Lessons Learnt: Cairns to Port Douglas DNF

I’m one of those people who thinks self reflection is important. I’m often guilty of over analysing and sometimes over blaming myself for whatever has happened.

If it was a good thing, a good result, then it was a team effort or a fluke, but if it was a less than ideal result then it was all my fault and I’ll go into intricate, exhausting detail as to why that is the case.

I’m not a subscriber to the victim mindset of everything being someone else’s fault or something that happened to me without my input or contribution.

So it is with that in mind, that I felt it was important to go through, in public (since I did blast the race in public!) the things that I did that worked and the things that didn’t in my most recent race experience at the Cairns to Port Douglas Ultramarathon.

Every race, every day, is about collecting lessons, hearing them, listening to them and hopefully learning from them.

Hydration

Let’s start with the elephant in the room shall we. A big part of my mental spiral and subsequent slow down that happened at the race was due to dehydration and running out of water. I didn’t loose my shit because I was so dehydrated I didn’t know my own name, I think I overly panicked and got overly emotional about it because I was hyper focused on it.

I knew coming into the race that heat management was going to be a big deal for me, not just because I was coming from Melbourne but because I generally don’t like the heat. I had tried to control my anxiety about it by preparing as best I could. I bought light weight and light coloured gear. I trained carrying the 3L of fluid I knew I would be carrying during the race. I spent ages in the sauna post run with creepy half naked old dudes.

But what I couldn’t control and really mentally prepare for was the humidity and it started sucking the life and willpower out of me from the first climb, about a kilometre into the race.

I tried to just dismiss it or ignore it and keep on my way but it was hard to enjoy the running at all. It was suffocating and the terrain very slow going. I kept drinking and refilled everything at each checkpoint. I was surprised just how much I was going through because it training I barely touched the bladder and just drank from the bottles.

If I’m being honest, I let the weighing at the second checkpoint and the debate about how much I weighed and how much I had drank get to me way more than I should have. I think “triggered” is the phrase therapists use. (I will never sign up for a race with mandatory weighing again.)

Checkpoint 2

Coming out of that checkpoint was the last big climb of the day when the wheels really fell off. I was hot, emotional and nauseous which made the climb extremely slow. Between this climb and the technical loop that followed, I drank all my fluids. I didn’t know what to do after that. I didn’t want to risk severe dehydration or heat stroke. I didn’t trust that there would be water where the organisers said there would be. I had no phone reception if it really turned to shit and I was too scared to fill up in the river because if dehydration didn’t ruin my race, Diarrhoea from a water bug definitely would!

Turns out it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Based on their made up checkpoint times, they shouldn’t have let me leave checkpoint 2 because I would never have made it to number 3 on time.

So for next time! I couldn’t possibly have carried any more fluid! It was so heavy as it was but I have invested in water purification tablets and a life straw for my pack. I hope I never have to use them again but there were so many creek crossings that I think this would have been a great option.

As for the mental hurdle, I certainly let the whole thing get the best of me, but I can take forward that I didn’t die, I didn’t cause any damage and despite all the panic, I was ok. So if anything happens similar, I know I can handle it, because I did and it is something to be cautious of but I probably didn’t need to panic the way I did.

Fuelling

This part I smashed! I learnt a lot in training about the best strategy for me. I had been trialling 1 clif bloc every 3km which worked great on faster runnable sections but on climbs and slower sections wasn’t enough. So I set an alert on my watch to go off every 15 minutes to remind me to fuel. Worked like a charm!

The blocks did start to hurt my teeth after a bit which was odd so I might have to work out another strategy for later in long races, like maybe gels or high calorie fluids that don’t touch your teeth as much.

Gear

I should have taken my poles! Period. Full stop.

I should also have taken my own Garmin in reach tracker and not trusted that the race organisers one would work. It didn’t and my crew didn’t know where I was.

No live tracking or splits for me, even though I went over every mat

The bladder system and Ultraspire zygos pack worked great. I’d worked out in training where it chafes and rubbed and made sure all those spots were covered in tape. I hit any hot spots with paw paw straight away and got home at the end of my 13 hour vision quest without any chafe or blisters.

My kit was also super easy to get in and out. Refilling bladders is always a nightmare but not much you can do with races like this.

Training

I came into this race with a new coach and a new sense of confidence. I had never intentionally trained for a race before. I had done interval type sessions, lots of long runs and specific sessions with climbing and sand (even though I never made it to the sand section!! 😩)

I honestly felt ready and that nothing was going to stop me getting there. I was also probably a bit cocky, treating 120k like it was easy and something I do all the time but I had done the training and I knew I could cover 120k in 29 hours. Lesson learnt, confident = good, cocky = bad!

I know rationally that all that work and training doesn’t just vanish because I didn’t achieve my goal but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow.

I could definitely improve my hill and climb training. Not physically, but mentally. I wasn’t stopping or throwing tantrums on climbs because my legs or lungs hurt! So I definitely need to work through that before my next big goal race in December, the inaugural Ultra Trail Kosciusko!

Headphones

I can literally hear you all rolling your eyes!

I hate headphones in trail races. I think I’ve gone on the record multiple times bitching and whinging about people with headphones either clogging up a single track or rudely flying past people with no care in the world. As a result (fairly or not), I associate headphones with rudeness and a lack of regard for other people in the race and that is not what trail running is about.

Most of the time, I don’t even pack headphones for a trail race because of lot of the time they aren’t allowed or safety reasons.

But for whatever reason, I packed my AirPods this time and thank goodness I did.

When I went through my biggest tantrum on the second big climb and found myself sitting on a rock contemplating what to do next, I remembered I packed my headphones and pulled them out. Thank god I had reception and got into the angry Emo on Spotify. It wasn’t much but it at least got me moving.

There was literally no one anywhere near me at this point and I didn’t see anyone else for the next 16km. It was lonely and I would have liked another runner to shuffle with (and drag me along) but I had to settle with Demi Lovato.

I did drop my headphone in Suprise Creek whilst trying to cool myself down. Expensive I thought and fished it out and kept going. A few days later once it had dried out it still worked so that’s a win for Apple AirPods I guess.

Research

I’m terrible at race research. I get caught up in the logistics of drop bags and accomodation and excited about the adventure I’m about to go on and I don’t really do thorough research.

I’ve been known to google the course map mid race to see how many climbs there are to go!

Whilst I read every inch of the race website the week before the race, making sure I had all just gear ready (not that they checked) and all my drop bags and pacer arrangements etc. I didn’t exactly do my research before I entered.

Admittedly I got caught up in the idea of a tropical holiday, a long race and something new and different. A basic google or Facebook search would have revealed a lot of issues with the race organiser and possibly saved me a whole lot of grief.

So there’s just a few of the things I’m looking to take into my next race at Ultra Trail Mt Kosciusko. It will be long and hot as well so let’s see how we go!

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