Sweet and endearing as it may sound, the Berry Long Run is more than just a play on words.
Held every year in August for the past 5 years, the race that raises funds for children’s charity, Berry Street is a favourite amongst Victorian runners but with only 40k and 70k distances is not at all for the faint of heart.
|Distance:||40k and 70k|
|Inclusions:||Medal, t-shirt, reusable cup, epic aid stations|
|Course:||60% firetrail, 40% single track, bush wacking,|
After my recent successes on the road and feeling a little FOMO at being sick for the You Yangs 50k in July, I thought the sweet sounding Berry Long Run might be a good chance to see how I’d go at a longer race and put some of my learnings into practice.
So two weeks out from the race, I found myself browsing their fancy new website. I skipped past the UTMB points (red flag number one), the mandatory gear list (red flag number two) and went straight to the sign up page only to find that it was sold out. I was baffled. I had no idea it was so popular. I emailed the race director to see if there was a wait list I could jump on and as fate would have it someone pulled out that berry day and I was in.
Then red flag number 3 popped up, the mandatory fundraising. Generally speaking, I don’t fund raise. I’ve done the women’s only half marathon a few times that raises money for breast cancer but I just hate asking my friends and family for money all the time and I’ve never been organised enough to do a proper bake sale, raffle, etc fundraising campaign. So with two weeks until race day, I wasn’t overly hopeful but I started by Everyday Hero page and started flooding my socials with Berry Long Run spam.
A few days out from the race and a weather turned to shit. There is no other way to say it. Polar vortex. Temperatures plummeted, winds from the Antarctic took uprooted trees and hail and snow was predicted in places that see that sort of weather once a decade. Bugger.
But I soldered on, mostly because I’d now raised over $200, I couldn’t sleep in now even if I wanted to.
The day commenced shortly before 7:30am at the Blackwood mineral springs caravan park. The race director delivered his pre-race briefing and pep talk under a light dusting of snow.
I had managed to shove every piece of cold weather gear into my pack and a single drop bag (which was a last minute decision) for the 44km mark.
Lucky number 777
All 100 runners set off at the same time across the bridge and onto a narrow single track that followed the Lerderderg river.
I was about a kilometre in when I thought that I probably should have studied the map and read the course description. Not because I was lost or concerned about the course markings but because I literally had not a clue what I expect.
And it was about then that the road started, the road that never ends. Note to self and fellow runners: singing “this is the road that doesn’t end” over and over again, helps no one! It was perky and positive for the first 5 minutes, until it became dark and twisty and demoralising. And in an ultra, the slightest sliver of negative can ruin even the most positive day.
I hadn’t even made it to the half way mark when I realised my decision to run 70k was a bad idea. If I’d signed up for the 40k, I’d almost be done by now I grumbled as the second burst of hail rained down.
I was relieved when I started seeing the lead runners approaching me after reaching the turn around. The road was so long and I hadn’t seen other people in a couple of hours. I thought I was loosing my marbles and was finding it difficult to keep the shuffle going and not just walk.
I was about 35km in when I called my husband to whinge. I had had enough. My gloves and buff were wet and sending air cold air into my ears and through my fingers. I was miserable and slightly pissed off at myself for signing up for this pity party. I wanted out but I was in the middle of no where with no quick and easy way back to my car, my heater and my warm bed. The next aid station was at the 44 km mark.
I shuffled my way there, ignoring his encouragement and holding tight to be resignation to retire at the next stop.
I carried that load slowly back up Mt Blackwood, one step at a time, without any of my usual “walking with purpose” and not an ounce of haste.
“How you feeling?” the volunteers chirped as a through myself into the aid station, dubbed the Party Station. “If there was a quick and easy way back to my car, I’d take it”, I retorted, hoping for some sympathy and the offer to drive me back to my car.
“Well there is, it’s out that way”, she said and gestured in the direction of the yellow ribbons marking the continuation of the course. “Would you like some soup? Or a donut? Or a toastie?”
I swapped over my top and my gloves, grabbed a hot potato doused in salt and trudged in the direction of the yellow ribbons.
I was out there now, I just had to make it to the next aid station, which I had no idea where it was but it had to be somewhere between the 44km mark and the 70k finish line. It was going to be a long day and then it began to hail, again.
With the exception of a river crossing (I swear the river had icebergs floating down it) and a super steep climb of stairs, the last third of the course was pretty runnable as we ran downhill on a firetrail road and then back onto the beautiful single track we started out on.
I arrived at the last aid station, desperate to pull out but lurking in the back of my mind was the social media post I would have to write apologising to everyone who donated their hard earned money only for me to be too soft to complete it. I’m not having a go at anyone who pulls out of a race, but lets be frank, it you aren’t injured and doing permanent damage by continuing (ie: is your bone sticking out through your skin?), you are just soft, suck it up and get it done. (Before you all email me, I appreciate elite athletes who only get paid for podiums may have an out clause here, but it’s still soft!)
I was stoked and humbled that a non running friend of mine had left me a hand written note at the aid station encouraging me to keep going. He was hiking and camping with his family for the weekend, saw on insta that I was running and left me a note. I was definitely not stopping now.
Up until this point, I had eaten a packet and half of Clif shot cubes, a Spring Energy Gel, a potato and two slices of watermelon. Probably not enough and my consumption didn’t improve in the last section. This is certainly something I need to work on, the longer I go, the less interested in food I get and then the worse I feel and it’s just an endless cycle.
I think I had about a k to go when I had to stop again, this time to get out my head torch. I have notoriously shit night vision, so I have the best one I could find, a Petzl Nao. The single track was narrow and slipperly and I wasn’t about to risk injury to save a couple of minutes, so I pretty much walked the last kilometre or so back to the finish.
As I came through the finishing shoot, the ladies of the Melton City Runners who I had seen at every aid station along the way were there to greet me. A lovely gesture as I’m not even a member of their run crew. They tried to hand me a Bundeberg Ginger Beer which I politely declined and draped a giant shiny medal around my very cold and very smelly neck.
Even though it wasn’t the longest race in distance or time that I had done, it certainly felt like the longest.
- Pack all the clothes including extras of important items like gloves and buffs, in your pack and in drop bags. Once they are wet and cold and won’t dry, swap them over
- Don’t let negative thoughts in, it’s too hard to get them out!
- Don’t give up on the climbs, power up and walk with purpose. Don’t forget your purpose
- Try to keep eating even if you don’t feel like it
- Weight training is important for your upper body as well as your lower body, you need your arms to power the poles