I’m pretty sure last time I did this race in 2021 that it would be my last time.
This race had been my nemesis, my white whale if you like. For whatever reason I just couldn’t get it right.
I signed up this year as to be honest I needed a win, a physical win and an emotional win.
After all the effort that went into my two A races, Cairns to Port Douglas and Tarawera 100 mile, only for them both to end in DNF’s, I needed a win.
I also signed up for Ultra Trail Australia so a long run wasn’t going to hurt.
I appreciate that this logic is flawed. I also ran some great races in the past few years. I had incredible experiences, pushed my body and did better than I expected. But for some reason you only remember the negative experiences and I needed to prove to myself that I still loved and could do this crazy sport.
I should have seen the red flags at the start line. As I stood there during the race briefing I thought “I could just leave right now, no one knows I’m here”. I talked myself around, brushing off my impulse to flee as nerves. My faulting Garmin watch had still not connected to GPS and was only adding fuel to the pre race dumpster fire of anxiety.
The go went off unceremoniously and I felt a bit smug as I followed people who I judged had gone off too fast up the first hill. I knew the torture that was to come and I wasn’t in a hurry to get there.
I thought I was a bit above it. I knew a secret. But it turned out I was not immune and had been tricked by the post race rose coloured glasses of races past.
I kept anticipating the climb. With each hill and each turn I thought, “it’s just here and that’s the hard part done”, but it was never where I thought it was. The anticipation, excitement and disappointment was exhausting. I’d had enough before I’d even begun.
It’s no secret that I’m not the best climber. So many people pass me on the up hills no matter if I’m “walking with purpose” or holding off a pity party, I constantly get passed. It’s horrible at the time but I do enjoy chasing them down and finishing ahead of them.
There was one tall, older white guy who marched aggressively up the hills, huffing and puffing in unison with the smashing of his poles on the newly laid slate rocks. I couldn’t stand to be near him. The noise was insufferable in my highly emotional state. I slowed a bit and let him pass. When I started running again on a flat between the climbs, he made a quip about the perks of gravity. No friend, it’s not gravity, I have actually trained for this.
I wish I could have held onto that fury and used it as fuel but once another climb came out of the fog, I was too focused on survival to care about the opinions of a dinosaur.
It wasn’t long before I was going aid station to aid station, then hill to hill, then tree to tree. At one point, it was run for just 10 seconds and then walk for 10 seconds. I tried to remember the last 40k of my last 100k race, I would need these skills, just keep moving forward.
My dodgy Garmin wasn’t helping my motivation levels, as it was already a few kilometres out of step meaning the aid stations weren’t where I thought they were and I had to keep doing math and guess work on the fly.
It wasn’t until I had about 2 km to go that I realised that despite all the drama, I could still actually do better at this course than I ever had before. (Yes I looked at my Strava whilst slogging it up a hill!)
I put my foot down and pushed. If you believe my Garmin (which to be honest, I don’t, it hasn’t had the best track record lately) I laid down a 5:30km in that last kilometre.
I finished with a PB of about 7 minutes, a 7 hours 13 minute time. It is so runnable in the forest that never ends and I know I can do better, I just don’t care to anymore.
I battered my feet on the freshly laid rocks, I tested nutrition and tried all the mental strategies I could. Truth be told, even though it sucked, I was not smiling in my finish line photo, I was proud that I did it. It was a reminder that I can do hard things. That my legs are tough, my brain is tough and that from now on I’ll only run races that I’m excited to be at on the start line.