Here is my ridiculously long and self-glorifying report of the Flinder's tour race up at Glasshouse a couple of weekends ago.
I cycled the 500 metres to the start line (at Beerburrum Primary School), under a light drizzle of rain, and checked in with the race director with a feeling of resignation. I took solace in the fact that, despite being the youngest 50km runner, I was not the most inexperienced. For many, it was their first ultra. Marina, a vegetarian living in Samford told me the she was pretty nervous, and seemed to doubt herself. I chatted to a few of the kind people whom I had met at Sri-Chinmoy – Suzannah (“Badwater Suzannah”), Nic, Tamyka and Libby to name a few –received a bit of advice from them (walk Mount Beerburrum, just take it easy, etc…), emptied myself and made my way to the start line. Ian Javes, our friendly race director, gave a few instructions, and then anti-climactically muttered “GO”. We were off.
I settled in at an uncomfortable pace with the lead group of about 10 people, telling myself to slow down, and that I could never run 50km at this pace. I ignored the voice of doubt, and instead listened to the Ibuprofen pills clacking together in my shorts. I talked to Stevie, who said he had run the Gold Coast Marathon a few weeks beforehand in 3:04. “Wow”, I thought. “There’s no way that I could run a marathon that fast, he’s going to toast me”. I moved up into about fourth or fifth on the ridiculously steep path to the top of Mount Beerburrum, alternating between walking and running. I was going much faster than I was used to, causing the problem calf to cramp badly. On the descent, I was passed by Jordan, who was really pounding it, and it seemed like I wouldn’t be seeing him again. When we hit the flat ground, my running technique fell apart, as I could no longer run on my forefoot due to the calf. That is not a good sign with 48kms to go. I fell in behind a hardy-looking veteran on the next section of trail, watched his feet, and just followed. My quads felt similar to how they had about eight hours into Sri Chinmoy at this point, but because I was intent on dropping out, I figured that I could keep going at a quick pace until the end of the first loop. I then pulled away from the veteran, after having been intimidated by his running experience and caught Jordan, chatting to him about a range of things as we tackled the wide fire-trail that circled Tunbubudla. We were caught by the veteran eventually, and continued to talk, the most interesting conversation topic being the idea of drafting while running (as it is done in cycling); its advantages, having to work less than the man in front of you; and its disadvantages, copping farts in the face. Jordan tried this technique, and the disadvantages were proven. We were now occupying positions 4-6, about 500 metres behind the leaders. Upon entering the next heavily wooded section, we were caught by the women’s leader Peggy Macqueen, who seemed to be in much better form than the rest of us. I pulled away from them on a gradual incline; I have no idea how or why, and went to see if I could get closer to the leaders. Peggy caught up to me and then went by as we hit a technical section of uphill. The rise was only gradual, but I was incapable of running it. I looked ahead wistfully, seeing peggy disappearing over the hill. The 24km runners then came past in the opposite direction, forcing me off the trail, but I was happy to receive some encouragement from them. Around this time, I was informed that the leader had gotten lost, and had dropped out; now there were only three in front of me! I arrived at the school, to see that Dave Coombs and Peggy were having a chat at the aid table. As soon as they saw me, they scrambled, and seeing this, I rushed through the aid station, eating some boiled potato with salt and half a banana, and refilling my water bottle. The thought of dropping out had all but left my mind – I wanted to see if I could hold my position. As I was leaving, Libby told me that I was doing pretty well; “don’t worry”, I replied. “I’ll blow up soon”.
On the dirt road past the school’s oval, I went past Jordan (who was running in the opposite direction), giving him a high-five, as I did to Lee. He must have been a few minutes back at this point – phew. I then was told that I looked strong by Nic, and ordered to keep going by Suzannah. Amazingly, my hip had not deteriorated at all during the time I had been running. Sure, it was painful, but it wasn’t anything that would stop me from moving forward – maybe the Ibuprofen had paid off. To my surprise, on the way down the rocky hill, I passed another runner. I was now in third. I had to work hard to really put some time on him, doing so by pounding the descents. This was not a good move, and my feet would pay for it later. I slowed to chat with the 24km runners when I passed them, which really refreshed my mind, and at one point even caught a glimpse of Dave and Peggy – about one kilometer in front. I really wanted to catch them, but after being informed at the first aid station that they were “too far ahead”, my mind narrowed to one thought: keep third place. I could see about five hundred metres behind me, and there was no sign of Jordan. I still had to walk many sections, but ran quickly when I could. Keep third place. I chatted to a few more runners before getting to the aid station 12.5km from the finish. At this point, my mind really started to unravel, the pain was really getting to me, but I was still thinking in the present. I thought about my Grandma (who has emphysema), and how I should cherish my ability to breathe and to run, in order to drive myself forward. I walked all of the hills, thinking that Jordan must surely catch me soon.
Amazingly, I arrived at the last aid-station still in third place. My hamstrings cramped immediately when I climbed the gate to get there, and I informed the volunteers of my poor condition. “Just 3.5km to go”, they said. The actual race length was 53.5km, so at this point; I had actually covered 50km. I was ready to finish then and there. I walked the next uphill section of dirt road, noticing that I had been in the same place two weeks earlier during my adventure. Just before the right turn onto downhill single-track, I looked back to the aid station, now about 400 metres away, to see that there were no 50km runners there. Keep third place. I kept passing 24km and 10km runners, receiving and giving encouragement. At some point in the last 3kms, I began to get bolts of pain shooting through my left foot every time I hit the ground. To mitigate this, I began running on my toes with that foot, noticing that my calves were now not nearly as bad as before. I really just wanted it to finish. I was counting the seconds, counting the metres. “When I get to that tree, there will be one mile left. Ok, now there’s only 1500 metres.” I kept looking over my shoulder for the fourth-placed runner.
With 1km to go, I passed an old fella in the 10km race, who reflected poetically that he felt “like something that’s come out of a dog’s behind”. That was probably the best way to describe it for me as well. I was still checking over my shoulder every ten seconds, after having decided to slow down, and maybe even to walk the rest of the way. And then I saw it; there was someone in a gray shirt behind me catching up; I thought it was the old fella, so tried not to worry, but eventually realized that it was Jordan. “You are Joking!” I exclaimed. With 400 metres to go, he was about 100 metres behind me, and by shouting, asked if I wanted to finish with him. I said yes, but immediately reversed the decision in my mind. I wanted to see who was stronger.
Being in front of him, I had the upper hand - all I had to do was to show my strength (being a relative term) in order to demoralize him, and then jog to the finish. I lifted the pace, and lifted it some more, until I was going basically all out. Jordan later said that after he had seen me, he just thought that he “didn’t have the sprint finish in him”, so he faded back, and must have taken the last 300 metres fairly easy. I on the other hand, ran for my life, not thinking about my form, or the structural damage that sprinting with destroyed muscles would do.
I only realized that I had really secured third place when I was 100 metres from the finish. I had stopped myself from being complacent earlier on, but now just let everything go. I tried to cry, but there were no tears, so I crossed the finish line moaning while sprinting, with my arms raised in the air. I kissed the earth and sat down. I had always thought of myself as a slow runner, never worthy of any quality times or placings. My personal best for 50km was somewhere between seven and eight hours (albeit on very tough courses, run by myself), completed with months of solid training behind me. I had STARTED the race exhausted, injured, and, undertrained, but had finished it in 4:44:08, a time that I thought I was not capable of. The winners had finished a good twenty five minutes before me, hand in hand, in an amazing time of about 4:20. I was happy with third though; my self-perception had been drastically altered.