electrolyte. It had taken about 15kms but my headache had finally gone away.
As I was heading back towards Roaring Meg, I was thinking about getting some water from the river at camp and all of a sudden, I was again on the ground. I felt like Bambi and my legs felt shaky. It was like I had forgotten how to run trails and now that I was almost at 40kms my legs were just giving up on me. The body felt strong and I mentally I felt good, but the legs just didn’t seem to remember how to run on the trails and I wasn’t picking my feet up. I took it very easy back to Roaring Meg, found the river and topped up my water bottles and forced myself to eat some more.
It worked. For the next 6.5km to the lighthouse I felt good and enjoyed the run. I was having fun and enjoying the scenery and only had the one snake come out and say hi. He ran off pretty quickly which I was happy about because if you are going to be bitten by a snake I would prefer not to be on the most remote part of the course! I love the lighthouse and when I first sighted it from the trail I yelled out “Hellooooo lighthouse”.
The only thing I don’t like is the steep uphill on bitumen that you need to climb up to get there. Ugh. Worth it at the top though because I had water to drink and views to admire! It was really heating up now in the sun and I had a spare bottle in the back of my pack, so I filled up everything and carried 1.5L as I had 16kms until my next water source. I took my time at the lighthouse. I reapplied sun cream, I cooled down with water down my back and in my hat and I ate some more food. I met some hikers who asked how far I was, and I told them I was only halfway but feeling great. When they asked me how far halfway was and I said 50km they almost fell over in shock and told me I was mad. “Yep” I agreed as I took off down the hill smiling.
I knew the next section was going to be my toughest. It’s 10.2kms so longer than the other sections but also very overgrown. There were sections that I could not see my feet on the trail because the bush was so overgrown and I had to just hope that there were no snakes under me, or that I had already scared them off. I was
watching my feet so much and looking for snakes that several times I headbutted a low hanging branch on the trail. The trail took a lot of concentration which can be a tough ask of a mind that is already 50km into a race and dehydrated. I was so grateful to hit the beach and turn inland towards Telegraph Track Junction. I had run this short 6km section before so I could turn off the mind a bit and focus just on one foot after another hitting the ground. That was until a large tiger snake blocked my path and scared the shiz out of me. I swore out loud, told Mr Tiger Snake to “piss off” and gave him the middle finger as he sauntered away – Yes, he sauntered, not slithered. He had so much attitude! I came into the aid station telling stories of how they jinxed me because I had two tumbles before I shot out towards Oberon Bay. I knew that I was cutting it fine to make it back to Tidal River before the 14hr cut off.
I knew that I would always be cutting it fine with the cut off. The lack of training this year and the hot and windy conditions meant that a lot of us were not going to make it. I had no issues with only doing 80kms instead of 100km if it happened; after the year that 2020 has been I was happy to just be back out there running and having fun again. I was now at about the 65km(ish) mark and my body was getting tired. My right hamstring was not happy anytime I went uphill, and my feet were feeling tired and swollen. I had been a lot slower on the course than I had expected because I seemed to have lost any hill fitness. Even the undulating sections were tough on me because every time I had an uphill my body just didn’t want to run it - I cursed Rona for taking away my hill training this year. I live Bayside so there are not many hills to train on and the 5km lockdown radius meant I stuck with the flat road.
Another river crossing at Oberon Bay and some beautiful beaches to run along and I was shuffling along the beach towards Tidal River camp. I knew I was close to cut off, but I was also just loving the scenery. Thanks to daylight savings I was running this section in daylight rather than the dark like last time and there were people on the beach cheering me along. I turned off the beach and up to camp and came through the checkpoint. 10minutes too late.
I was told that I was over cut off and couldn’t continue and I was totally ok with that. I had pushed out 80kms on some of my most favourite trails on legs that had done one long run since March. My hamstring breathed a sigh of relief that I was not going to force it up Mt Bishop and I hobbled back to camp to celebrate.
As I lay in my tent later that night listening to the wind whip around camp and had visions of me and my tent taking off into the sky, I thanked my amazing body for all that it had done that day. Despite challenges this year, despite being physically underdone, my body had given me it’s all once again, when my mind told it that it wanted to go running in the bush for 14hours. It was tired and some of it was sore, but it wasn’t broken and both mind and body were already dreaming of the next adventure.